Uncertain Election Results in Côte d’Ivoire Leave the Country on Edge

With both sides claiming victory in last month's presidential elections, life is tense for those living in this once prosperous West African nation. Rumors of civil war run rampant.

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

ABIDJAN, CÔTE D’IVOIRE — The city has returned to an almost tense normal again, less than two weeks after elections that resulted in two presidents being sworn into office by separate entities here in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Alassane Ouattara, the internationally backed president, is holed up in the safety of the U.N.-protected Golf Hotel and surrounded by his new, essentially exiled government within Abidjan that is led by newly selected Vice President Guillaume Soro. They are desperately trying to etch a place for themselves in the capital, so far without much success.

Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo — sworn in with tepid support from Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Russia, Lebanon, Angola and few other international interests — essentially has the endorsement of the Ivorian national army, the police factions, much of the public works and nearly half the population. From outside the country, it appears as if Ouattara has clearly won the elections. From inside, it’s not as obvious, though it is apparent that Gbagbo is in charge, since Ouattara’s name is no longer even found in any local media. Many believe that Gbagbo is here to stay.

Foreign television and radio media were and are said to be “banned” within the country, although several stations, such as TV5, managed to unscramble their signal a mere day after the imposition. Internet news, barring the site of ONUCI (the U.N. mission in Côte d’Ivoire), seems completely unaffected, and although large numbers of the population are offline or without satellite access, the international news is still trickling in, able to reach the vast majority, despite what is being portrayed in the outside media.

The night curfew remains, although scaled back to run only from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to allow people to return to work without too much difficulty, and the borders have reopened after being closed nearly a week. Approximately 2,000 people have fled, fearing violence, since the borders have opened, and they are now mostly being sheltered with host families in neighboring Liberia.

Approximately 30 people have lost their lives so far, and rumors of return to civil war are abundant, prompting the U.N. and several embassies to dwindle down their staffs to only the essential employees and to issue warnings to many foreign nationals to evacuate at their first chance or be stranded without their embassy’s assistance.

The situation is extremely complicated. Yet the truth is being obscured by a number of factors: the clear taking of sides in both the international and local media, Gbagbo’s stubborn insistence on ignoring all unfriendly outside voices, the U.N.’s claims at impartiality and the international community’s calling of a winner without investigation.