The vote came and went without major incident. Each party had an observer at every polling station to ensure their ballots were being counted properly. International observers were also present in many places, and indicated their satisfaction at the calm, patient and generally fair manner in which the election proceeded, barring a few minor logistical hiccups. And then we waited. The streets became ghost towns. The shops were all closed. People stowed themselves quietly in their homes, glued to their television sets and radios awaiting the results. The government announced the closure of land borders and the suspension of all SMS text messages to prevent violent uprisings from forming. The army General was repeatedly flashed on the tv screen calling for calm and patience.
The international news broadcast that the results would be tallied by the end of the week, though locally we were hearing that we would begin to have them much sooner. On Monday night, we were told that the next morning, results would begin to be released. Tuesday morning came and went; and then it was announced that the results would be released starting at noon. At noon, they said three o’clock. At three o’clock, no announcement was made and people started to get very nervous. By this time, rumours were flying everywhere; stories of violence spreading across Abidjan to claims of complete political upsets and a worried electoral commission who didn’t know how to release the results to the population without mass violence. All turned out to be untrue, but created a sense of panic none-the-less. At five o’clock, we heard that results would begin to be released at six o’clock, but six came and went and regular programming was interrupted only briefly with the General and religious leaders’ repeated calls for peace. Finally, close to 9pm, the announcers came on and began to ease our fears. They slowly began releasing the polls from districts with well-suspected winners. By the same time the next evening, we were still waiting on nearly half the votes to be read, but it was looking more and more like a run-off would be in the near future. Everyone stayed home again on Wednesday, afraid what the day would bring. The city remained a ghost town.
By midnight on Wednesday, the results had been released. Laurent Gbgabo had won eleven of the nineteen districts with 38.06% of the vote. Alassane Ouattara had five of the districts with 32.36% of the vote. Henri Bedie had won three districts with 25.01% of the vote, meaning that he would not be participating in the next month’s run-off election between Gbagbo and Ouattara. By Friday, Bedie was claiming that there were voting irregularities and was complaining publicly of voter intimidation in certain regions. By Saturday, Ouattara too had voiced complaints over voting irregularities. Both complaints were rejected by the authorities who validated the election as fair and free.
Since 1985, Cote D’Ivoire has descended deeper and deeper into poverty, with nearly half the population (49%) now living below the poverty line. Government-run roadblocks are said to bring in 150 billion- 300 billion CFA (approximately $294-588 million) annually, and taxes are high at 18%. Yet 1.2 million children are not receiving even primary education because they can’t afford it, estimates suggest that 40-50% of the population is now unemployed, health care remains out of reach for the vast majority of the population, and the country continues to have the highest HIV/AIDs prevalence in West Africa.
The people are tired of corruption, and tired of violence. Ivorians want peace for their country—this much is clear to me. Everyone I talk to articulates the same sentiment and is currently sitting in tension, hoping the results of the run-off elections don’t destroy the current fragile peace. They want leaders who will respect their voice and not steal their money through corruption. They are exceptionally proud of their country and to be Ivorian, but want their children to receive a quality education, their family to have health care if they are sick and to have steady employment themselves. These goals are not out of reach for Cote D’Ivoire, but it will require leaders who desire peace over their own power, and who will make efforts at transparency and accountability to reign in the corruption. Now we must wait and hope that next month’s run-off elections run as smoothly as this round did, although experts currently fear the worst.
Rebecca Sargent writes for the Stand Blog and lives and works in West Africa. You can follow her on Twitter @peaceofconflict