HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsIvory Coast polls — typical African problem

Ivory Coast polls — typical African problem

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Two presidents have sworn themselves in after a disputed election run-off in Ivory Coast. Incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and former prime minister Alassane Ouattara have both claimed victory in the second round of polling in a move that has prompted the Africa Union to dispatch former South African president Thabo Mbeki to mediate.

The impasse came after the country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) last Thursday declared Ouattara to have won the run-off by 54,1% of votes to 45,9%.

But the country’s Constitutional Council named Gbagbo as winner overturning the earlier results on Friday.

The president of the council, Paul Yao N’Dre, stated that after excluding votes in seven regions that were marred by irregularities, Gbagbo won the polls by 51% to Ouattara’s 48 %.

The country’s army immediately announced that it was backing Gbagbo as the president and borders of the country have been sealed off.

The United Nations, United States, France and other European countries have backed Ouattara as President and asked Gbagbo to accept defeat. He is not about to give up any time soon despite the AU warning of “incalculable consequences”, if the feuding parties fail to exercise restraint and to refrain from taking actions which will exacerbate an already fragile situation.

But on Sunday there were reports of fighting in the country where more than a dozen have already been killed in post-election violence. Mbeki has a huge task ahead of him.

Gbagbo has come up with typical African demagoguery to defend his grip on power. “I am charged with defending our sovereignty and I will not negotiate on that,” he said. “I wish various people would pull themselves together.”

In other words, the quest to defend national sovereignty supersedes the will of the people in polling.

This has become the problem with polls in Africa as old school dictators, under threat from democratic forces which have grown out of popular disenchantment, have seen it fit to play this discredited sovereignty card in their quest to hold onto power.

They usually have the army on their side to buttress the nationalist mantras.

The fiasco in Ivory Coast brings a sense of déjà vu here.

The events surrounding the disputed 2008 presidential election and the sham run-off almost mirror the Ivorian mess.

The most likely outcome from Mbeki’s mediation is a government that does not reflect the will of the voters, as was the case with Zimbabwe.

The elections which have been called for next year could adapt the same script.

This is a major indictment of the AU which appears powerless when faced with political strife emanating from disputed polls.

In March, events around Togo’s elections bore all the hallmarks of what is emerging as a typically African experience of elections that have left nagging questions over the outcome.

This followed a similar pattern of disputes in Gabon, Congo Republic and Equatorial Guinea.

Polls are scheduled to take place in Niger, Central African Republic, Liberia, Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo.

The potential for problems in all these countries is high because of the absence of clear and unambiguous measures to prevent political strongmen from subverting the will of the people.

Africa today urgently requires a collective effort to consolidate reforms which ensure a sense of confidence in elections, such as an independent judiciary, apolitical and professional security establishments together with and freedom of press and expression.

Otherwise there is no chance in hell for this continent to catch up with the rest of the world when political leaders refuse to relinquish power after losing elections.

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