In northern rebel stronghold, election sparks hopes for peace – at last
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As voters across Ivory Coast voted on Sunday in the country’s first presidential election since a bitter civil war split the country, FRANCE 24’s correspondents tested the mood in Bouake, the former capital of the rebel-held north.
While all eyes are on Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s economic hub and the country’s most populous city, the success or failure of the country’s historic presidential election may ultimately be determined in places like Bouake, the former capital city of the rebel-held north.
Here as elsewhere in the country, thousands lined up with high spirits on Sunday to cast their ballots in an election many had thought would never take place.
- 14 candidates vying for the Ivorian presidency
- More than 5.7 million voter and identity cards distributed before the poll
- 20,000 polling stations across the country
- 200 billion CFA francs (304 million euros) spent on the election. The figure is expected to rise, making it the most expensive election in African history.
- The EU has sent 120 election observers to monitor the electoral process
- 500 UN peacekeepers will join the 8,650 UN troops already deployed in the country
- Nearly 2,000 foreign journalists expected in the country to cover the first round
“Today's a day of joy for me. I'll wait as long as it takes to vote,” said one voter who had been lining up since before dawn outside a polling station near Bouake’s main market.
A woman nearby said the polls finally raised the prospect of change for the once-prosperous nation that has been blighted by political instability for over a decade. “At least with the elections, we think that our children can finally find jobs,” she said.
Many here had shunned the previous presidential election, held in 2000, after the local favourite, Alassane Ouattara of the RDR (Rally of Republicans), was barred from running on the grounds of his dubious nationality, a sensitive issue in a once famously multicultural nation.
Ouattara’s inclusion in this year’s contest was crucial to securing support for the election in the country’s north. With Ouattara now running against old foes Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president, and previous president Henri Konan Bedie, this election has acquired a credibility that had eluded previous polls.
Former rebels vote for peace
The former rebel New Forces, which still control parts of the north despite a series of peace agreements with the central government, have agreed to help monitor the elections, alongside security forces and UN peacekeepers.
At the entrance of the polling station, Cherif Ousmane, the New Forces’ regional commander, was busy helping control the flow of voters.
“The campaign took place in a spirit of peace, in a spirit of free and transparent elections where each side pledged to respect the verdict of the ballot box, so we hope and think it will go well,” he said.
His words echoed those of Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, the former leader of the New Forces, whose appointment in 2007 marked a key step in the pacification of a country still reeling from civil war.
"The loser must salute the winner and the winner must have humility in his victory to work with the loser, so we can get out of this crisis," Soro said on the eve of the election.
His plea came more than three years after a peace deal brokered by Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore, which has largely held despite sporadic outbreaks of violence.
While voters in Bouake could breathe a sigh of relief on Sunday, all were mindful that the real test would come in the aftermath of the vote.