Two neighbouring countries in West Africa have recently held elections – Ivory Coast and Guinea. Both countries were once havens of peace and prosperity in a troubled region, but over the last decades both have experienced turmoil and instability leading to paralysis, lack of investment in infrastructure and deepening poverty. Recent elections in Ivory Coast and Guinea were seen as a way forward in each country, offering the hope that new governments might tackle corrupt ruling systems and spread the wealth of the natural resources. Ivory Coast is renowned for its cocoa bean industry, which has proved the life-blood of its economy. Guinea is the world’s top exporter of bauxite, the ore used in the production of aluminium.
This week has shown that any similarities between these two countries may now be drawing to a close as the nations head down two very different paths following elections. In Ivory Coast, the incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, has refused to hand over power to his rival Alassane Quattara, who won the Presidency by nearly 8 percentage points. With the support of the military, Mr Gbagbo is resisting calls by the international community to stand down and has asked UN forces to leave the country. Hundreds of opposition supporters have reportedly been arrested and gun battles between the two political factions have raged in the streets. Unless Mr Gbagbo changes his mind and concedes defeat, Ivory Coast could be heading for civil war.
Currently, many people in Ivory Coast are too scared to leave their homes and with disruption to transport, food supplies are already being affected. Prices of staples like tomatoes, bananas and potatoes are rising – for example, tomatoes are now costing over 2 US dollars per kilogram, whereas before the election they were only 60 cents. The head of one family in Ivory Coast said “we are not even thinking about Christmas, only about whether we can get enough to eat for now”. There is still time for pressure from the international community to work on Mr Gbagbo. But if that does not happen, the country looks set for a deepening crisis and ever more poverty and instability.
In contrast, Guinea’s first freely-elected President was sworn in this week after two years of military leadership in the country and half a century of authoritarian rule marked by political and tribal violence. Despite claiming the election was fraudulent, Dalein Diallo, conceded defeat peacefully, allowing his rival, Alpha Conde to become President. Mr Conde, who has spent the last 50 years as an opposition figure, experiencing exile, prison and a death sentence during his life, has promised a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission to look into past atrocities and human rights abuses. At his inauguration, Mr Conde said he would try to emulate Nelson Mandela and unite the people of Guinea. The new president has also promised to reform the country’s military, increase public access to services such as water, electricity and education and review mining contracts. Mining earns about 80 per cent of Guinea’s revenues, but the wealth from these natural resources has not reached the people, most of whom live on less than a dollar a day. In response to the peaceful and successful election and transferral of power to Mr Conde, the people of Guinea now have high expectations their country will change for the better. One man, Moumouni Konate, summed up the feelings of many in Guinea – “I have hope, a lot of hope.”