Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Tanzania: FIDH denounces victory of authoritarianism over the rule of law

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The year 2020, with its busy electoral calendar, has witnessed real challenges for democracy and the rule of law in sub-Saharan Africa. These challenges have often been compounded by the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. [1] In Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Tanzania, where the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations [2] closely monitored the situation, the 2020 general elections were marred by incidents, including human rights violations, before, during and after the elections, undermining the credibility of the results and the electoral process as a whole. FIDH and its member organisations in these countries condemn this violence and are concerned about the decline of democracy throughout the continent.

FIDH and its member organisations in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Tanzania condemn the attacks on the electoral process and the violence that has occurred and is ongoing in these three countries. They deplore the absence of an environment conducive to the holding of credible and peaceful elections and the continued repression of dissenting voices. Our organisations:

 Remind the Ivorian, Guinean and Tanzanian authorities of their obligations, in particular to guarantee and respect the fundamental rights of citizens;
 Call on them to investigate human rights violations committed during the elections and to bring to justice those responsible for these acts;
 Alert the international community to the risks of deterioration in the post-election political and security contexts in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Tanzania;
 Urge the international community to put pressure on the authorities of these states to respect the rule of law, put an end to human rights violations and engage in peaceful processes to resolve ongoing political crises;
 Invite the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to remain seized of the issue of the credibility and smooth running of electoral processes on the continent in order to stem the trend of shrinking democratic space and the erosion of the rule of law in Africa;
 Call on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to enjoin States where elections are scheduled in the coming months, such as Central African Republic, Niger, Uganda and Chad, to respect the rule of law, democracy and human rights.


Alpha Condé, in power in Guinea since 2010, was re-elected to a third term in the 18 October 2020 presidential election, in disputed conditions and a context marred by violence. This third term was made possible by a constitutional amendment passed in March 2020. On 6 April 2020, the Guinean Bar Association noted discrepancies between the constitution promulgated and that approved during the March elections, and denounced the violation of the rule of law in Guinea. The new constitution allows President Condé to remain in power for at least 12 more years. During the twin elections in March, [3] international observers (including those of the International Organisation of the Francophonie) noted major irregularities in the electoral register, [4] which led them not to renew their observation mission during the presidential election in October. According to information received by our organisations, these irregularities reported by international observers were not rectified prior to the October vote.

Opposition parties, grouped under the banner of the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), largely boycotted both polls, deploring illegal manoeuvres to allow the president to seek a third term. Boycotts and demonstrations were violently suppressed by security forces. There has also been an escalation in the harassment of political defenders and opponents in all regions, as evidenced by the cases of Oumar Sylla [5] — released and then re-arrested on 29 September — and Saikou Yaya Diallo. Despite two court rulings ordering his release, Diallo was held in custody then sentenced to one year in prison on 16 November, while according to his lawyers no evidence of his guilt was presented. [6] Following the provisional results giving the outgoing president nearly 60% of the vote on 24 October 2020, the opposition parties filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court on 1 November. Their demands were rejected and Alpha Condé was declared the winner in the first round on 7 November.

In Tanzania, the national elections of October 2020 confirmed the authoritarian trend that the country has been experiencing since 2015, when John Pombe Magufuli was elected head of state for the first time. The Tanzania Election Watch (TEW), [7] a regional election observation initiative established following numerous denials of accreditation for election observation at the national level, has documented several violations of the electoral process, calling into question the democratic nature of the ballot. Against a backdrop of severe restrictions on democratic space, which worsened in the run-up to and during the elections, TEW noted arbitrary arrests, including of political opponents of the Party for Democracy and Progress (Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo - CHADEMA) and the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT - Wazalendo), allegations of killings, torture and violence perpetrated by law enforcement officials, disproportionate use of force against civilians, and cases of voting irregularities and fraud. The announced victory of the candidates of the ruling party (Chama Cha Mapinduzi - CCM or Party of the Revolution) in the presidential elections provoked a strong mobilisation of civil society, deprived of legal means to challenge the electoral process, and plunged the country into a post-electoral crisis, where repression and violence continue. TEW and our organisations are particularly concerned about the continued arrest and detention of opposition leaders and their indictment for economic crimes, a weapon already used in the pre-electoral period to silence dissent. Members of the opposition and civil society have also fled the country since the elections, fearing for their lives and safety. [8]

In Côte d’Ivoire, President Alassane Ouattara initially indicated that he would respect term limits and the principle of democratic alternation. However, following the death of his designated successor, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, he finally stood for re-election in the 2020 presidential election. This about-face, however, plunged the country into a political crisis similar to that of 2010, when the competition for the presidency provoked a civil war: at least 3,000 Ivorians died between 2010 and 2011. The approval of the candidacy of the outgoing president, the opposition’s call to civil disobedience, the use of civilians to maintain order at polling stations and the official results declaring the incumbent president the winner of the elections on 3 November 2020 exacerbated tensions, culminating in the establishment by the opposition of a National Transitional Council. The brutal repression of demonstrations by the security forces, blockades of some major roads and clashes between communities and between supporters of the candidates raise fears of an explosion of violence similar to that of 2010. The situation remains precarious. The dialogue initiated between President Ouattara and the opposition Henri Konan Bédié was suspended on 20 November by the opposition because of the continued detention of important opposition representatives.

In Guinea, Tanzania, Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere on the African continent, constitutional amendments, the instrumentalisation of the judicial system against opponents and human rights defenders, arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions, violent repression of demonstrations, and cuts in the means of communication all contribute to the maintenance of authoritarian regimes. Such regimes sometimes enjoy the acquiescence of international institutions that prefer the "stability" of a country to the detriment of the credibility of the electoral process. [9]

These electoral crises undermine the exercise of fundamental freedoms and respect for human rights, as well as peace and national unity. The holding of transparent, free and fair elections organised by independent institutions is one of the foundations of the rule of law. The principles of such elections are enshrined in several international and African regional texts, signed and ratified by Guinea, Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire, such as the African [Union] Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

The African electoral calendar for the coming months remains busy, and the post-election situations in Guinea, Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire do not give cause for optimism. In Ethiopia, the indefinite postponement, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, of the elections scheduled for August 2020 is one of the causes of the civil war that broke out in early November. [10] In Burkina Faso, where the 22 November elections were the second democratic elections since the fall of Blaise Compaoré, who was in power from 1987 to 2014, polling stations could not open due to pressure from armed groups. In December 2020, the polls scheduled in the Central African Republic, in a context of armed conflict, and in Niger, in a context of competition for the succession of President Mahamadou Issoufou (who has respected the constitutional limit of two terms), could be marred by violence. Other elections are scheduled for 2021 in countries where elections and changes to the constitution have been instrumentalised in favour of presidential longevity records: Yoweri Museveni, in power in Uganda since 1986, and Idriss Déby, president of Chad since 1990, will be up for reelection in January and April respectively.

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