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Ivory Coast election crisis: A roadmap for African political reform

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The resulting cross-national divisions have been preyed upon by politicians willing to ride ethnic bigotry and regional chauvinism into power. Ouattara, for instance, was prevented by coup leader General Robert Guei from contesting the 2000 election based on highly exclusivist “Ivoirite” citizenship laws intended to disenfranchise northerners considered of foreign parentage.

If, as is likely, Ouattara takes power, his biggest challenge will be reunifying a country still divided by the legacy of the 2002 civil war. That means tackling national identity and citizenship issues, reforming land tenure, and devolving power from the presidency to achieve more representative and inclusive governance.

For Ivory Coast as elsewhere, it is especially important that such devolution create more linkages with the large segments of the population whose lives are still governed on a daily basis by African customary and traditional institutions.

Four priorities for reform

What goes for Ivory Coast goes for so many other states. The redesign of Africa’s governing institutions should keep in mind four priorities, all of which apply to Ivory Coast.

Balance and separation of powers

First, Africa’s “big man” political tradition must be replaced by new laws and arrangements that better balance power among independent government institutions to achieve real accountability. Ivory Coast’s Second Republic (2000) constitution provides for a strong presidency within the framework of a separation of powers, but, as in most of Africa, the political system is dominated by the president.

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