The latest attempt to break the deadlock in the Ivory Coast could be leading to the same electoral stalemate that has forced the international partition of the country in the first place. Ivory Coast is too important to West Africa — the most populous sub-region of Africa — to permit a series of inconclusive elections. Based on the latest voting figures, the stand-off between North and South — Muslim and Christian, Gbagbo and Ouattara — likely can only be ended through a negotiated power-sharing settlement that enables the two main sub-national groupings in Ivory Coast to achieve enough autonomy from one another — and accountability to each other — to move this well-endowed nation forward.
The failure to do so should raise, at last, serious doubts about the viability of Ivory Coast as a single nation. If elections fail, and a government of national unity cannot be negotiated in a way that satisfies the legitimate needs of North and South, then the inevitable next step must be contemplated: to make partition permanent.
After nearly 10 years of stagnation, Ivory Coast must move forward even if the “price” is the creation of two nations out of one. The country remains, even in its crippled political state, an economic powerhouse that provides, in addition to enormous agricultural capabilities, a gateway to the sea for Mali and Burkina Faso, who also rely on Ivory Coast for labor opportunities. Ghana, which like Ivory Coast is a power in the booming global market for cocoa, long has needed to cooperate more closely (on cocoa prices, on investment in infrastructure, on innovation at the field level) with its immediate neighbor to the West. The benefits to the sub-region of a durable political resolution in Ivory Coast are too substantial to sacrifice on the altar of inconclusive elections. There is a better way. If the run-off election on Nov. 28 does not produce a clear winner, with a mandate to bring the nation together, that better way should be embraced.