Cote d’Ivoire Presidential Election: October 31, 2020

The Adjamé Market in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Zenman (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Freedom House Rating
Partly Free
Government Type
Presidential Republic
26.3 million
Presidential Election
October 31, 2020
Parliamentary Elections
December 2021 (due)
Local Elections
October 2023 (due)
Local Elections
October 13, 2018
Parliamentary Elections
December 18, 2016
Presidential Election
October 25, 2015

Cote d’Ivoire held a presidential election on October 31, 2020.

Political Context

This election is happening in the context of rising political tensions as President Alassane Ouattara seeks a controversial third term while using the state to bar his political opponents from running against him. In fact, some in the international community, including the government of France and the NGO International Crisis Group, have called for a delay of the election in order to conduct dialogues to lower the political temperature. However, Ouattara has refused to consider a delay.

A bit of background: Cote d’Ivoire’s democratization began in 1990 with the country’s first multi-party elections that year. Until 1999, the country had stability and prosperity. Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who served as Côte d’Ivoire’s president from independence in 1960 until his death in 1993, managed to keep the various factions somewhat calm. However, political struggles following his death and two civil wars – first beginning in 1999 and the second ending in 2011 – created political instability, and the political climate remains tense.

Much of the tension has to to with questions of national identity. Houpouët-Boigny encouraged immigrant laborers from neighboring Burkina Faso, and now Burkinabés, as these families are called, constitute 30 percent of the country’s population. As a result, in the mid- and late-1990s, politicians pushed the xenophobic idea of Ivoirité, a concept that imagines national identity as fundamentally southern and Christian, which has sparked both political tensions and violent conflict.

Cote d’Ivoire’s Political Personalities

The personalities involved in this year’s presidential election and the wider political debate have been fixtures in Cote d’Ivoire’s politics since the death of Houphouët-Boigny.

Following Houphouët-Boigny’s death, Henri Konan Bédié, then speaker of the National Assembly and a member of PDCI-RDA, became president after a brief struggle with then-Prime Minister (and current president) Alassane Ouattara, a technocrat who had joined PDCI-RDA. During that election, Bedié invoked Ivoirité and claimed that Ouattara, a Muslim from the north, was not truly Ivoirian. However, a 1999 deposed Bedié and kicked off the first of two civil wars that continued until 2011.

Following the 1999 coup, Laurent Gbagbo, a long-time opposition leader and co-founder of the socialist Ivorian Popular Front, became president. Because of a new law banning candidates with parents born outside of Cote d’Ivoire, authorities blocked Ouattara from running in the 2000 election, even after he produced documentation that both of his parents were born in-country. Gbagbo and his supporters doubled down on Ivoirité and faced accusations of attacking Muslims and northerners during his tenure in office.

Gbagbo subsequently lost the 2010 election to Ouattara, but he refused to step down. The surrounding violence between supporters of Gbagbo, a Christian from the south, and Ouattara, a Muslim from the north, led to 3,000 deaths and half a million displaced people. Gbagbo was subsequently arrested and charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court (the court acquitted him in 2019, but the prosecution is appealing the verdict and Gbagbo therefore has not been able to leave Belgium.

In contrast, Ouattara won re-election in 2015 in relatively peaceful and credible polls. Ouattara’s coalition holds a majority in parliament, and furthermore won the 2018 local elections.

Ouattara’s Controversial Bid for a Third Term

After a tumultuous few months, Outtara announced in August that he would in fact run for a controversial third term. For background: in March 2020, after months of speculation, Ouattara announced that he would not in fact seek re-election, in contrast to other leaders in the region who seek to stay in power beyond term limits (he had previously said that he was eligible to run for a third term because the new constitution reset term limits). His party planned to back Amadou Gon Coulibaly, the prime minister and a Ouattara ally, but Coulibaly subsequently died of a heart attack in July. Following the death of his protege, Ouattara announced that he would run for a third term, sparking protests. Other candidates have called Ouattara’s candidacy unconstitutional and have called for civil disobedience in response.

The 2020 Presidential Election and the Four Candidates Allowed to Run

Out of 44 hopefuls, the Constitutional Court is only allowing four candidates to run: Ouattara, Bédié, Gbagbo associate Pascal Affi N’Guessan (Gbagbo himself was barred from running), and Kouadio Konan Bertin. In that vein, the election is shaping up to be primarily a contest between Ouattara and Bédie.

Bédié, age 86, is seen as Ouattara’s main challenger. He has been building links with pro-Gbagbo activists as well as other opposition figures, and has called for civil disobedience in response to Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term. Anti-Ouattara forces seem to be rallying around his candidacy.

Gbagbo has been barred from running. His party announced that Pascal Affi N’Guessan would be its presidential candidate. However, the pro-Gbagbo wing of the party has adopted the mantra of “Gbagbo or Nothing,” and could back Bédie instead of N’Guessan.

Bertin, age 51, is by far the youngest candidate. A former youth leader of Bédie’s PDCI, he is running as an independent, and has opposed Bédie’s calls for civil disobedience.

Rebel leader and former prime minister Guillaume Soro also planned to run, but he was barred on the basis of his conviction in absentia of embezzlement after breaking ranks with Ouattara, his former ally. From exile in Paris, he has been encouraging his supporters to rally around Bédie.

The African Court on Human and People’s Rights has ordered the electoral authorities to reinstate both Gbagbo and Soro as candidates. However, even though the decision is technically legally binding, it might not be enforceable.

Curated News and Analysis

Stacey Knott, Voice of America (October 26, 2020): Peace, Development at Stake in Ivory Coast Election

AFP (October 24, 2020): As Ivory Coast Vote Nears, Powder Keg West Braces For Trouble

AFP (October 3, 2020): Former I.Coast minister says he expects ‘post-electoral crisis’

Vincent Duhem, The Africa Report (October 1, 2020): Côte d’Ivoire: Ouattara and Bédié in the shadow of Houphouët-Boigny

Sam Bradpiece, France24 (September 25, 2020): Who are the four candidates standing in Ivory Coast’s presidential election?

David Kode, African Arguments (September 23, 2020): High stakes and pent up tensions in Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential election

RFI (August 7, 2020): Côte d’Ivoire’s Ouattara to run for third term, opposition united in protest

BBC (July 8, 2020): Ivory Coast PM Amadou Gon Coulibaly dies after cabinet meeting

21votes does not necessarily agree with all of the opinions expressed in the linked articles; rather, our goal is to curate a wide range of voices. Furthermore, none of the individuals or organizations referenced have reviewed 21votes’ content, and their inclusion should not be taken to imply that they endorse us in any way. More on our approach here.

Updated October 26, 2020

Share This