Tense Ivory Coast vote reveals a nation divided
Voters in the conflict-torn West African nation of Ivory Coast are choosing a new president today amid concerns of violence after political clashes caused at least six deaths in recent days.
(Page 2 of 2)
“I still won't wear my Muslim cap when I drive,” he said. “It just invites trouble.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Religious and xenophobic tension
Xenophobic tension lies at the heart the civil war.
Shortly after independence in 1960, Ivory Coast encouraged immigration from neighboring countries to provide labor in the cocoa fields that fueled rapid development and turned the country into the envy of the region, with glittering glass skyscrapers, hydroelectric dams, and multilane highways.
Because being born in Ivory Coast doesn't grant citizenship, foreigners now number in the millions and many of them have been living in the country for generations. Their presence became a problem when the bottom fell out of cocoa prices in the 1980s.
As unemployment soared, then-president Henri Konan Bédié, who unsuccessfully ran in this election, institutionalized the concept of Ivoirité – or Ivorianness – as a way to bolster nationalism and undermine support for Ouattara, his political rival and a northerner wildly popular among the immigrant population.
While Ouattara was forced to flee the country in 2002, the rebellion fought to give a voice to the northerners and peace accords signed in 2007 secured them a strong voice in the future of the country. Ouattara's candidacy was a pre-condition for peace, written into the first ceasefire in 2003.
Who is Ivorian?
Drawing up a definitive list of Ivorian citizens was the first task the warring parties had to accomplish together, both knowing that a low standard would bolster the ranks of Ouattara supporters and a high bar would exclude as many of them as possible. But trying to figure out the difference between an Ivorian of Malian origin and a Malian who was born and raised in Ivory Coast often comes down to tattered photocopies of colonial-era identity papers that go back generations.
Working out the list delayed the election six times before the first round was finally held in October.
Unsurprisingly, the protagonists from each side of the civil war made it through to the run-off, setting the stage for an election that will either justify the rebellion by putting its champion in the presidential palace, or vindicate everything an embattled president did to defend his country.
Both sides remain convinced of their victory.
“Gbagbo accomplished in wartime than his predecessors did in peace,” says Prof. Kouadio.
But Mr. Keita, the bicycle repairman hopes that a Ouattara victory will show everyone that northerners and southerners can live peacefully side by side. “I'm sure of it,” he said. “He's a real Ivorian, just like me.”
Results are expected three days after the polls close.