The Monkey Cage on Ivorian elections: local grievances are not what matters most

The Ivorian elections are approaching, and many academics who have worked on Cote d’Ivoire are spreading their thoughts in the blogsphere. Here you find Sophie Rosenberg on Africanarguments and here is Marco Wyss on the LSE blog. While I do not have much to comment about Sophie and Marco’s posts, since I agree with them on most points, I am a bit disappointed by the Monkey Cage piece on the Ivorian elections. The Monkey Cage is a great blog and I am a huge fan of it, but I found the post by Matthew Mitchell and rather superficial when it comes to current Ivorian events.

To begin, they start with the claim that “many analysts and Ivorian citizens believe (or hope) that the economic boom will help defuse political hostilities between the opposition parties, led by the Front Populaire Ivoirien, and President Alassane Ouattara’s ruling party, Rassemblement des Républicains. The underlying assumption is that with a growing economy, the ruling party can consolidate political support and reduce the likelihood of a closely contested election”.

Who are those analysts and Ivorian citizens? Sources are not cited and it is not surprising, because none in Cote d’Ivoire (or who is well informed about Cote d’Ivoire) is making such claim. Especially as poverty has not reduced proportionally to GDP growth – according to a recent survey by the National Institute of Statistics, only 2.5% since 2008. The other problem is that the sentence seems to imply that we should be happy that the likelihood of a contested election has been reduced. While it is true that this is making electoral violence on a large scale unlikely, this is far from being a good new for the future of Cote d’Ivoire.

In a subsequent paragraph, however, the authors claim, quite in contradiction with the previous argument, that “President Ouattara’s efforts to consolidate political support have hampered peacebuilding”. This is on many respects true, but if Ouattara has to be blamed, let’s blame him for what he has actually done wrong. Mitchell and Klaus claim that “the government has sidestepped serious land reforms and avoided prosecuting crimes associated with the post-election violence. And the government isn’t doing much to disarm the former pro-Gbagbo militias, and even less to disarm those that supported Ouattara”.

The first statement is partly true: unfortunately, however, the problem of land reform is so complex and registering rural property so expensive and time consuming that no Ivorian government has done much. In spite of his claims, Gbagbo as well did not advance much with the objective of getting the customary rights of the autochtonous populations (his own supporters) officialized. But land tenure grievances in Cote d’Ivoire  are increasingly intra-ethnic (sometimes intra-familiar) and it is not sure that the connection between land grievances and political violence is so direct as Klaus and Mitchell claim.

About post election crimes, they are indeed being prosecuted: the problem is that only one side up to now has been targeted – the Gbagbo side of course. There has been no “de facto amnesty for elites involved in 2010-2011 electoral violence” and many supporters of the former Ivorian regime are still detained or are awaiting trial – Gbagbo’s wife Simone being the most famous. Biased transitional justice, something I had occasion to comment upon, is not ideal but in the Ivorian context perhaps inhevitable, and it has to be said that the International Criminal Court has been until now not much better than the Ivorian tribunals. Moreover, the relationship between transitional justice and peace is complex and it is not clear why amnesties for human right abuses should be celebrated as a step towards peacebuilding in some countries (South Africa being the most famous exemple) and branded as a recipee for future violence in others. In the case of Cote d’Ivoire the rhetoric of the struggle against impunity has become a convenient excuse to keep pro-Gbagbo militants in jail.

As for DDR, Ouattara has made a substantial effort to address the problem, creating a special DDR authority directly under his supervision. Unfortunately, the authority has inherited a series of fragmentary and poorly compiled lists of former combatants by previous DDR institutions. Nevertheless, it has done efforts to gain the trust of pro-Gbagbo combatants and many of them have received a demobilization package, training and other benefits. I am not claiming that there have not been injustices in the process, with many real former combatants excluded and some false combatants brought in by New Forces commanders and other “gatekeepers”, but to blame Ouattara for failed DDR seems to me unfair.

Klaus and Mitchell are clearly indebted to a very popular recent trend in peace and conflict studies: the “local turn” that emphasizes the importance of local grievances in peacebuilding. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that such a focus is warranted in the current Ivorian context. The article barely touches the (national-level) factors that to me pose the real serious threats for the future of the country: the (re)consolidation of a de facto single-party system, biased and inefficient electoral institutions and growing internal rivalry within the RDR party for Ouattara’s succession. If there will be a future conflict in Cote d’Ivoire, it will arguably not revolve around the cleavages of 2010-2011, but it will most likely involve Northern politicians who have supported Ouattara at the time of the post election crisis in 2010-2011.