Côte d'Ivoire: Progress, Regress, and the Constant Threat of Violent Turmoil

The Democracy Report

He seems unlikely to do so. For all the economic progress, the country is still fractured. Some 46 percent of the electorate did not vote for Ouattara in the presidential poll and they feel marginalized. The FPI, the party formerly headed by Gbagbo, boycotted the legislative election, depriving its supporters of political representation. Furthermore, even though both sides committed atrocities during the post-electoral crisis, the impression is that only one side is being punished. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to investigate the atrocities has charged more than 100 people linked to Gbagbo but not a single ally of Ouattara. Some are calling it victor's justice.

Ouattara appears to think that his best chance of winning over those Ivorians that didn't vote for him is by putting in place policies that speed up economic development, benefiting his supporters and non-supporters alike. He may be right, but in such a charged atmosphere he can ill afford to lose the political cushion provided by the PDCI and he certainly does not want them throwing mud from the opposition benches. Ouattara will probably renew the coalition, and talks have been opened with that intent. He will need to offer concessions but he may also take the opportunity to replace some of the more lethargic ministers with the more able technocrats that he prefers to work with.

The country's worsening security situation, which has deteriorated badly since August, will be much more difficult to resolve. The government has blamed a surge in violence on militants loyal to Gbagbo launching raids from bases in neighbouring Ghana and Liberia. Dozens of people have been killed and large caches of weapons have been stolen in attacks on military bases. The response from the state has been brutal and unforgiving; hundreds of people have been arrested and mistreated. The HRW report, released yesterday, detailed the scale of the abuse:

"... the state response to the threat, undertaken primarily by the military, has been marked by widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions, detention-related abuses including torture, and criminal behavior against the civilian population."

Gbagbo's allies have been able to take advantage of Ouattara's struggle to demobilize and reintegrate former government, rebel, and militia forces. Gbagbo had installed many of his supporters in leading positions in the army, and overcoming the divisions within the military while integrating the rebel groups that supported Ouattara is proving tricky. The military, now purged of Gbagbo supporters, is loyal to Ouattara but ineffective. Foreign allies will use the HRW report to put pressure on Ouattara to bring his troops into line, but in doing so he could drive a wedge between himself and some of his supporters. Already, he is unable to control many of the informal rebel military forces that helped him come to power. It is proving extremely difficult to disarm the tens of thousands of militia members on both sides. The longer the demobilization process, the greater the risk that a surge in violence could escalate into a nationwide problem. A return to all-out civil conflict seems unlikely, but a deteriorating security situation would frighten investors and imperil economic development.

The economic rewards of stability in Côte d'Ivoire are already apparent -- but the path to prosperity is strewn with political obstacles. If the violence worsens, all the gains of the past 18 months could be wiped out. Less than two years into the job, Alassane Ouattara is facing his biggest test yet.

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Joseph Lake is a New York-based member of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Sub-Saharan Africa team.

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