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Latest update : 2009-12-11

Ivory Coast’s long-awaited election

It’s been nearly five years now, since 2005, against a backdrop of civil war and political crisis, and Ivorians are still waiting for a presidential election that has yet to take place. Elections are now supposed to take place next in spring. But voters remain skeptical. What has led to these repeated postponements?

 

When Willy Bracciano and I were sent to Ivory Coast to find out why a presidential election first slated for 2005 was yet again pushed back to an undetermined date, we were braced for the worst.
 
Officially, the civil war’s over. But disarmament is still to come. Despite a 2007 peace deal, the delays have made it Africa’s most expensive election process ever.
 
When we got there, residents of this former French colony expressed genuine hope. Provisional voter rolls have been posted – starting the theoretical countdown to election day.
 
We soon found out one of the main reasons why the process has been so long and costly.
 
In a country whose economy rests on cheap foreign labor from surrounding states, where elections used to rhyme with accusations over who’s Ivorian and who’s not, and where most never bothered in the past with proof of citizenship, a French company’s been called in to offer sophisticated 21st Century biometric technology to create from scratch a data base for the country’s 20 million citizens.
 
On a personal note, this assignment was a homecoming. For three years between 1995 and 1998, I was the Radio France International correspondent in Abidjan.
Back then, Ivory Coast was a model of stability. Civil war was unthinkable. The war’s taught many to temper their rhetoric.
 
There’s also a lot more wealth – new luxury homes bought thanks to the Ivorian diaspora and profits from the export of cocoa and offshore oil.
 
We also found lot more poverty with new shanty towns in many neighborhoods, rising poverty, and a dipping literacy rate.
 
Will the former rebels, who still control the north and the pro-government militias go quietly? Hard to say, but so many we met have put their faith – at least so far - in the electoral process. If it goes well, they insist that the price of the election will have been well worth it.

 

By François PICARD , Willy BRACCIANO

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