On February 8, Dr. Dan Chirot, Job and Gertrud Tamaki Professor of International Studies at the University of Washington, was the featured speaker at a special CDDRL seminar held on the unfolding crisis in Cote d'Ivoire. CDDRL hosted this event to bring attention to the instability and violence that has resulted in the aftermath of the November 2010 presidential elections, which left this West African country in political stalemate and chaos after nearly a decade of civil war. Chirot's work has focused on social change and ethnic violence in Francophone West Africa, where he has spent considerable time researching and living in Cote d'Ivoire. Chirot spoke to a diverse audience, which included members of the Stanford community and a number of Ivorian nationals who brought a great deal of local context and perspective to the seminar discussion. The passion and interest that this topic generated, reminded CDDRL of the importance of providing a platform for global crises of democracy, governance, and development.
Providing a historical analysis of the region, Chirot described Cote d'Ivoire in its early years as the "greatest success story in post-independence Africa." An economic boom resulted from Cote d'Ivoire's competitive advantage in exporting their cash crop, cocoa, to French and other Western markets bringing rising GDP and prosperity levels. Chirot continued to describe the preferential economic relationship Cote d'Ivoire enjoyed with France, who considered this former colony a linchpin in its Africa strategy. Patronage networks began to form under the tutelage of Cote d'Ivoire's first president Felix Houphouet-Boigny and corruption among local elites was endemic. Chirot then described the upset that followed in the 1970's when globally competitive markets led to the deterioration of the trading position Cote d'Ivoire had traditionally held. Economic growth was curtailed and compounded with mounting demographic pressures and land disputes, which surfaced multi-ethnic tensions in a country where over 60 dialects are spoken.
The 1990s brought a period of successive upheaval and instability to Cote d'Ivoire after the death of President Houphouet-Boigny in 1993, resulting in a coup d'etat, and massive devaluation of the national currency. President Laurent Gbagbo head of the Ivorian Popular Front, was swept into office in 1999 as the country descended into a civil war that splintered it into three sections that loosely followed ethnic and regional identity. With rebel groups governing the north and west of the country, and President Gbagbo residing in the southern commercial and political hubs, chaos and violence ensued as thousands were killed, displaced, and made victims to this disaster.
Chirot described the 2010 election as representing the promise of hope but only delivering more chaos and uncertainty to a country that was once the most stable in West Africa. He explained that opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara Alassane who hails from the north, was the internationally recognized victor in elections that were monitored by the Independent Electoral Commission. Gbagbo has refused to accept the results as Ouattara was overwhelmingly favored in the north and generally does not enjoy support from the southern power center of the country. Neither side is willing to make any concessions to the other and this deadlock and political stalemate has exacerbated the instability that has left Cote d'Ivoire in a state of crisis.
During the discussion period, there was some debate concerning the election results, the role of outside actors (namely the French), and the legitimacy of the reporting mechanisms. Amidst the controversy of the election results, Chirot made the claim that there is "an absence of leadership necessary to remedy this situation," and that some form of power sharing will be need to be negotiated if a peaceful resolution of the standoff is to be achieved. Neither candidate has "clean hands" and there are clearly political and economic interests behind each man, who refuses to relinquish control over these patronage networks and influence as the country remains divided. Chirot reminded the audience that it is important to look beyond the perceived victor in this election and focus on how to bring stability and accountability back to Cote d'Ivoire after years of neglect.