An invisible line and two Presidents

Cote d’Ivoire: The World urging calm

After more than four years of delay, the citizens of Cote d’Ivoire have gone to the polls to vote in the first free and fair elections since the end their ethnoreligious civil war in 2007. After the first round of voting, neither of the two prominent contenders, current President Laurent Gbagbo and the main opposition challenger Alassane Ouattara, gained the percentage needed to avoid a runoff. That second-round election took place on November 28. Since then, the country has moved from pre-election tension to post-election dystopia. As the world watches and springs into conflict-avoidance, the precarity of the political landscape threatens to pull another generation of Ivorians into civil war.

The first dramatic salvo was fired on Thursday when Mr. Gbagbo’s representative at the Electoral Commission grabbed early results from a Commission official, who was about to read them to awaiting media, declared them fraudulent and ripped the result slip to pieces. When the Electoral Commission was able to avoid the reigning President’s political followers (re: lackeys), it certified Mr. Outtara to be the winner. (Confirmed and backed by countries across the world, as well.) Almost immediately, the Constitutional Court (in a preposterously partisan move) challenged the Commissions’s legitimacy and both players, respectively, swore themselves in as the new President of Cote d’Ivoire.

This all leads us, once again, to watching Cote d’Ivoire teeter on the proverbial high wire. From a pragmatic standpoint, it was hard to imagine the country’s return to democracy to be anything less than tumultuous. For all intensive purposes the civil war has never ended. The Forces Nouvelles (New Forces) Rebels still control the northern part of the country and the two most insidious issues, religious marginalization and ethnic tensions, are still simmering below the surface. So have any of these grievances been assuaged since the laying down of arms in 2007? No, not really.

Cote d’Ivoire is divided by an invisible but steadfastly unbreakable fault line. It is drawn between the Muslim, migrant-infused north and the “Ivorian,” Christian South. This election highlights the continued tension surrounding ethnicity and religion. Predictably, President Gbagbo, from the south, is Christian. Mr. Ouattara, from the north, is Muslim. It is problematic dichotomy personified. The mistrust that both sides are seeded with, due to past deeds committed by the villainous “other,” will be exceedingly difficult to overcome peacefully.

The international community, for its part, has not sat on its collective hands as the clock to chaos ticks away.  The African Union immediately dispatched former South African Prime Minister Thabo Mbeki to broker a quick fix solution and the World Bank and African Development Bank have urged calm. Unfortunately, as I sit here, I am unconvinced that there is an expedited, agreeable-to-all solution to the mineral-rich country’s woes. Trust, fair distribution of wealth and equal political access for all will get all Ivorians there. Hopefully, for its citizens’ sake, the country will not get pulled in the opposite direction. That invisible line is looking all but impassable at the moment.

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