Eyewitness: Democracy remains fragile in Côte d'Ivoire

November 24, 2000

Until this autumn, the Côte d'Ivoire had a reputation for political stability. That reputation evaporated in the violence that marred last month's presidential elections and left an estimated 200 dead.

The country will return to the polls on December 10 for parliamentary elections, but the tensions that surrounded the presidential elections remain.

Côte d'Ivoire's former military ruler, General Robert Guei, is back in the country and is reportedly on good terms with the man who replaced him after a popular uprising scuppered his attempt to cling to power. The new president, Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), faces the spectacle of former prime minister Alassane Ouattara, leader of the Rally of the Republicans party, who was barred from standing in the presidential elections, seeking a parliamentary seat.

Party political rivalry is greatest among students. At a rally to commemorate the dead in the uprising against General Guei, only armed security agents prevented violence between students backing the different sides, observers said.

The confrontations reflected the tension on campuses. Weeks before the presidential election, students were politically polarised - and the Federation Estudiantine et Scolaire de la Côte d'Ivoire was divided.

Claudine Mensah, a sociology lecturer who was an executive member of Fesci in the early 1990s, said: "FesciI was a powerful mobilisation platform against one-party dictatorship. Now, Fesci has been destroyed because of partisan politics."

Charles Ble-Goude, Fesci's secretary-general, once supported General Guei but now backs Mr Gbagbo, Dr Mensah said. "Another faction led by Philippe Hien does not hide his support for Mr Ouattara."

Factional distrust has occasionally led to violence on campus. In September, two students were killed allegedly by pro-FPI students for distributing pamphlets supporting Mr Ouattara.

Mathias Kouassi, a political science lecturer at the University of Bouake, said that more violence on campus would render the president's appeal for national reconciliation useless.

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