West Africa chooses: Cote d'Ivoire's Ouattara wins backing for re-election bid as Nigeria set for crucial vote

Regional economic powerhouses set for crucial elections this year, with ballot in Africa's most populous country closely watched.

COTE D’IVOIRE’s President Alassane Ouattara on Sunday won his party’s backing to run for re-election in this year’s upcoming vote as the country seeks to move on from years of political turmoil.

This comes as another regional powerhouse, Nigeria, heads to polling booths on Saturday in a vote that will have regional reverberations.  

Cote d’Ivoire’s 73-year-old incumbent leader faced no challengers as he was officially chosen as the presidential candidate for the ruling Rally of Republicans (RDR) at a special party congress in Abidjan.

More than 6,000 party members shouted “Yes, yes!” when asked by RDR secretary general Amadou Soumahoro whether the president should be given a second mandate.

The widely expected decision was later confirmed in a resolution adopted at the congress and read out by Anne-Desiree Ouloto, minister for Solidarity, Family and Women.

The party “has appointed Alassane Ouattara, economist, as the RDR candidate”, she told the crowd at the Treichville sports palace, which also included thousands of sympathisers who had shown up to show their support for the president.

Faced with a divided opposition, Ouattara, a former vice-president of the International Monetary Fund, is tipped to win the October presidential vote.

Ouattara took office in 2011 after a bloody post-election crisis sparked by former president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to hand over power, claiming electoral fraud in the 2010 presidential vote. More than 3,000 people lost their lives in the ensuing unrest.

“I found a country in ruins, which needed to be rebuilt,” Outtara told AFP in a 2013 interview.

“I made it clear that I am not sure how to finish this work in the time I have left and I will probably seek a second term.”

Economic boom 

Following a decade of political and military crisis, the economy in the west African nation has been revitalised during Ouattara’s four years in power.

The economy of the world’s largest cocoa producer expanded by 9% between 2012 and 2014, with strong investment in the public sector.

Ouattara has pledged to maintain similar levels of growth until 2020. But his critics say that the fruits of development have not been well distributed among the population of around 20 million people.

Ouattara also claims credit for restoring calm in the former French colony, although opposition figures and civil society activists argue that despite the creation of a truth and reconciliation committee to help heal the wounds of conflict, the results have not been significant enough.

And while former first lady Simone Gbagbo was sentenced to 20 years behind bars this month for her role in fomenting the post-election violence, no charges have been brought against Ouattara’s supporters who also committed abuses, raising claims of “victor’s justice”.

The Democratic Party, an ally of the RDR, has decided not to field a candidate in October to help ensure Ouattara’s victory.

Nigeria chooses

In Nigeria, Saturday’s poll will be the fifth election since the country returned to democracy in 1999. But the country has yet to experience a transition of power between different political parties, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) having won all votes since.

Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan is from the ruling PDP. He is facing a strong challenge from former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who heads the opposition alliance, All Progressives Congress (APC).

Among the main issues around the election are corruption, and security, with the fight against Boko Haram militants having become a big campaign issue.

The poll had to be pushed back as Nigerian authorities said soldiers were on the frontline in an offensive against the insurgents, and could not guarantee the election. 

Jonathan has said the elections will be held on schedule, and in recent interviews said Boko Haram had only weeks left.

Some 68.8 million votes are registered for the election in Africa’s biggest economy. 

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