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Democracy in Côte d'Ivoire: Merit and lesson for Ukraine

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

Often, discussing the lack of democracy, corruption, low living standards in Ukraine, experts cite African countries as examples with much bigger problems. Indeed, against their background we still look pretty good
10:13, 8 April 2020

President of Côte d'Ivoire Alassane Ouattara
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Speaking in Mariupol in December last year, Ukrainian business coach Valery Pekar compared Ukraine to the dense Middle Ages, while he classified the least developed African countries as a more primitive slave system. However, there are exceptions even on the Black Continent. In early March, the African Research Center (Ukrainian public organization) devoted a separate post to the statement of 78-year-old President of Côte d'Ivoire Alassane Ouattara, who refused to run for elections in October 2020 and wanted to transfer power to the younger generation.

Over the past twenty years, the former French colony in West Africa has experienced two bloody civil wars, ethnic tensions, an economic crisis and devastation. Ouattara has been in power in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) since 2010. During this time, he managed not only to resolve conflicts with his political opponents, but also to attract foreign investment, rebuild destroyed houses and roads, and double the rate of economic growth. Ukraine has played a significant role in the reformer coming to power in Côte d'Ivoire, and now can draw some lessons from his experience.

African parallels

Ukraine and Cote d'Ivoire are somewhat similar. Both states painlessly gained independence. They avoided wars and upheavals in the first decades of independent development. Côte d'Ivoire was the most developed part of the French West Africa colonies. By 1979, the country became the world leader in the production of cocoa beans, took third place in the world after Brazil and Colombia in terms of coffee production. The country has reserves of oil, gold and diamonds. Economic growth was 11% per year. By the standards of Africa, Côte d'Ivoire was a relatively stable country. The first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, ruled from 1960 until his death in 1993 and focused on France. He enjoyed authority in Paris and in the 50s held the posts of Minister of Health and State Minister of France.

Unlike many African leaders, he pursued a tolerant policy towards the white population, helped to attract labor migrants. Work in Côte d'Ivoire was not considered shameful even among French teachers, scientists, engineers, managers. After gaining independence, the number of French in Côte d'Ivoire increased from 30 to 60 thousand. Workers from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger came to work there. Côte d'Ivoire has become home to various peoples professing Christianity and Islam. Youth went to study in the West. In particular, Alassane Ouattara graduated from the Drexel Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. In the future, the politician served as head of the department for stabilization and development of the economy, prime minister in 1990-93. Subsequently, he worked at the IMF.

However, in the 80s, the situation in the commodity economy of Côte d'Ivoire worsened due to drought, crop failures, and epidemics. Less money came into the treasury due to a reduction in agricultural exports. The successor to Houphouet-Boigny was his Democratic Party associate, Speaker of the Parliament, Henri Conan Bedier, who promoted the idea of ​​Ivorian nationalism. In order to prevent his competitors from gaining control over the country, he enshrined in the Electoral Code a provision that a descendant of migrants could not become president. Subsequently, this provision was enshrined in the Constitution. About half of the population of the 24 millionth Côte d'Ivoire are migrants and their descendants. Muslim Ouattara's parents, a diula tribe, came from Burkina Faso (he denied this). This tribe lives in the north of Côte d'Ivoire and in Burkina Faso. Residents of the northern regions were cut off from participation in the political life of the country. Bedier was criticized for participating in corruption schemes and for harassing political opponents. A part of the military rebelled against the president, as he conducted purges in the army.

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Like Ukraine, Côte d'Ivoire plunged into armed conflict with the intervention of third countries. In 1999, President Bedier was ousted during a military coup organized by retired general Robert Guei. In the 2000 presidential election, he was defeated by his protege, the leader of the center-left Ivorian Popular Front party, Laurent Gbagbo. The opposition did not recognize the election results. The republic plunged into civil war. Gbagbo people who controlled the southern part of the country were supported by the military from France under the pretext of protecting the local French and military experts from Russia and Belarus (according to unofficial information). Burkina Faso and Liberia supported the rebels in the north, led by the former head of the Student Federation of Côte d'Ivoire, Guillaume Soro. In 2007, the parties to the conflict agreed on peace through UN mediation. Gbagbo retained his presidency, and Soro became prime minister.

Military assistance of Ukraine

The finest hour of Ouattara came after the 2010 presidential election. Their holding was postponed due to the unstable situation in the country. The election commission and international observers recognized Ouattara as the winner, and the Constitutional Council supported Gbagbo, who was also supported by the military. Dual power was established in the country and the second civil war began. The French military and the 56th separate helicopter detachment of the Armed forces of Ukraine from the Ukrainian UN peacekeeping contingent under the command of Colonel Petro Plis helped Ouattara. Ukrainian helicopter pilots had flown to Côte d'Ivoire from Liberia in 2010 as a reinforcement of the UN peacekeeping mission that has been there since 2004.

The UN Security Council recognized Ouattara as president and therefore supported the suppression of the rebellion. The crews of attack helicopters Mi-24P bombed warehouses with equipment and ammunition, artillery mounts and multiple launch rocket systems of Gbagbo supporters in the city of Abidjan. The rebels lost all resources for further resistance to Ouattara, and Gbagbo was captured by French commandos. The former president has appeared before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity. Due to the unrest in Côte d'Ivoire, 3 000 people died, 300 000 refugees left their homes.

Ouattara Reforms

In 2011, Côte d'Ivoire went to President Ouattara in a worse condition than after gaining independence half a century ago. Economic growth slowed down and amounted to 4% in 2009-10 (in Ukraine, it was 3.3% in 2019). Foreign investors left the country. Civil wars were accompanied by the seizure of private property, looting, attacks on white people. Crime flourished in the streets. Very often there were cases of robbery of passers-by in the evening. Infrastructure lay in ruins.

Ouattara's team managed to overcome the main challenges. With the assistance of UN peacekeepers, it was possible to disarm 70,000 participants in the armed conflict. The peace process was successful, and the UN peacekeeping contingent left Côte d'Ivoire in 2017. Ouattara pursued a policy of reconciliation of the parties to the conflict. He negotiated a parliamentary coalition with a former adversary and leader of the Bedier Democratic Party. The lonely leader of the northerly rebels Soro, who supported the now president in the confrontation with Gbagbo, served as prime minister until 2012, and then was the speaker of parliament until 2019. Under Ouattara, constitutional amendments were introduced. He canceled the position that the descendants of migrants cannot run for president, limited the right to be re-elected by two terms, created the upper house of the Senate in the parliament for representatives of the regions. The president has amnestied Gbagbo supporters.

Ouattara managed to agree with the Paris Club of creditors to write off more than $ 6 billion of debt. Under him, the public debt of Côte d'Ivoire fell from 85% to 47% of GDP (the national debt of Ukraine is 50% of GDP). Over the past seven years, Côte d'Ivoire’s GDP has grown by 7% per year. The Ivorian economy is considered one of the fastest growing in Africa and ranks 5th among 54 countries on the continent. The level of hostility between the inhabitants of the north and south has decreased. At the expense of public funds and private investment, the president rebuilt the war-ravaged country.

In 2014-15 The World Bank recognized Côte d'Ivoire as one of the 10 places where business conditions have improved. From 2012 to 2016, the inflow of foreign investment in the economy increased by 44%. Foreigners mainly invest in the construction, technological, agricultural sector. Almost every day, new cafes and shops open in the country. According to Transparency International, the level of susceptibility to corruption in Côte d'Ivoire (106th place from 180 countries) is lower than in Ukraine (126th place). Over the past six years, the number of Internet users in an African country has increased from 200 000 to 10 million people.

Unresolved issues

But we should not exaggerate the achievements of the African reformer. At the end of his first presidential term in 2015, he was criticized for the ineffectiveness of the fight against corruption in law enforcement agencies. Police officers take bribes, and high-ranking army officers profited from the smuggling of natural resources and tax fraud. According to Human Rights Watch, the independence of the judiciary is limited in Côte d'Ivoire, and insufficient funds are spent on its development - only 1.4% of GDP. The economy is still dependent on the export of raw materials. Côte d'Ivoire is unevenly developed, as 80% of economic activity is concentrated in Abidjan with a population of 5 million people.

Not all residents of the country are satisfied with the policy of Ouattara. According to the Avidga organization, which represents the interests of internally displaced persons, the country's authorities pay compensation to the victims of only one side of the conflict, ignoring the interests of others. In total, 317 000 inhabitants of Côte d'Ivoire received compensation. The army has enough military personnel who are unhappy with the current level of salaries.

There were fears that part of the military might arrange a new civil war if Ouattara wanted to run for the presidential election in 2020. Lately, relations between the president and former prime minister Soro, who was going to stand for the upcoming elections, have worsened. He has enough allies in parliament and the army among the former rebels whom he commanded. Representatives of the Ivorian Popular Front disagree with the Ouattara reforms. There are soldiers in the army who were supporters of Gbagbo.

Apparently, Ouattara decided to give the "way to the youth" so as not to provoke a new conflict in Côte d'Ivoire. And already for this they will respect him.

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