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Ivorian Elections Were Free, Fair – Sam-Nuvala Fonkem 

Interviewed by Bouddih Adams

Much ink and spittle have been flowing since the election stalemate in Ivory Coast set in. Political thinkers and watchers have been bolting points to support one or the other party in the stalemate.

For want of another independent body to certify the outcome of the election and due to mutual mistrust, Ivorian political actors requested the United Nations to play the role of the arbitrator. Thus, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General in Ivory Coast and head of the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire, SRSG of UNOCI, Young-Jin Choi, went to work. 

According to YJ Choi, the Ivorian people expressed their free will on 28 November, 2010, to put an end to the Ivorian crisis and their suffering. "The holding of a successful election has been one of the keys to end the crisis," Choi remarked.

Stating that the presidential election registered a voter participation of 81 percent and the exercise was successful, Choi avers: "except for the last minute confusion about its result."
To "accompany" the Ivorian people in their peace process, the SRSG of UNOCI came in with an elaborate means of certification which was presented to ECOWAS in Abuja and the UN Security Council in New York, on the second round of the election.

The certification process involved a first method of finding voting trends as early as possible. Some 721 "devoted" UNOCI staff "was deployed to an equal number of carefully pre-selected polling stations around the country." They reported results posted at polling stations to the SRSG by phone, in the evening of November 28.

The second method was collection of electoral results from the 19 regional local electoral commissions. Nineteen UNOCI staff were identified to carry out the task. The third method: examine all the 20,000 tally sheets that UNOCI received on November 30 from the Ivorian authorities for the purpose of certification. The second and third methods, the SRSG argues, showed identical percentages and very close to the trends obtained in the first method. The SRSG asserts that with this outcome, he, as certifier, saw that the Ivorian people have made their choice.

Asserting UNOCI’s neutrality, Choi maintains: "However, many times, most of the times gently but at times not so gently, I have been cited alternatively by the government and the opposition camps as taking side with the other party when ever UNOCI refused to take side with it. I present this as evident that I have succeeded in safeguarding my impartiality, the strength upon which I today lay the unequivocal result of the second round. The Post was privileged to meet, veteran journalist, Sam-Nuvala Fonkem, who is Public Information Officer in the Public Information Office of UNOCI, who took active part in its Operation. He made his point of view in the adjoining interview in Buea.

The Post: You are just coming from the Ivory Coast. What is your take on the situation, there?
Sam Nuvala Fonkem: Before I give you my views on happenings in the Ivory Coast, I would like to simply remark that I have not read much in the local papers, especially The Post, concerning the Ivorian issue. What I have read, so far, is from Dr. Susungi, who is in Ivory Coast himself and is a potential candidate for the 2011 presidential election that is coming up in Cameroon. I think it is on that basis that he is writing. I find that there are certain errors of fact; disinformation which should be corrected.

Before looking into the substance of his thesis, because I can’t really call it an article; two full pages of a four thousand-word article is excessive; more or less a thesis than a newspaper article for a 12-page tabloid. That said, the impression one gets is that Dr. Susungi has bought over The Post.

One gets the impression that it is a paid-up write-up to serve a certain purpose which we can only guess; that is, doing propaganda for the illegitimate leader in Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo. He comes out so strongly and so biased and I feel that, as a journalist and as someone who has been a columnist for Cameroon POSTline, it is my duty to correct these errors of fact for the benefit of the Cameroonian readers. And also for the benefit of the Ivorian people whose expression of political will should be known to the outside world and not be distorted as Dr. Susungi is trying to do.

Another general remark I would make, apart from the fact that it gives the impression that the paper which, I would say, has swallowed his article or thesis hook, line and sinker, is a very uncritical fashion which is not a tradition of Cameroon POSTline I know, and which may dent the credibility of the paper.

That said, one wonders why someone with pretentions to run for election in Cameroon, instead of addressing issues in Cameroon where he intends to run for presidential election, derails and distracts the readership and concentrates on the Ivorian situation. I’ll agree: everybody has a right to make an opinion on a very serious matter like the Ivorian crisis, but, then, it should not be under the cover of a candidate for presidential election and I also think that it is something erroneous on the part of Dr. Susungi and the paper for publishing it. He is not a candidate; a candidate is somebody who has been declared eligible to run.

We don’t know on what party platform Susungi is running; he is living in the Ivory Coast. There are conditions of eligibility; he wants to pass for a candidate; these are things which give me the impression this man is involved in the business of disinformation.  I am surprised that a man like Susungi, who has lived there for 33 years, who should know the ethnic coloration of the place and the alliances, should want to ignore the fact that Bedie’s people gave their support to Alassane.

What particular holes do you pick in Dr. Susungi’s article?

He has a very brilliant background of the situation, but, then, when he says: "Was the presidential election in Ivory Coast free and fair?" And says: "the simple answer is no," I begin to wonder on what basis he is saying the elections were not free and fair. There are very few countries in the world, especially in Africa, that can boast of having had a free, open and fair election like the first and second rounds of the presidential election in the Ivory Coast.

The second round, which went smoothly, but, unfortunately, ended in the incident where the loser would not want to admit defeat. Otherwise, both the first and the second rounds took place in free, fair and transparent conditions. But Susungi says pressure was brought by United States and France through the UN for the elections to proceed, in which case he is now suggesting that the Ivory Coast was not ready for elections.

This is wrong! He, having lived in Ivory Coast for 33 years, ought to have been the one to explain that kind of situation to the Cameroonian leadership by asserting that these elections that took place were overdue for five years because the outgoing Ivorian President kept on playing the Ivorian people Snakes and Ladder? Using every pretext to delay and delay the elections. The Ivorian people were fed up; they were tired of this kind of stalemate in the political landscape.

What actually transpired before and during the elections?

Before I come back to that question, when you say pressure by the United States and France, it is wrong. The Ivorian people themselves and all the political actors agreed that it was time to hold these elections. The argument some people are making is that the country was divided into two and because of that, the rebel forces holding the northern part and Gbagbo and the government forces holding the south of the country, that it was not possible for elections to have taken place, is false. Irrespective of the fact that the country was divided, the election took place smoothly.

It was open. Candidates were free to go about campaigning in all the parts of the country; voters were allowed to go and vote. I agree that there were some incidents of malpractices and some incidents of intimidation. Nobody is arguing that fact. But, globally speaking, the elections were very free and fair. And so that issue of the country being divided into two and the fact that the rebel forces (Forces Nouvelles) had not finished disarmament in their part of the country – the disarmament process which the UN was helping to facilitate has not come to its logical end.

But it is they, the very Ivorian political powers, who wrote specially to the UN Secretary General informing him that they had decided to postpone the issue of disarmament; that the issue that was all pressing was the issue of going for election in order to clarify the legitimacy and legality of the Ivorian presidency, which had come to the end of the five-year period of its illegitimacy.

That, then, was more pressing issue; and that whoever came to power after the elections, would now continue the disarmament process. Because of the mutual distrust among the Ivorian political actors concerning the question of who determines the genuine outcome of election results, they, the political actors, requested the UN to play the unprecedented role of certifier, i.e., certify the democratic conduct and  outcome of elections.

The certification process, the final stage of the electoral process involving the Independent Electoral Commission, the Constitutional Council and the head of the UN Operations in Cote d’Ivoire, UNOCI, Mr. Young-Ji Choi, was agreed upon by the Ivorian political leaders and other signatories to the Pretoria Accord of 2005. All of us in the UNOCI, closely monitored the situation on the ground. Staff was mobilised 24 hours on 24 hours to monitor, to input results, tally sheets, transport all the materials.

The UN did a lot; without the UN, there would have been no elections, in the sense that it provided all the technical, financial and material support in terms of providing ballot boxes. The European Union and the African Union also helped to facilitate this electoral process. So, the fact that disarmament did not take place does not necessarily translate to the fact that the elections were not free.

The north, being a fief for Alassane Ouattara, the first round of elections proved clearly that Gbagbo had no headway; that is Alassane’s territory. I don’t think Gbagbo made up to as much as five percent in the north. Why would such a people in the first round having got more than 95 percent of the votes want to, in the second round, be involved in intimidation and things that would nullify their results? You have a territory under you; what interest would you have to engage in malpractices in an area which is already under you?

Many people believe that Ouattara is the creation of the international community that wants him to rule Ivory Coast at all cost …

The UN, in particular, and I’ll say also for the African Union and the European Union; we do not take sides. It is not our business to take sides; we remain impartial forces to make sure the country regains its stability. Let me tell you the truth: Alassane worked with the IMF; he was also Prime Minister of Ivory Coast and, when Houphouet Boigny died, he was acting President. He is not a stranger to Ivory Coast politics.

Is it the international community that made him Prime Minister? Those are strategies that Ggabo is using to gain sympathy: that he is a nationalist; the other man is a candidate of the international community. That is false! Why are they now talking of him working at the IMF; why don’t they also say that he was Prime Minister of Ivory Coast, appointed by Houphouet whom every Ivorian swears by, as the father of the nation?

The other argument people are bringing is that if Houphouet saw some virtues in Alassane, irrespective of the fact that they say one of his parents is not an Ivorian, well, they have sorted that matter out themselves. Some of the Ivoirians are saying that if Houphouet saw some virtues in Alassane, it means he is good material. If he was not good material, then Houphouet would not have appointed him. So, they should call for someone who can manage the country. He has the economic expertise. Coming to the issue of people in the north being intimidated, it is false. This was an election where there was a record unprecedented 83 percent turnout. Can such an election be said to be flawed?

Let’s leave Susungi to his ideas … People have been criticising the UN that it can only act afterwards, but, in this case, it was directly involved in the electoral process. In spite of the UN supervising, the election still turned out the way it did…

No, we did not supervise the elections. We gave out materials and technical support. The UN is to accompany the peace-keeping forces. The elections were organised by an independent electoral commission. Let me tell you something: what we have here in Cameroon called ELECAM is a far, far cry from what we have in the Ivory Coast where all the political actors are represented. Elections took place; all the representatives of the different parties’ polling agents were there. After the elections, they all tallied the votes; everybody was there watching.

The votes are tallied, they agree in public, the sheets are signed and pasted that very evening. The real facilitator of the Ivorian crisis is the President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Campaoré. When you talk of an 83-percent turnout of election, which is unprecedented in Africa and anywhere in the world, you cannot say people were intimidated to the extent that it affected turnout.

The third runner-up, Henri Konan Bedie, President of the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, PDCI, in the beginning, had 25 percent. In the second round, he called on his supporters to give their votes to Alassane. Now, Gbagbo’s boys started chasing the Baoule people saying: "We are not going to vote for Alasane. Leave our villages! Leave our farms! Seriously, Alassane was driven away from Gbagbo’s area. Gbagbo did not win in his constituency, maybe in Gagnoa city, perhaps. But in the Gagnoa Division, sorry, he did not win, sir!

What lessons can Cameroon draw from the Ivory Coast elections?

The authorities here should go there and copy their example of an independent electoral commission where all parties are represented, not to handpick a handful of cronies to make up an elections monitoring body.

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