Messages of peace for the elections in Côte d’Ivoire

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More than 3,000 people were killed in the violent political crisis that followed the presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire in 2010. On 25 October, the Ivorian population will be asked to go to the polls again. One week before the election, the country seem to hold on breath.

Already several months before, the population constantly talked about it: The presidential elections in end October, which are going to be decisive to the further stabilisation of Côte d’Ivoire. Will or will there not be violence again? This probably is the most important question dominating the pre-election period.

During the last months, I have been exchanging with Ivorian friends who survived the crisis from 2010/2011, people I just happened to meet in the streets, Ivorian politicians as well as members of the Ivorian diaspora.

Some insisted that there will be violence again this year but said that it would not reach the dimension of the last presidential elections that descended into a civil war claiming some 3,000 lives according to Human Rights Watch. Others though swore that everything is going to be peaceful, the most used argument being that there currently is no strong opposition.

The main opposition party of former president Laurent Gbagbo, who is awaiting trial for war crimes during the post electoral crisis at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, currently is split.

Furthermore there have been actions taken to make sure that the elections will be hold peacefully. In June this year the mandate of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) has been extended for another year.

In September the media, which have played an important role in heating up the debate in 2010/2011, have been called to treat all candidates equally during the two-week long election campaign that started on 9 October.

The African Union just announced this month that it is going to deploy 40 short-term election observers and the Civil Society Platform for the Observation of the Elections in Côte d’Ivoire (POECI), which already observed the voter registration process, just trained 755 election observers.

Figure 1 POECI training 755 election observers, Source: Twitter (POECI)

 Still coping with a trauma

Even though, the people’s fear of another outbreak of violence seems to be omnipresent. After the horrific events of 2011, many people in Côte d’Ivoire still cope with a trauma. Some still dream of the dead bodies lying in heaps on the streets.

A friend recently told me that she has not been able to take a step to Abidjan for three years because of what she has experienced there during the crisis. Some weeks ago all these traumatizing souvenirs were brought back to her mind as a group of armed people robbed the hospital in Abidjan she now works in.

When I asked her what she thought about the coming elections, she just replied “Il y aura rien” (“there won’t be anything”). A sentence I have heard very often in these last weeks, being pronounced almost like an oath.

However it contradicts to the people’s behaviour. Some have already taken their flights to Ghana, Togo or Europe months before. Some companies even obliged their international staff to go back to their home country during the elections. Moreover many young people will certainly not be going to the polls. Only 300,000 new voters have signed up – from an estimated two to three million.

Peace messages

Figure 2 Exhibition at University Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Source: Twitter (@CITI_2)

But while some leave the country or boycott the elections, others commit themselves to promote peace. Women’s organisations in the West of the Country have designed traditional fabrics to call for peaceful elections. A photo exhibition at the University Felix Houphouet-Boigny in the economic capital of Abidjan aimed to sensitize students. And the football association “Foot’Attitude”, with the participation of Ivorian football stars like Didier Drogba, launched a sensitisation campaign against violence during the election period.

In addition to this, messages of peace have been going up and down on social media in these last weeks. On YouTube, a group of Ivorian artists posted a video “Jeune, ma voix, mon avenir” (“Young, my voice, my future”) to sensitize the youth for the participation at peaceful elections. On Twitter, people have been calling for peace, using the hashtag #civpaix. „Let us choose the best way for the coming elections, the peace”, an Ivorian blogger posted.

Figure 3 Message of peace: „Choose the voice of peace is making the choice of a better tomorrow“, Source: Twitter (@MariusKwadyo)

“Dear young friends, we are not far from the presidential elections and the doubt is installing in the hearts of all those that love Côte d’Ivoire”, one of my friends, aUniversity student from Abidjan wrote on his Facebook wall. “If we love our country, if our future really is near to our hearts, do not give yourself to acts of violence, do not let you manipulate, whatever it may be…”.

Now it just remains to hope, that all these messages of peace will guide Côte d’ivoire to presidential elections without violence.

Tanja Schreiner studied journalism and communication in Germany and France. She writes for different media such as Art Media Agency, Zeit Online or Voices of Africa. She currently lives and works in Côte d’Ivoire. Connect with her on Twitter.

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