In the days of steam ships, sailors on board had the habit of shouting: ahoy when they sighted land. Would we say the same thing now that Presidential elections in the Ivory Coast have been scheduled for November 29?
The four time postponed election has led to the joke in many Ivorian communities that few things are as dodgy as setting a date for presidential elections in the Ivory Coast cities. Critics cite as their inference what they say has been the go-no-go approach by all the country’s leaders to put the election on hold as they seemingly prepare themselves for the tough electoral battle ahead.
Since the death of strongman Felix Boigny, elections in the leading cocoa producing nation have been stormy and many times on the brink of the cliff. This partly explained the background to the failed coup in 2002 against President Laurent Gbagbo, an action which effectively sliced the country into half.
The military tug-of-war left the north of the country in the hands of the rebels – the Force Nouvelles (New Forces) which then promised “a new beginning” for the Ivory Coast which had not materialized. The war of words and part time skirmishes brought in as key mediator, Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Campaore who brokered a peace deal with the former rebel outfit (Force Nouvelles) led by Guillanme Soro who became prime minister under last year’s accord.
Since then it has been a shaky peace. One significant sign of progress however since then was that the key political parties-including Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front, the ruling Democratic Party as well as former prime minister Alassane Outtara’s Rally of the Republicans signed an agreement to shun violence, promote fair voting and respect the outcome of the election.
Political observers say they are in torment as to whether the declaration would only hold good on paper and not in practice. The election has been well budgeted for with some 43 million dollars to date given by donors and judging by the way the international community has a soft spot for the Ivory Coast, additional funds would be dropping like torrential rains into the election kitty, particularly from lover boy, France.
But some political pebbles are still strewn along the election path.
Firstly, the issue of identity cards. Who should have one? It has been the thorniest of issues connected with the election itself. With some 12 million people expected on the voters roll, born and bred Ivorians passionately resent foreigners snooping into business such as trade, jobs and most of all-elections.
The scratch here is that there are a high percentage of seasoned workers from neighbouring states as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Togo who have edged into the Ivorian community and by fair standard cannot be easily eclipsed from the election process.
These workers have been engaged in the cocoa and oil palm plantations, taking up jobs which the average Ivorian assesses as demeaning. The election itself will be likened to the game of the matadors putting at least four heavyweights against each other.
Current President Gbagbo shows no sign of throwing out the towel, current Prime Minister Soro now sees the sweet fruit of winning elections through the ballot box without firing a shot, former President Henri Konan Bedia now realizes that once you are out of power, you are hardly noticed and the chances are that when you go to state functions, there are the chances that your driver would be saluted in a mistake that he once ruled.
For former Prime Minister Alassane Outtara, at least running in the polls with little chance of winning, would at least dispel the confusion whether he is an Ivorian or had come to the Ivory Coast and overstayed.
So for the time being at least, each leader seemed to be breathing an air of relief that at least they now have a firm date to campaign towards. Gbagbo sees the November 29 announcement as “a great day” while Soro believes it will bring final and sustainable peace to a once battered country.
The presence of the 8,000 strong UN (ONUCI) force backed up by 1,800 French troops remains part of the strategy to bring sustainable peace to the Ivory Coast. “Their mission is to support the organization of free, open, fair and transparent elections”, a French political strategist told me but the overriding question is-what would happen to the bunch after elections are over. Would they fold their tents and leave … or would they be pushed?
The work-up to the election itself is predicted to be calm and there seemed no dark cloud hanging that would mar it … at least, Ivorians have the historical tradition of holding all their elections on Sundays.
So far, there is every indication the election will go on this time and usher the country on the same road of peace.
But there should be caution nonetheless … as the proverbs warn: the actual length of a frog cannot be measured until the frog dies.