Youth Participation Critical to Democratic Progress in Côte d’Ivoire

Electoral Commission officials check the voter’s information at a polling station in Abobo, a suburb of Abidjan, during Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential elections on October 31, 2020. (Photograph by Issouf Sanogo/AFP via Getty Images)

Grantee Spotlight: Observatoire Ivoirien des Droits de l’Homme (OIDH)

Côte d’Ivoire president Alassane Ouattara won a controversial third term in office—despite the two-term limit embedded in the constitution—during an election boycotted by the opposition on October 31, 2020. Tension and violence surrounding the third term resulted in the deaths of at least 40 people since August. The opposition and civil society are questioning the impartiality of the Independent Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Court, while Ivorians prepare to return to the polls for legislative elections in 2021. At this critical time of change in Côte d’Ivoire, the Observatoire Ivoirien des Droits de l’Homme (OIDH), a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, is working to encourage youth participation and citizen understanding of the electoral process to support peaceful, transparent elections.

A digital campaign by OIDH urges citizens to avoid the spread of fake news by verifying the accuracy of social posts before sharing. (Courtesy of Facebook)

“Most voters are young people between 18 and 35 years. Likewise, the actors involved in violence are young people between 15 and 40 years,” explains Erik-Aimé Semien, chairperson, lawyer, and human rights defender at OIDH, which was established in 2014. “Our analysis of the electoral crisis is that Ivorian youth are not sufficiently sensitized, trained, and exposed to democratic principles and values.” (Read more about NED’s work in Côte d’Ivoire.)

Working around the country, OIDH holds training workshops for 60 civil society organizations to monitor the roles, jurisdictions, and decisions of the Independent Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Court and to increase public confidence in their verdicts. Throughout every stage of the electoral process, OIDH engages young voters through digital campaigns on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram to promote non-violence, political tolerance, and civic values.

“The tense political context that results from the disagreement between the ruling party and the opposition have created an environment of suspicion among Ivorians. For fear of violence or reprisals, a considerable number of citizens did not go the polls to vote,” says Mr. Semien of the complications facing civil society organizations that planned to monitor voter turnout, instead recommending increased focus on monitoring human rights violations.

The latest unrest has revived memories of the brief but bloody civil war following disputed polls in 2010 that left 3,000 people killed and up to one million displaced.

“With president Ouattara’s reelection for a third term and the decision of the opposition to establish a parallel government, Côte d’Ivoire is heading toward an impasse,” says Mamby Diouf, program officer and regional expert at NED. “Civil society will have an important role to raise awareness against electoral violence through the promotion of social cohesion, civism, and democratic culture. Civil society also needs to urge politicians to uphold the constitution, encourage citizens to hold candidates accountable, ensure the transparency of the electoral process, and promote inclusive and peaceful elections.”

Despite strong economic growth over the past decade, Côte d’Ivoire still faces long-simmering political and post-conflict challenges related to political consensus, reconciliation, and security. OIDH stresses the need for institutional reforms to limit the power of the executive branch and to ensure proper checks and balances and give credibility to the National Assembly, the Constitutional court, and the Electoral Commission. The security sector also must build an army loyal to the people, and not to the president, and media independence must be maintained.

To move forward with democratic progress, Mr. Semien stresses the importance of Côte d’Ivoire’s future leaders: “There must be a handover between the old generation of politicians and a new generation of political actors endowed with new ideals. The generational shift is critical for greater representation of youth in governance.”

Read more about NED’s work in Africa.