Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Landslide in Cote d’Ivoire

Alassane Ouattara has won another five years in executive office, due in large part to a revived Ivorian economy and the end of civil strife, writes Haytham Nuri

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The crisis of the 2010 elections is now a thing of the past, the head of Cote d’Ivoire’s electoral committee reassured the public as he announced, on 28 October, the landslide win by incumbent President Alassane Ouattara.

Ouattara, 73, received 84 per cent of the vote while his main rival, former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, took only nine per cent. About half of all registered voters are believed to have taken part.

Five years ago, more than 3,000 people were killed in clashes after the outgoing president, Laurent Gbabgo, refused to accept Ouattara’s win. This time, the country wasn’t in a mood for further disturbances. Ouattara’s rivals congratulated him, however grudgingly, on winning a second five-year term in office.

Many attributed the overwhelming victory by Ouattara to his outstanding success in revamping the economy, extracting the country from the ravages of two civil wars and resurging ethnic strife.

In the first Ouattara term, which lasted for four years instead of five, GDP grew at nine per cent, inflation dropped to under three per cent, the ratio of people living under the poverty line declined from 51 per cent to 46.3 per cent, and per capita annual income rose from $1,000 to $1,440.

For the first time since 1999, Abidjan Airport received 1.5 million passengers, and chains of international hotels such as the Radisson and Kempinski opened hotels in major cities. The African Development Bank, which relocated to Tunisia ten years ago, also returned to Abidjan.

“A page has been completely turned on the crisis that we went through and we can truly dedicate ourselves to the future,” Ouattara told his supporters.

Ouattara, a former International Monetary Fund executive who has strong ties with France and Western nations in general, opened the country to investors, cut red tape and offered business incentives.

In addition to French retailers such as Carrefour and FNAC, other companies have moved in to support the Cote d’Ivoire “miracle”. Abidjan now boasts a new light-rail system, a bigger and better harbour, and brand-name hotels such as Sofitel.

China is funding the harbour works and constructing a giant hydroelectric dam in the town of Soubre. A Tunisian company is building highways to connect Abidjan with the interior. Turkey is changing the face of river transportation, and Kuwait is streamlining aviation logistics.

Cote d’Ivoire is one of the world’s top exporters of cocoa and cashew nuts. British companies are developing the country’s mining and quarries. And although unemployment is still high, at 20 per cent, the economy has created about two million jobs in the past four years.

Critics of Ouattara’s policies say that his focus on growth has allowed the rich to become richer while the poor become poorer. But his supporters credit him with reinvigorating the economy and steering the country away from sectarian strife.

Before the election results were announced, Ouattara, who was barred twice from seeking the presidency because of his alleged foreign origin, told Reuters that he would seek to remove nationality restrictions from the constitution.

The landslide signals that Ouattara is seen as someone who has something to offer a country with a turbulent past. Ouattara was born in the north to an Ivorian father and a mother from Burkina Faso. He studied economics in the US before starting a career with the IMF that spanned 20 years.

In 1988, he was named governor of the Central Bank of West African States. In 1990, then-president Felix Houphouet-Boigny asked him to help save the faltering economy. As prime minister between 1990 and 1993, Ouattara impressed the nation with his ambition and work ethic, but his critics found him too “Westernised” for their taste.

In 1999, a military coup led by General Robert Guei deposed President Konan Bedi, who had blocked Ouattara from running for president in 1995. Guei, in turn, blocked Ouattara from taking part in the 2000 elections, also on the grounds that he wasn’t a full-blooded Ivorian.

After the country erupted in civil war, Gbagbo agreed to consider Ouattara Ivorian and allowed him to run in the 2010 elections. But he later rejected the outcome, plunging the country into renewed violence.

Ouattara’s rival, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, who received less than 10 per cent of the vote, failed in his attempt to revive the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), the party of former president Gbagbo, who is now in The Hague awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.

Although N’Guessan congratulated Ouattara on his win, he added that the outcome of elections shows that deep divisions persist in the country. “The vote confirms that Ivorians need reconciliation,” N’Guessan told journalists.

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