Ivory Coast and the Peril of Third Term Presidency in Africa

Published on 20th October 2020

What’s in the offing in Ivory Coast currently is a menace if it isn’t nibbled in the bud quickly. The outgoing president Alassane Ouattara is trying to illegally cling to power. After ascending to power democratically, Ouattara seems to have naively and perilously jilted and pooh-poohed the force that put him to power. He wants more of power. Former Malawi president, Bakili Muluzi, attempted this and failed. Ouattara should learn from history instead of proving how bankrupt a politician can politically be. It is sad to note that most of those tampering with the constitutions of their countries are enlightened and hold titles such as Dr. and Professor before their names.  Indeed, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

After enjoying the ballyhoos and saccharinity of power, Muluzi wanted to stay longer than the two terms allowed constitutionally. Malawians denied him. In Burundi, the DRC and Togo respectively, former presidents, Pierre Nkurunziza, Joseph Kabila and Faure Eyadema got away with illegally securing more time in office. In Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade tried to perfect third term unconstitutionality to no avail. In neighbouring Burkinabe, former felony, Blaise Compaore, was shown the door after lording it over for many years while in Guinea, the imbroglio is still ongoing.  While in other countries such as Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, Uganda and many others, presidents have shown the crave for power, to the contrary, Tanzania’s president John Pombe Magufuli has flatly refused to buy into this tyranny despite many Tanzanians asking him to stay on after completing his constitutional two terms of presidency come 2025.

Will Ivorians take a leaf from Malawi and foil Ouattara’s attempt to send the country back to dictatorship or just crouch down and shamelessly destroy their country willy-nilly? Will they replicate their solidarity that saw Robert Guéï–––another tinpot dictator who illegally seized power–––stymied and pulled down from violating their constitution and rights to remain in power?              

Paradoxically, Ouattara had already accepted to relinquish power soon after the expiration of his constitutional two terms. Before Ouattara made a volte-face, the AFP (March 5th, 2020) quoted him as saying “I have decided not to be candidate in the Oct. 31 presidential election and to transfer power to a new generation.” Is he the new generation is talking about that wants to replace himself? Behind the curtains, he’d already handpicked his protégé, former prime minister, Amadou Gon Coulibaly who died on 8th July, 2020 forcing Ouattara to abuse the constitution by deciding to stay on illegally. An African proverb has it that He who is wise endeavours to learn how to understand the truth not less than that.

Ouattara’s doubletalk is a good hunch for the ECOWAS and Ivorians opposed to power seizure should hang our hat on to force Ouattara to abandon his power greed and hold on power under what Guillaume Soro, former Ouattara ally and prime minister, refers to as elections aimed at endorsing the institutional state coup d’état by Alassane Ouattara.

The Al Jazeera (September 17th, 2020) quoted Soro as saying that he believes there won’t be elections scheduled in October 31st. Already four people have been massacred as a result of the confrontation between Ouattara and those who oppose his bid to presidency. According to the Al Jazeera (August 14th, 2020), three people were killed in the central town of Daoukro in clashes between Ouattara supporters and backers of rival candidate Henri Konan Bedi, also a former president who aspires to run for presidency. To make matters worse, former president Laurent Gbagbo’s party, the Ivorian Popular Front (IFP), wants him to run for president. Interestingly, Ivory Coast, like Mali, seems to suffer from power hunger by its elites. For, in 2000, the mass action supported Gbagbo and forced Guéï out of power. Guéï had barred other potential contenders to participate in the election, something Ouattara has replicated despite knowing the danger such a move presents to him and the country.

The ECOWAS needs to quickly and inviolably intervene and address the matter in Ivory Coast despite the fact that Ouattara is a friend of many heads of state in the region. If economic sanctions work in Mali, they also must be applied on Ivory Coast. ECOWAS has a precedent. Its intervention in The Gambia, in 2017, peacefully and successfully dislodged a longtime dictator, Yahya Jammeh who didn’t want to relinquish power as was the case with Laurent Gbagbo, Ouattara’s predecessor whose ouster was necessitated by France. There’s no way the ECOWAS and the international community at large can allow the contempt of the constitution and power grab in Ivory Coast whose politics gyrates around tribalism.

Malawi was among the first African countries to defeat dictators through the ballot box.  Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Malawi’s longtime dictator lost to Muluzi before he too, was forced to abandon his quest to run for the third term in office. In Zambia, former president Fredrick Chiluba’s attempt to cling to power was foiled by the citizens. As well, Malawi set another positive precedent. It became the second country to see presidential victory annulled by the Supreme Courts after Kenya. These are the only two African countries whose presidential wins were declared null and void. In Kenya, president Uhuru Kenyatta went ahead to win the rerun election though, in Malawi the stars didn’t align and thus, once again, proved tough in protecting its democracy after former president professor Peter Mutharika lost the rerun to Lazarus Chakwera.

The ECOWAS should not ignore the situation in Ivory Coast as this will be a double standard that won’t only imperil the region and set a debauched precedent but also encourage other power-crazy monsters to illegally remain in power and give Africa’s democracy a hit. There’s no slapping Ouattara in the wrist but in the face to send a strong message. Ouattara must come of age and own his promise to vacate office of the president as he promised in March. He should be reminded of what happened to Gbagbo and Guéï when they tried to cling to power.

By Nkwazi Mhango

The author is a lifetime member of the Writers' Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador (WANL) and author of over 20 books among which are Africa Reunite or Perish, 'Is It Global War on Terrorism' or Global War over Terra Africana? How Africa Developed Europe and contributed many chapters in scholarly works on many issues.

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