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Deja  vu all over again in Ivory Coast?

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

A young man throws a tire onto a fire as supporters of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara protest in the Marcory neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Friday.

Despite high hopes that national elections would unite the long-divided Ivory Coast, a dispute over election results may plunge the West African nation back into violent conflict.

After days of delay, on Thursday evening the head of the electoral commission declared opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara the winner of the first presidential election in a decade.

Ouattara, a former prime minister and top International Monetary Fund official, won 54.1 percent of the vote, defeating President Laurent Gbagbo, who won 45.9 percent of the vote, according to the country’s election commission. Those results were considered credible by the African Union, the United Nations and the White House. 

But not so fast, said the incumbent Gbagbo, whose five-year mandate as president expired in 2005 and who has stayed in office ever since claiming elections were impossible because of the threat of violence. 


 

He called the announcement of Ouattara’s victory by the election commission an “attempted coup” and on Friday, Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council reversed the earlier poll results and declared Gbagbo the winner of Sunday’s election.

Schalk van Zuydam / AP

Supporters of Ivory Coast opposition leader Alassane Ouattara react as news spread that President Laurent Gbagbo won the election in the city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Friday.

Wait, what?

The head of the Constitutional Council, a Gbagbo appointee, said that the results in seven regions in the north of the country, where Ouattara is most popular, were fraudulent. Naturally, those results were thrown out – awarding Gbagbo the presidency again.

Predictably, Ouattara’s supporters are not pleased with the results. As soon as the news was read out on national TV, angry youths took to the streets burning tires in protest, throwing chunks of concrete and tearing down billboards.

Divided in two by civil war in 2002-2003, the Ivory Coast has had an uneasy peace for the past several years. The elections were meant to patch-up the divisions still dividing the country – north vs. south, Muslim vs. Christian, “native Ivorian” vs. migrant worker.

Once hailed as a model of stability and progress in volatile West Africa, the Ivory Coast was a beacon for migrant workers in the region. It held bragging rights for the first ice-skating rink in sub-Saharan Africa and Abidjan, the country’s capital, was dubbed the “Paris of Africa.”

Thibault Camus / AP

Supporters of Laurent Gbagbo celebrate ahead an electoral board of Gbagbo in the streets of Adjame neighborhood, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Friday, after the constitutional council declared incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo the winner a day after the election chief handed victory to the opposition.

An Ebony magazine article from December 1970 called the “African Riviera” hailed a multimillion dollar plan to expand Abidjan’s Hotel Ivoire into a world class resort.

“The political stability of the Ivory Coast, its economic vitality and highly developed culture, [the project’s backers, including then-President Houphet-Boigny] believe, combined with the natural beauty of its lagoons and palm-lined islands, make this small tropical country an ideal site for an international consortium.”

Those dreams of a West African paradise of peace and stability seem a long way off looking at the photos of angry youths taking the streets Friday.

However, the U.N. endorsed Ivory Coast's provisional election results declaring Ouattara the winner Friday, so perhaps cooler heads will prevail and the country won’t return to violence.