Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Impediments to voter registration in Côte d’Ivoire

Starting June 1, the Electoral Commission (CEI) has launched a major campaign to revise the 2010/2011 voter registration list. Basically the goals are threefold: to make sure that those who have moved or prefer to vote in a different locality (and voted previously) are in fact on the list at the right polling station; to remove those voters who have died from the lists or who have married and changed their names; and to enroll those who were previously not on the lists (those who are over the age of 18, those who failed to register previously, newly naturalized citizens, etc.)

A FAQ to be distributed during the sensitization campaigns
In order to register, one needs to bring one of two identification documents, either one’s certificate of nationality, or one’s national ID card. The catch is, the certificate of nationality issued before 2015 is no longer valid, as there were a lot of problems with fraud and so the new certificates are “sécurisé” and cost 3,300 FCFA (~$6) to obtain from the Ministry of Justice; many people do not have the newest certificate. What about national ID cards? Well, if you have it, you are set and can easily register to vote. If you never had one or you lost yours, you’ll have to request a new one from the Organization of National Identification for 5,000 FCFA (~$10); but to do this you need the NEW certificate of nationality, and you will have to leave the original with the ONI office, to obtain a receipt of payment until you receive your ID card. So, let’s say I lost my ID card last month, and I went to the ONI to get a new one. They take my original certificate of nationality, and hand me a receipt for the ID card, telling me I won’t have the ID card for another two months. Time to register to vote rolls around; I now no longer have the original certificate of nationality nor an ID card, and the CEI does not accept the receipt for the ID card as valid identification to register to vote. So I can’t vote, unless I spend the time and money to re-obtain a copy of the certificate of nationality, which probably takes just as long to obtain as an ID card.

This was the most common complaint about the process that I have encountered working with the sensitization agents; despite the fact that many people said they wouldn’t register or were uninterested in the process, many who were interested felt discouraged because their papers were not in order. And since the campaign was only for a period of one month, it severely limited who was able to register now. In particular, it disproportionately affects young people, as they are the least likely to have the papers needed.
photo: a young man who was able to register to vote with the old certificate of nationality; Divo June 2015
CEI itself

The CEI centers are understaffed and those who are there often left earlier, according to both of the teams I worked with. CEI agents defended themselves saying that oftentimes nobody showed up to register anyway, so why should they stay open? Additionally, the CEI has failed to let the population know where the centers are where they could register, so that was left to the sensitization agents; meaning if you were not reached by these agents in the neighborhood, you may not ever know where it is you were supposed to register.

There was also confusion as to who was supposed to go to the centers; on posters and even on my t-shirt it says “I will verify that my name is on the voter list.” However, many people went to the centers to do just that, only to be turned away and told that the centers were only for those who needed to newly register. About halfway through the month, the CEI changed their tune, but at that point many were already discouraged and did not desire to return. On top of that, we had one elderly woman approach us, saying she had tried to check her name on the list, but was told to go to a web site to see if her name was there; this supposed website of course does not exist, but also this woman had no idea how to use internet, and had purposely made the trip from afar to verify her name.

The CEI is underfunded, especially in comparison to 2010. International donors do not see much at stake in these elections, and those who have chosen to support it can only do so much. The population notices the difference, pointing out the fact that media campaigns on the process were much more widespread in the past, while this year it has been sparse at best.

Finally, the CEI has so far failed in its efforts – they were expecting 3 million new registrants, but have received around 400,000. Today was supposed to be the last day, officially, for registration, but they have extended the process by two weeks (until July 12). However, since the main obstacles seem to be about paperwork, extending by two weeks may not help the problem. The other question is whether they will extend the sensitization process as well.

Apathy and Acquiescence
Not really a direct impediment, per se, but people have lost faith in the democratic process associated with elections after the crisis in 2010. With an impressive 80% turnout rate (53% of the voting age population, which is the same as the US), people expected those elections to bring the violence and war to an end; unfortunately, the elections did just the opposite. People are therefore fearful and distrusting of the electoral process.

Furthermore, many people do not see the CEI as legitimate. The current CEI president, Bakayoko, was the CEI president in 2010 and it was he that declared Ouattara the winner; many believe that he should not be the current president because he has this partisan perception. The opposition has been calling for this to be changed since he was re-elected, by members of the [not perceived as neutral] commission.

Finally, there is the question as to whether Ouattara himself is legitimate, again bringing up the issue of nationality since both his parents are not believed to be Ivorian.

photo: a heated discussion with those who did not want to register because “their candidate” is not participating in the elections; Adjamé, June 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

Divo: A tale of two neighborhoods

In a family compound, a woman turns a large roasting kettle full of peanuts while another sits on a low bench tossing peanuts in a basket to remove the casings. Several children dart about, climbing on large plastic bags full to the brim with peanuts. Here, the women tell us that they have registered to vote, that they heard about it on the radio.
A Dioula family eager to have their photo taken (Divo, June 2015)
Young men in the street approached us to inquire about the meaning of our t-shirts and to get more information on how to vote; once they learned they nodded and said they would go right then to the CEI center to register. A few streets down, we are directed to the Imam’s house, who graciously welcomes us, takes all of the posters and documents and promises to include the information in his Friday sermon.
The Imam of Divo, third from the left (Divo, June 2015)
On the other side of town, we step under an overhang filled with young men. Flies lazily circle plastic cups of palm wine sitting on benches; the looks on the men’s faces are not particularly welcoming. “We voted in 2010, and they took up guns and put our president in jail. Why would we vote this year?” enquires a young man who was more willing to open up when he thought I was from Sierra Leone and not from the CEI. The men in the overhang listened, not very attentively, to the speech given by the electoral education agents, but refused to note their names on the list to demonstrate to the NGO that they had been spoken to by the agent. We continue to a group of women making and selling attieke. One laughs when the topic of elections eventually comes up: “Who do I vote for?” The agent responded, “for your candidate.” She snorted and said “and if my candidate is not here? If he is in jail?”
One of the few men drinking palm wine who allowed a photo to be taken (Divo, June 2015)
These are two neighborhoods in Divo, Western Côte d’Ivoire. The first is called Dioulabouga, includes the mosque, and is inhabited by mostly Dioula-speaking Muslims. Of the 74 individuals we spoke with, almost 20 were tailors/dressmakers, several were taxi or bus drivers while others worked with electronics. Of the 23 women, only two had stated employment outside of the home, though I imagine those women roasting peanuts and making attieke were not only making it for themselves. The second neighborhood, Libraville, is near the Catholic high school and has several churches nearby. This is the heart of the Dida group; concentrated around Divo, they share their dialect with the Bété, the ethnic group which former president Gbagbo belongs to. Here, the occupation makeup was different as well: Of 41, 12 were planters or farmers, while there were more government workers and professors here than in Dioulabouga.*

The electoral education agents told me that with the Dioula or Baoulé populations, there is no problem; they listen, they accept the information with no protests. The Dida, they said, that’s where the problem lies. In particular, young men turn and walk briskly in the opposite direction when they see the agents, or if the agents do talk to them, they shake their heads, suck their teeth and protest that there’s no point in voting, there’s not going to be any real elections.
Retired government workers and current teachers, vocal about the political situation (Divo, June 2015)
This group of retired teachers and government workers implored me to write down everything they said and to convey this information and their photo to Obama; to ask him to change the president of the CEI and to stop supporting the President he (along with former French President Sarkozy) "imposed" on this country. Under Houphouet-Boigny, under Bédié, even under coup leader Gueï, they ate well, they recounted, but now old, retired men are hungry and can’t afford to pay their rent. “We can’t find food to eat, and you’re talking to us about elections,” they lament.

One could chalk up this attitude to poor losers since their preferred candidate lost in the last elections, but that would be misguided; the feelings of being wronged are real. One electoral education agent told me that they were chased from a village on the way to Gagnoa (towards the heart of Gbagbo country) where people told them that their families were killed, or arrested in the aftermath of the last elections. A dry cleaning shop owner told me that he had left Bouaké on foot with only the clothes on his back at the start of the rebellion in 2002; these individuals feel that justice was not served against those who had perpetrated massacres, human rights abuses, looting or outright fear during the 10 year civil conflict or during the election crisis. Victor’s justice is a common phrase as people wonder why Gbagbo is in the ICC while those who carried out treasonous acts during the rebellion are not; in fact, leaders of the rebellion hold key government positions and former rebels patrol the streets as new soldiers.

The concern is how these feelings will manifest themselves in the months to come. Two men said that they were rebels or would become rebels. Others said they wanted to see Ouattara removed, forcefully, from power. On the other hand, not all of the vehement opposition supporters alluded to violence, but instead to using the ballot box as a weapon: one man, when we were speaking with some of his female family members making attieke, said that they would all register, sure, but they would not vote on Election Day, to show that there is no candidate or real competition.

* This was of course not a representative sample of the population, as I was only able to cover parts of the neighborhoods over the course of a day. However, it is still interesting to see the differences, even within this convenience sample. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

When it rains, it pours: Rainy Season 2015

Having grown up in the southeast United States, I am no stranger to summer flash thunderstorms. And in fact, moving to California, where 90s R&B told us it never rains in the southern regions, and the drought is a frightening reality, I honestly missed storms and rainfall. 

But I do not remember storms like this when I was here in 2012-2013. 
The view from my room during a storm
Thunder and lightning are not a requirement in these Abidjan storms; instead, the bloated dark grey clouds unleash gallons and gallons of rain all over the city, turning paths into rivers and clobbering makeshift homes. The resulting clatter is impressive and lasts for hours. Children still play in the rain, but adults seek shelter wherever they can, or women wear plastic bags to cover their hair. Abidjan has faced precarious rainy season problems in the past, with major flooding throughout the city. But our neighbor, Ghana, has seen much worse this year: An explosion at a gas station resulted in hundreds of deaths, partially because people were seeking shelter from the rains under the awnings of the station, and the rescue effort was impeded by flooding. 
A nearby shantytown in the rain
The upside is the lower temperatures post-storm and overcast skies preventing the sun from baking the earth. Soon the storms will dwindle and the warmth will return. But for now, I will try not to forget the “Hajj 2013” umbrella a colleague lent me and hope that things will calm down before I travel into the interior of the country where the likelihood of washed out roads is much higher. 

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Why I am in Côte d’Ivoire (encore)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am in Côte d’Ivoire to examine perceptions and attitudes towards election preparation in the run-up to the 2015 presidential elections. In particular, I will be focusing on the process of registering voters and the accompanying electoral education campaigns, as well as participating in the monitoring of the process to make sure that there are no discrepancies or attempts to prevent individuals from exercising their right to vote.

The Electoral Commission (CEI) has accredited 10 NGO coalitions to accompany them in their efforts to register voters and revise the electoral list this month. Here’s a map of where the organizations will be working:
Additionally, National Democratic Institute (NDI) has funded a platform of NGOs to monitor the registration process, and the organization I am working with, COSOPCI, will be doing this as well.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is working closely with the CEI to make sure that this whole process runs smoothly; I attended a three day seminar in Dabou on voter education that included the abovementioned organizations and a few others + the CEI and IFES, where they validated a voter education manual, in order to make sure that all of the organizations working with the CEI are on the same page as far as messaging and programming is concerned. For example, IFES encouraged the NGOs to use “traditional media” like theater, in order to effectively reach populations that are not literate and as a means to engage youth in the process.

Watching an example of theater for education, Dabou 27-29 May

Some of us concentrating on the session on using ICT for voter education, Dabou 27-29 May
COSOPCI will be working in former President Gbagbo strongholds (Gagnoa 74% and Divo 56% for Gbagbo in 2010 second round), and believe that their work will be particularly difficult in these zones because they will be dealing with populations who may not be supportive of the electoral process or desire to participate in the elections. In other words, they will have to be particularly convincing in order to encourage these folks to come out to the campaigns and register to vote; they may also face hostile populations who do not trust an organization that comes from Abidjan and who may assume that the NGO is representing the government. Finally, to be affiliated with the CEI may hurt COSOPCI’s prospects, as many do not see the CEI as legitimate.

My role in working with COSOPCI will be the following:
  • Provide feedback and insights on the voter education materials and strategies to be employed
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the campaigns via an original survey developed in conjunction with COSOPCI
  • Interview local populations and gauge how they perceive the process and their general sentiments about the elections as well as their perceptions and attitudes towards NGOs and the CEI
  • Provide capacity support to COSOPCI (i.e. making maps and documents, etc.)
In addition to working on a day-to-day basis with COSOPCI, I have also been conducting interviews with other NGO coalitions and with the CEI. I managed to convince a gendarme protecting the CEI to take this photo of me:

Things are starting out slowly because the CEI today distributed the funds for the campaigns (and the posters and t-shirts), so I think things will pick up soon, as they hope to register/revise the voter rolls by the end of June 2015.