Elections and Beyond: the hard work of democracy

President Barack Obama with Ambassador Terence P. McCulley (Dept. of State)
President Barack Obama with Ambassador Terence P. McCulley (Dept. of State)

Côte d’Ivoire has made a remarkable recovery since the post-electoral crisis of 2010-2011.  Its economic performance continues to be particularly impressive, accompanied by sound and disciplined fiscal management.  Such economic results are the envy of many countries, not just in sub-Saharan Africa, but around the globe.  Yet hard work remains to be done to reach President Ouattara’s salutary vision of an emerging Ivoirian economy in 2020.  And in order to contribute to national reconciliation, the benefits of Côte d’Ivoire’s economic resurgence and renewed openness need to reach all Ivoirians.  As economic opportunities expand, they will give an increasing number of Ivoirians the chance to build a more prosperous future while binding up the wounds of conflict.

In the same way, Côte d’Ivoire’s continuing progress depends on the openness of its  democratic institutions, , and the next twelve months affords all Ivoirians an exceptional opportunity to engage in an open and loyal debate on the country’s future.  A peaceful and inclusive presidential election next year will be an important bellwether of the maturity of Ivoirian democracy, and a test of the stability of the country’s institutional foundation.  And yet, as we have seen in the United States, elections alone do not advance our national dialogue on the nature and future of our democracy.  This process requires the active involvement of an engaged citizenry and a vibrant civil society, as well as the commitment of all political parties to work together in the spirit of compromise for the greater good of the nation.

In this regard, and in Côte d’Ivoire in recent days, I have been encouraged by the government’s proposed law to expand the Executive Bureau of the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) from six to nine members, demonstrating its commitment to providing broad participation in an institution charged with ensuring an inclusive, transparent and credible presidential election in 2015.  I urge the National Assembly to move swiftly to pass implementing legislation, so that a fully inclusive CEI can resume work on the important task of preparing the way for Ivoirians to peacefully exercise their democratic rights next October.  Similarly, I urge the opposition to accept the tendered hand of the ruling coalition, and to return to full participation in the CEI, so that the voices of all Ivoirians are represented.

At the end of America’s terrible Civil War, Abraham Lincoln addressed the nation to talk about the great challenges that lay ahead.  To those who fought on both sides of the conflict he said “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan”.  Our country emerged stronger from this long conflict, recommitted to the fundamental values of our nation.  Ivoirians have a similar opportunity in the coming months to turn the page on past conflict and work together to consolidate the gains of the past three years through an electoral process in which every vote counts, and in which every vote is freely expressed, free from violence or intimidation.  And then the hard work begins.

As I near the end of my first year in Côte d’Ivoire, I am convinced that Ivoirians – just as we Americans do in our own country – wish to consolidate and perfect their democratic institutions, and to promote the sustainable development and economic growth that will secure the future of their children and grandchildren.  Next year and the 2015 elections will be an important stage in this journey, and I wish to assure our Ivoirian friends that the government and people of the United States remain a friend and partner along the way.