On March 29, 2011, at least 800 villagers were massacred in Duékoué, a town in western Côte d’Ivoire. Militias loyal to Alassane Ouattara, a candidate in the recently held and hotly disputed presidential election, went house to house, AK-47s in hand, rounding up the men and systematically executing them. Witnesses recount the soldiers’ chants of “You voted Gbagbo! We are going to kill you all!” as they fired their rounds.
In other towns, militias loyal to (and allegedly under the control of) the sitting president, Laurent Gbagbo, used similar tactics, leaving behind a path of “murder, rape, other inhumane acts, and persecution.” Before the fighting ended, 3,000 people had died and roughly a million others were displaced.
That conflict was sparked by Côte d’Ivoire’s last election. On Sunday, the country votes to elect a new president. Will this time be different?
Five years ago, after Ivoirians cast their ballots, two different electoral bodies—the independent election commission and the Constitutional Council—announced two different winners. The former declared Ouattara, a northern Muslim candidate, the winner. The latter said that the incumbent, Gbagbo, a southern Christian, had been reelected. Regardless, all credible indications suggested that Ouattara had received more votes.
In the weeks and months after the conflicting pronouncements, militias on both sides committed war crimes as they scrambled to gain the upper hand. Civilians were caught in the crossfire. But ultimately, a coalition of French and United Nations forces intervened and put Ouattara, the internationally recognized victor, in power. Gbagbo was arrested and later transferred to The Hague to await trial for crimes against humanity. (His trial is scheduled to begin on November 10.)
This conclusion to the civil war marked a return to peace and a somewhat precarious prosperity. Côte d’Ivoire’s economy is soaring, with a growth rate of 8.3 percent last year and similarly strong figures expected this Heineken is opening a new brewery in Côte d’Ivoire. Cocoa production, which represents the backbone of the economy, is being bolstered by strong prices, as world demand for chocolate rises. The country has also managed to escape the Ebola crisis and the scourge of Islamist extremism in the region.
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