Democratic Drama: Ivory Coast’s President Ouattara wins the 2020 Election amid Opposition and Violence

Written by: Harry Colvin

Ivory Coast recently held their presidential election, and it wasn’t without major drama and controversy. President Alassane Ouattara, 78, was elected by the Ivorian people on October 31st, receiving 99% of the vote in some areas of the country and 94% nationally.  However, the elected President received major criticism from opposing presidential campaigns due to this upcoming term being his third consecutive one. Ivory Coast has a limit of two consecutive presidential terms. But, Ouattara claims that the presidential two-term limit does not apply in his case because a new constitution was promulgated in 2016. In response, Former President Henri Konan Bedie and former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan declared that they did not recognize the vote and announced a transitional government.

However, just days later, on November 3rd, the former prime minister was arrested in the town of Akoupe for the creation of a rival government. Later in the week, Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council officially ratified President Ouattara for his third term. 

In March, Ouattara said that he would not run for a third term, but rescinded his statement when his handpicked successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, suddenly died. Ouattara announced in August that he would be running for a third five-year term, an announcement that was met with protests and violence. According to the New York Times, at least 40 people have lost their lives in political clashes and more than 3,200 Ivorians have fled the country to neighboring nations of Liberia, Ghana, and Togo due to the tensions since the President’s announcement.

Some claim that the election itself cannot be considered legitimate because not everyone was granted the opportunity to participate in the democratic system. PTI Advocacy Group stated that the events of the 2020 election day in Ivory Coast show, “that a large segment of the Ivorian population did not experience this election in peace.” It declared that 23% of polling stations did not open due to threats or attacks and that many did not vote out of “fear and anxiety.” The BBC states that several polling stations were ransacked in areas where the opposition candidates had support. 

Ouattara asked his supporters for peace, stating, “I appeal to those who launched this slogan of civil disobedience that led to the death of a man…Let them stop, let them stop because Ivory Coast needs peace.” 

On November 9th, the Ivory Coast Constitutional Council confirmed Ouattara’s re-election for his third presidential term. Council President Mamadou Kone said there were “no serious irregularities” in the election that saw Ouattara receive 94% of the vote.

Election drama isn’t new to the Ivory Coast. In 2010, major violence broke out after then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat to Ouattara. The tension set off a civil war which resulted in the killing 3,000 and forced 300,000 to flee the country. According to AP News, Ouattara only secured his position after “pro-Ouattara forces captured Gbagbo and forced him from his underground bunker.” 

This instability in the democratic system is not limited to Ivory Coast. Fellow African nation Tanzania generated their own controversy this November, as John Magufili has been sworn in as president while his opposition reported alleged vote-rigging, violence, and intimidation during the election. According to the New York Times, leaders of other African countries, such as Guinea and Uganda have altered constitutions, prosecuted opponents, or manipulated the courts to ensure re-election in 2020. Closer to home, in the United States, former Vice President Joe Biden has been declared the winner of America’s 2020 election, but standing President Donald Trump has yet to accept these results. He demands a recount of votes by hand in the state of Georgia. 

Democracy is considered by many to be the most righteous and fair governmental system in the modern world. However, it is clear that democracy isn’t as simple as counting votes. Power talks. Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara is an evident example of the complications of democracy, and the fall of 2020 has been a season that has people around the world questioning the legitimacy of the system.