We Americans are a pretty self-centered bunch. In case you’ve been living under a rock (one buried miles beneath Earth’s surface), let me inform you this is the year for a U.S. presidential election. The race has been divisive and caused unrest, and all American eyes are on it. Seemingly it is all we can talk, read, and think about. But this phenomenon is not uniquely American. Negatively eventful elections seem to be contagious and spreading this year. Exhibit A? Cote d’Ivoire.
Say what? Cote d’Ivoire is a country in Africa. For English speakers, it is more commonly known as the Ivory Coast, a nod to active participation in the ivory trade. The nation earned its independence from France in August 1960 which explains why an African nation’s official language is French and it bears a French name. Mais oui! The Ivory Coast, which is fairly prosperous, is the world’s top cocoa producer and the world’s largest exporter of cocoa beans,
But it’s political trouble, not cocoa, that’s brewing and making news in Cote d’Ivoire these days. And the trouble is about to boil over with a contentious presidential election set for Saturday, October 31st. I am not trying to trick you. The election is actually set on a weekend and on a holiday–at least one we Americans recognize.
What’s happening in Cote d’Ivoire could easily be a summary of what’s happening here in the U.S. The incumbent president, who is in his 70’s, is running for re-election. Opponents claim that he is taking actions which are unconstitutional. Civil unrest, including actual violence, has broken out. Some fear that if the incumbent loses, he will refuse to concede defeat. Sound familiar? It does to me.
Since we here in the U.S. are so wrapped up in our own country’s divisiveness, I’m assuming most of us have no clue about what’s happening in the “jewel of West Africa.” This news hasn’t played in the media I’ve had occasion to watch or read. But the events in cocoa country indicate that divisive political elections in 2020 are widespread.
Exactly what’s going on in Cote d’Ivoire? If you like political soap operas, this summary is for you. The current president is Alassane Ouattara, age 78. (In comparison, Joe Biden is age 77 turning 78 on November 20th). Ouattara’s been in politics for years having survived a setback in 1995 when he was barred for running from office due to the claim he’d actually been born in another country, Burkina Faso, and not Cote d’Ivoire. (Sound familiar, Barack?)
A U.S. educated economist, Ouattara overcame the “birther” attack and was elected to his first five-year term as president in 2010. He was re-elected with 84 % of the vote in 2015. But in March 2020, he announced he would not seek a third term as president. Nevertheless, Ouattara threw his hat into the ring in August after his designated successor unexpectedly died of a heart attack in July.
Ouattara’s opposition claims his candidacy for a third term is unconstitutional. In 2016 (after his election to a second term), a new constitution imposed a two-term limit. Nah! That didn’t apply to him, the current president said, because he was elected prior to the new constitution’s enactment, thereby setting his term count to zero. The opposition didn’t buy that reasoning and began urging a boycott of the electoral process believing that the election was rigged.
A civil disobedience campaign was also called for by the opposition. Unfortunately, the resulting disobedience has been anything but civil. Nearly 30 people have been killed in clashes between rival supporters. Killings in Dabou were carried out by men armed with machetes and assault rifles. That’s not civil! The local offices of Ivory Coast’s ruling party were ransacked, and the house of another presidential candidate was burned. Ouattara’s opposition claims his government has sent gangs of armed thugs called “microbes” (aha, germs are involved!) to intimidate the opposition’s allies.
But things will quiet down after the election, right? Well, first Ivory Coast has to get through the election. Approximately 35,000 law enforcement personnel have been deployed to ensure poll security. Even after the votes are counted, things may not be calm if history is any indication. In 2010, the incumbent president refused to concede defeat by Ouattara leading to a brief civil war in which 3,000 people were killed. Fearing deja vu, residents of the port of Abidjan, the country’s biggest city, are stocking up on provisions and sending family members to rural villages ahead of the divisive election this weekend fearing things may turn violent. Yikes! Better stock up on cocoa now just in case things really go south in West Africa.
And in the Ivory Coast, unlike the U.S., there’s not just one loser. A total of four candidates were cleared to run in this election. It’s an interesting cast of characters; in addition to Ouattara, there’s 86 year old former president Henri Konan Bedie, former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, and independent candidate Kuoadio Konan Bertin. I don’t know who will win, but I do know that 75% of the presidential candidates will be unhappy with the outcome. At least in the U.S., only 50% of such candidates will be bummed by the election results.
Divisive 2020 elections are clearly widespread with instances of such conflict not only in North America but in Africa as well. Unfortunately, this divisiveness is not caused by a virus for which a vaccine might be found. Sadly, we are stuck with divisiveness which is simply a result of human nature. Being ugly, combative, and intolerant of those with differing political views is contagious. Wearing a mask won’t solve that problem, but disciplining ourselves to act civilly and agreeing to disagree will.
Were you aware that divisive political races were occurring in countries other than the U.S. this year? What did you know about Cote d’Ivoire before reading this post? Does the tone of current political elections simply reflect the incivility of society in general? How could elections be made less divisive?