Constitutional reform in Côte d'Ivoire supports reconciliation

 

Côte d’Ivoire is a presidential republic. Since the cessation of the civil war in 2011, the country’s president, Alassane Ouattara, who is currently serving his second term, has said he wants to make the process of reconciliation his priority. Aiming to address the issues that fuelled the tensions behind the war, a series of reforms have been initiated, including a new constitution promulgated on November 8, 2016.

Constitution

Although the October 2016 referendum received 93% of votes in favour of adopting the new constitution and thereby forming the third republic, the result was not wholly devoid of controversy. According to the Independent Electoral Commission, voter turnout was 42%, but this figure was challenged by the opposition, which claimed the real figure to be between 3% and 7%.

The referendum was also marred by violence, with 100 or so polling stations coming under attack. The primary criticism expressed by the opposition was that the new constitution would further entrench the rule of Ouattara’s coalition.

Executive

The president is both the head of state and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He has the power to negotiate and ratify certain treaties, submit bills to the National Assembly or to referendum, appoint and dismiss the prime minister and Cabinet and set the course of the government. The president is elected directly by absolute majority popular vote to serve a five-year term with a maximum limit of two terms. The new constitution lowers the minimum age requirement to 35 years old.

Additionally, the constitution establishes a new position, that of the vice-president, who – similar to the US system – will run on the same ticket as the president, and be tasked with replacing the president in case of illness, death or any other absence. The current vice-president, Daniel Kablan Duncan, was appointed by Ouattara on January 9, 2017. The appointment was made without an election, in accordance with the provisions laid out in the country’s new constitution.

In order to try to resolve the issue of national identity – which contributed to the civil war – the new constitution allows anyone to stand for the presidency provided that one of their parents is of Ivorian descent. The previous constitution required presidential candidate’s to have two Ivorian parents. This provision had been widely perceived of as a means of excluding northern Ivorians from becoming candidates. This is because many Ivorians from the north of the country have a parent from neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso or Mali. Current president Ouattara, a Muslim from the North, was once banned from running in the 2000 presidential elections because of claims that his parents came from Burkina Faso. His absence from the ballot papers fuelled the ethnic tensions that eventually culminated in the civil war.

Despite initial concerns, some experts have argued that the new constitution actually slightly reduces the already extensive powers of the presidency. This is predominantly because it now takes only an absolute majority (that is, 50% or more) in the legislative chamber to override a presidential veto. This is down from the two-thirds supermajority laid out in the 2000 constitution.

Legislature

Like the executive, the legislature is also in the process of transitioning from the old constitution to the new. Formerly a unicameral parliament composed of the National Assembly, the new constitution calls for a bicameral parliament. The lower body of the new parliament is composed of the National Assembly with a new upper-body Senate. The National Assembly consists of 255 seats, with members elected directly in single-seat and multi-seat constituencies to serve five-year terms.

Two-thirds of the Senate will be elected by municipal and regional councils, with the remaining third appointed by the president, with those selected being “Ivorians recognised for their expertise and proven competence in the political, administrative, economic, scientific, cultural, athletic, professional, and social fields”. Finally, the new constitution does not stipulate that legislative and presidential elections must necessarily coincide in timing.

Judiciary

Côte d’Ivoire’s independent judiciary is based on customary law and the French civil law system. The Supreme Court is the highest court and is composed of judicial, audit, constitutional and administrative chambers. It is overseen by the court president, three vice-presidents for the judicial, audit, and administrative chambers, and nine associate justices or magistrates.

The judges, who are appointed for life, are nominated by the High Council of the Judiciary, a seven-member body chaired by the president that also comprises three “bench” judges and three public prosecutors. Subordinate courts include courts of appeal – with separate civil, criminal and social chambers – first instance courts and peace courts.

In accordance with customary law, traditional village institutions often handle local disputes in rural areas. Nevertheless, the formal court system is increasingly preferred over these traditional forms of conflict resolution. A grand mediator, who is provided for in the constitution, settles disputes that traditional means cannot resolve, thus bridging the gap between tradition and modernity. The legal system embraces “uniqueness of jurisdiction”, requiring judges to be knowledgeable in all areas of law and the natures of disputes, including administrative, civil, commercial and penal law.

Local Government

There are 19 regions, which are divided into a total of 90 departments and further subdivided into 196 communes. Regions and departments are administrated by a centrally appointed prefect, while communes elect mayors. For example, Abidjan, the largest city, has 10 districts, each of which elects a mayor.

Political Parties

For thirty years following independence Côte d’Ivoire’s political system was controlled by the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire, PDCI), which was the only authorised party. This changed in 1990, when then President Félix Houphouët-Boigny was forced to accept the legalisation of opposition parties and permit free and fair presidential and legislative elections – thus changing the country from a one-party state into a multi-party democracy.

Of the more than 100 political parties established since 1990, notable parties include the Rally of the Republicans (Rassemblement des Républicains, RDR) and the Ivorian Popular Front (Front Populaire Ivoirien, FPI). The RDR, the party currently in power, was formed in 1994 as a liberal splinter from the PDCI. Despite a history of hostility with its parent party, the RDR eventually formed a coalition with PDCI, creating the highly successful coalition Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace. The coalition formed a strong majority in the National Assembly during the 2016 parliamentary elections.

Founded in exile by history professor Laurent Gbagbo during Houphouët-Boigny’s one-party rule, the centre-left FPI held office during the civil war. Gbagbo, then president, was eventually arrested by pro-Ouattara forces after refusing to accept the result of the troubled 2010 elections and is currently standing trial in the Hague. The former president is charged with four counts of crimes against humanity. Since the arrest of former president Gbagbo and the subsequent domination of the RDR over Côte d’Ivoire’s political landscape, the FPI has effectively been marginalised, with only three representatives of the party holding seats in the National Assembly.

Reconciliation

Established in September 2011, the Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation (Commission Dialogue Vérité et Réconciliation, CDVR) was established. The body was tasked with investigating human rights abuses both past and present, identifying the root causes of the civil war and developing strategies to adequately address the rights of victims. The CDVR officially completed its work in 2014, when it submitted its final report to the government. When the report became public, criminal justice became the main focus of the transitional process.

While the country has generally undergone a remarkable transformation, the reconciliation process has received some criticism. The main criticisms made toward the CDVR was the allegation of widespread corruption, unevenly distributed justice and special preference given to particular ethnic groups and those at a higher socio-economic level.

Additionally, some express dissatisfaction with the social and geographic distribution of the gains of economic growth, with some Ivorians arguing that the benefits of development have not been equitably shared by the country’s population.

Recent Elections

In 2011 the return to political stability continued with successful parliamentary elections. The RDR obtained an absolute majority, winning 122 seats out of 225, while the PDCI — which subsequently joined the RDR in a ruling coalition — won 76 seats. The parliamentary election was followed in April 2013 by the country’s first municipal elections in over a decade. In October 2015, President Ouattara, who once served as prime minister under Houphouët-Boigny, sought re-election, while the FPI fielded Pascal Affi N’Guessan – a former prime minister under the Gbagbo administration – as its candidate. Although turnout fell below that of the 2010 elections, it was still reasonably high, with 54% of eligible voters participating in the election and 10 candidates appearing on the ballot. The elections were declared over after the first round, with the incumbent President Ouattara winning more than 80% of the total vote.

The most recent legislative elections took place on December 18, 2016. Official turnout stood at 34.1%, compared to 36.6% in 2011. The Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace were the biggest winners, securing 167 seats. They were followed by independent candidates, who secured 76 seats, the Union for Democracy and Peace in Côte d’Ivoire which gained six seats, former president Gbagbo’s FPI which secured only three, and the Union for Côte d’Ivoire, which also won three seats.

Protections

A number of amendments in the new constitution appear to foreshadow major changes in the future political landscape of the country. A bill of rights covers a range of social objectives, including protection of vulnerable groups, the banning of child labour and the assurance of equal employment rights for women. The new constitution also formalises the role and profile of the National Chamber of Kings and Traditional Chiefs. This body is tasked with providing the government with advice on matters of policy. While the chamber had previously existed, its role had not been formally enshrined in the old constitution. The new version also changes the process through which future constitutional revisions are made, removing the necessity for a public referendum and making them possible solely through a parliamentary vote.

During the 1990s, in the build up to the civil war, the government upheld a definition of an Ivorian as someone whose parents were both nationals born in Côte d’Ivoire. Since 2011, the Ouattara government has supported a more inclusive concept of nationality, and 140,000 residents have been granted citizenship. The new interpretation was formalised in August 2013 by Parliament in a law that updated the regulations regarding citizenship.

Strikes And Military Unrest

January 2017 saw the re-entry of the Ivorian military into political debate. Soldiers in Bouaké, the second largest city in the country, mutinied in protest against the non-receipt of bonuses promised to them for their role in the 2011 conflict. In May 2017, 8400 soldiers revived their protest, calling on the government to finally honour its previous commitments.

In July gunfire erupted at a military camp in the northern city of Korhogo. There was further violence in Abidjan as gunmen attacked and stole weapons from a security unit, while shooting broke out in the city’s northern neighbourhood of Abobo.

President Ouattara hopes that a cabinet reshuffle, which included implementing a new minister of defence, Hamed Bakayoko, along with some other key changes, will help diffuse the situation. In addition, lengthy public sector strikes have brought into question the benefits of economic progress. The strikers have demanded salary increases, the payment of certain arrears of premiums and the annulment of the 2012 pension reform, which raised the retirement age from 55 to 60 and 65 for those on higher grades, reduced pension payments and increased the salary contributions of workers.

Challenges

The government’s continued political popularity will depend on its ability to maintain economic growth and make progress on inequality. In 2016 Côte d’Ivoire ranked 171 among 188 countries on the UN Human Development Index. In the context of economic decline and civil unrest, between 1985 and 2011 the depth and severity of poverty had increased dramatically, with the poverty rate rising from 10% to 51% of the population. According to the World Bank, this figure had decreased to 46% by 2015 as a consequence of the economic recovery initiated by Ouattara.

Ensuring that the country’s young population finds employment will be another key factor in maintaining satisfaction with the government. A World Bank study published in February 2017 shows that children in Côte d’Ivoire spend only 7.7 years at school on average. This figure is significantly lower than the rest of Africa, where children spend an average of 9.7 years in education and much lower than the 12 years of middle-income countries. Rapid increases in enrolment numbers and improved equivalence between the job market and higher education have been highlighted as being key factors in sustaining growth going forwards (see Education chapter).

Gender inequalities also figure among the key socioeconomic issues faced by Côte d’Ivoire. International gender equity indicators invariably rank Côte d’Ivoire among the lowest: 152nd out of 155 countries, in the UN index and 43rd out of 56 African countries in the African Development Bank index. Reducing discrimination against women could, the World Bank argues, generate somewhere between $6bn and $10bn in extra revenue for the country.

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