At least five people have been killed in Côte d’Ivoire after violent protests erupted in response to President Allasane Ouattara’s announcement of a third-term bid.
Over 100 people were also injured, including 10 police officers and 2 gendarmes according to government figures. The opposition parties have however put the death toll at twelve.
The clashes were between rival demonstrators supporting the candidate of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), and former president from 1993 to 1999, Henri Konan Bédié and President Alassane Ouattara.
President Ouattara secured an easy second term in 2015, five years after he won an intensely fought elections in 2010 against Laurent Gbogbo which led to the death of over 3000 Ivorians. Under the country’s constitution, presidential terms are limited to two five-year mandates. Ouattara’s Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) party had nominated former Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly as its presidential candidate for the October polls but Coulibaly died on July 8, 2020, plunging the party in a desperate search for a new credible candidate at short notice. President Ouattara then announced his candidature, arguing that a new constitution adopted on November 8, 2016, cleans the slate and resets the clock at zero.
The President’s third-term bid has scratched the crust of a socio-political wound that is yet to completely heal. Ouattara’s decision has been met with anger, shock and indignation from several civil society organisations, which called for the demonstration in Abidjan and across the country on August 13.
The government responded by declaring the planned protests illegal and subsequently deployed the security forces at strategic points in the economic capital and other cities where the protests had been scheduled.
“The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation is informing the organizers of the events planned for Thursday, August 13, 2020, that they have not followed the appropriate procedures, and are not authorised”, the sector minister, Sidiki Diakite said in a press release.
First vice national coordinator of the CICI, Daleba Nouhoun who spoke to the MFWA by telephone said “Since the advent of this government, all demonstrations that do not go in their favour are repressed or prohibited,”
The anti-third term protesters defied the authorities’ warning and was met with a crackdown by security forces dispersing crowds with tear gas and truncheons.
Pulchérie Gbalet, president of the Ivorian NGO, Citizen Alternative (ACI), was accused of “inciting revolt and calling for insurrection” and arrested on the night of August 15, along with two of her collaborators by unidentified men. There is currently an online petition for her release.
In Bonoua, the stronghold of Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former President Laurent Gbagbo, one person was reportedly shot dead. In Gagnoa, a town in the region of the former president, one person was also killed.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is deeply worried about the turn of events in the country. The present climate does not augur well for peaceful media coverage of the elections and healthy political discourse in which citizens feel safe to participate. The present atmosphere has the potential to dissuade critical journalism, free expression of dissenting opinion and participation in political gatherings which are an essential part of electoral processes.
We condemn the inter-communal clashes on both sides, which have the potential to undermine all efforts for peace and reconciliation made by various actors to consolidate peace and democracy in Cote d’Ivoire.
MFWA also condemns the excessive use of force by the security agencies, and calls for impartial investigations into the violent attacks on protesters. We call for the release of protesters who were arrested, and encourages all political parties to sensitise their supporters on the need to preserve Cote d’Ivoire’s fragile peace and consolidate its fledgling democracy. We call on the media to demonstrate professionalism in its work and urge media stakeholders to take steps and adopt strategies to ensure the safety of journalists before, during and after the elections.