Ivory Coast: a very young country, but very old leaders

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A very young country, very old leaders: Saturday’s presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire illustrates to the point of caricature the generational gap, which we observe in many African countries, between the political class and the population.

President Alassane Ouattara, 78, in power for ten years, is running for a controversial third term. Facing him, the former head of state Henri Konan Bédié, 86 (in office from 1993 to 1999), poses as the leader of the opposition, while threatening to boycott the election. Both present themselves as the “candidates of youth.” And yet, they are far from being new to politics.

The two men were successively fierce adversaries in the 1990s, allies from the 2000s for the conquest and then the exercise of power, before dividing again for two years.

The shadow of another “former” hangs over the campaign: the former President Laurent Gbagbo, 75, in power from 2000 to 2010, acquitted at first instance of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, a seen his candidacy, presented by his supporters, invalidated.

President Ouattara had promised to hand over power to “the new generation”, embodied, according to him, by his Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, 61, but the latter’s sudden death, as well as the candidacy of Mr. Bédié, the ‘have changed their mind.

Two other candidates are in the running, younger, but they only appear as outsiders: Pascal Affi N’Guessan, 67, and Kouadio Konan Bertin, 51.

“They don’t care about us”

Are absent from this presidential election two men wanting to embody the next generation: the ex-rebel leader and former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, 48, who saw his candidacy invalidated; the former leader of the Young Patriots Charles Blé Goudé, of the same age, who preferred to position himself for the next elections.

“There is a disaffection with politics,” said Rodrigue Koné, sociologist and political analyst. “A large part of the population is tired of seeing the same play with the same actors, with the same scenario of scenes of household and revenge”.

“There is a crisis of confidence between young people and politicians”, confirms Alexandre Amani, coordinator in Côte d’Ivoire of the pan-African movement Turn the page, which promotes democratic change and the defense of fundamental freedoms in ten countries. .

A crisis of confidence also perceptible in two neighboring countries, Guinea, where the announced re-election of President Alpha Condé, 82, is provoking contestation, and Nigeria, where President Muhammadu Buhari, 77, is facing a rebellion from the youth.

In Côte d’Ivoire, young people, particularly affected by poverty and unemployment (nearly 40% of the 25 million inhabitants live below the poverty line), consider themselves neglected by political leaders.

“Many young graduates are unemployed or have to do odd jobs to survive, such as selling food or hawking goods”, explains Saturnien Ekra, president of a small NGO, Action pour la paix, based in Yopougon, a large municipality. People of Abidjan.

Confidence crisis

“Why vote? They don’t care about us! We often hear in conversations. “Ivorians thirst for renewal of the political class, as evidenced by the breakthrough of independent candidates in local elections” (municipal and regional) of 2018, adds analyst Rodrigue Koné.

Beware, however, of youthism, hardly any bet in sub-Saharan Africa.

“In our traditional societies, the exercise of power is equated with a number of years and a certain amount of experience. There is no spontaneous generation ”, underlines political scientist Modeste Koffi Goran. “With us, an old man in power is a sign of wisdom,” he sums up.

“A young president, what for? »Asks, for his part, the political scientist Jules Toa Évariste.

Reversing the traditional political adage, political scientist Jean Alabro believes that, in the minds of Ivorians, “power is given, it cannot be taken”. “Otherwise, it is by snatching it from the hands of a wise man. ”

This youth who still dreams of departures

A reality that has consequences on confidence, but also on illegal immigration. Young Ivorians continue to take the road of exile to Europe while the Ivorian economy is doing quite well.

“In 2016, the number of people claiming Ivorian citizenship arriving on the Italian coast jumped to reach the figure of 13,000, an increase of nearly 230% between 2015 and 2016, thus passing in fourth position among the countries of West African origin ”, highlights the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in a profiling report of Ivorian migrants published in 2018.

Since then, Ivorian asylum seekers have continued to flow. In France, 4,701 in 2018 and 4,682 in 2019 filed an application, according to the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra). Among Africans, they represent the second largest contingent of asylum seekers in France behind Guinea. “There is a stagnation of social indicators due to an unequal distribution of the fruits of growth”, to use the explanations of economist-demographer Gervais N’Da. In Daloa (Center-West, 385 kilometers north-west of Abidjan), considered as a hub for illegal emigration to Europe, “there are no jobs, no factories. ‘scale capable of absorbing the unemployment rate’.

For economist Yves Ouya, Ivorian economic growth is “driven by construction and direct foreign investment, with little impact on local economic activity, such as the creation of businesses and wealth”.

If socio-economic difficulties are mainly responsible for the phenomenon of mass emigration, social networks help to amplify it. “Your galley companion meets up after a crossing in Italy and highlights his social success (car, house…) on social networks. So nothing can prevent you from imitating him, ”explains Chérif Aziz Haïdara, head of Daloa municipal youth.

Faced with the migration crisis which tarnishes the image of the leading economy in French-speaking Africa, the Ivorian authorities have strengthened the laws on the issue of trafficking and smuggling of migrants. The Directorate of Ivorians Abroad has launched programs to help reintegrate return migrants, and around the Ivorian diaspora.

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