44 in the run for three West African states’ top seats

At least 44 candidates are contesting presidential elections in three French-speaking West African countries: Guinea, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire.
The candidates include four women.
Coincidentally, the polls in all three countries were scheduled for the same month, October 2015.
Guineans will be the first to go to vote on Sunday (October 11), followed by Ivorians on the October 25, the same day that the Burkinabés would have cast their ballots.
General Gilbert Diendéré’s military coup on September 17, which was aborted almost a week later, derailed the Burkinabé ballot date. The new date will be in mid-November this year.
Another crucial local poll in French-speaking Mali, initially set for October, has been postponed indefinitely over insecurity
It is in Cote d’Ivoire, the second regional powerhouse after Nigeria, that the stakes are highest and where the “battle” promises to be fiercest.
The polls are being held against a backdrop of a fragile post-war reconciliation and peace-building constantly dogged by the disarmament and reintegration of thousands of former combatants who are steadily drifting to grand banditry.
By all indications, two men will emerge front-runners.
They are incumbent President Alassane Ouattara and Mr Charles Konan Banny
Was bogged down
President Ouattara and Mr Banny are embodiments of the northern and southern divide of the country.
Both are economists and bankers and have served as governors of West Africa’s biggest regional bank (BCEAO) before becoming Prime Ministers – with Ouattara taking the edge over Bedie by serving as president before him.
In Cote d’Ivoire, the process of vetting the candidates was bogged down by the old Article 35 which embodies the divisive Ivoirité concept, which Ouattara has fallen foul of before.
This year, Mr Amara Essy, who has since withdrawn his candidature, played the Ivoirite card hell-bent on sidelining Ouattara from the race, but the Constitutional Council blocked the move.
The major argument was that if the notorious article was applied to the letter, none of the frontrunners aged above 60 would be eligible for the presidency.
This is so because all of them were born before Cote d’Ivoire’s independence in 1960 and hence they were not Ivorians at birth as Article 35 stipulates in the main.
Mr Essy was a Foreign Affairs minister under President Houphouet-Boigny.
In Burkina Faso, many of the aspirants were disqualified due to their links to ousted President Blaise Compaoré and the controversial but failed attempt to amend the constitution to prolong his 27-year-rule.
Ouattara’s chances
President Ouattara’s bid for re-election would have flopped if former President Henri Konan Bédié – the man who once succeeded in using the Ivoirite card against the former – had joined forces with Mr Essy and Mr Banny under the Houphouetist platform.
A tight run
But Mr Bédié backed out of the race, apparently due to President Ouattara’s astute divide-and-rule trump card.
The trump card consisted of an arrangement that culminated in a book entitled L’Appel de Duékoué or ‘The Call from Duékoué. Duékoué is Mr Bédié’s home and bastion of the Houphouetists.
The underlying message of the book, which was launched nationally, is a call to all pro-Houphouetists to rally behind Ouattara for the presidency.
From all indicators, the book has completely dissipated the steam from the Houphouetists’ train.
Not even the erudite former House Speaker Mamadou Koulibaly, who served under Laurent Gbagbo’s regime, nor Mr Koulibaly’s mentor and former prime minister Affi N’Guessan, are apt to give the incumbent a tight run.
But in the very real possibility of a runoff, Mr Koulibaly and Mr N’Guessan were more likely to rally around Mr Banny’s bid to succeed President Ouattara.
It is unthinkable that the losing candidate will this time around fail to acknowledge the winner, given the gruesome reminder of the circumstances that landed Mr Gbagbo at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Undeniably, one of the main and strategic actors in the political life of Cote d’Ivoire is the student-turned-warlord-turned-prime minister-tuned Speaker of Parliament, Guillaume Soro.
Commenting on President Ouattara’s performance, the youthful but enigmatic Soro had this to say: “In four years of his presidency, Cote d’Ivoire has changed economically and in terms of infrastructure. Even when you do not like the hare, we must recognise that it runs very fast.”
Political dinosaurs
He added: “Whatever our political persuasions, we must recognise that in four years, Alassane Ouattara has changed the face of Cote d’Ivoire.”
Unholy alliance
In Guinea, all four known political dinosaurs plus four other less known hopefuls have been cleared for the presidential race.
The leading four are the incumbent President Alpha Condé, opposition leader Cellou Dalien Diallo, as well as ex-Premiers Sidy Toure and Lansana Kouyaté – third and fourth place winners in the 2010 polls.
Mr Diallo, Mr Touré and Mr Kouyaté had all served as prime ministers under President Lansana Conté.
It was in an attempt to outflank President Condé, that Mr Diallo prematurely sought an alliance with the former junta leader, Gen Moussa Dadis Camara. The move has thrown a spanner in the works and could spell ill for Mr Diallo’s march to state house.
Mr Diallo’s alliance with Gen Camara – whose party is unregistered – has severely been criticised, not only by the opposition parties, but also by the civil society.
It remains to be seen if Mr Sidya Touré and Mr Lansana Kouyaté will rally behind Mr Diallo in the event of a runoff so as to get rid of their common enemy – President Condé.
Mr Diallo is likely to emerge ahead as in 2010 due largely to the ethnic vote from the majority Fula community, who are conscious that they have never been closer to getting power than now.
President Condé could be feeling more unsure than any of his rivals after failing to get a majority in parliament despite of procrastinating for three years to win support.
Three front runners
Hence, in the event of a run-off, none of the other three front runners (Diallo, Touré and Kouyaté) will want to rally with President Condé, whose coalition chances rest with weaker candidates.
In spite of the loud calls from the opposition for equal representation on the electoral commission and equal access to the national media, which have not been addressed to their satisfaction, the polls will go ahead.
Open bout
The presidential race in Burkina Faso will be an open fight between 14 out of the 22 initial candidates, who include two women. None of them has contested before.
Out of the 14, three could emerge as the frontrunners. They are the popular former opposition leader, Zephirin Diabre, rights activist and lawyer Stanislas Bénéwendé Sankara, and Roch Marc Kaboré, the former House Speaker under the ousted Compaoré.
Other powerful candidates in the previous government were sidelined for their open support to the Compaoré’s agenda: fiddling with the constitution to ensure an unlimited presidential mandate.
Given their wealth, they were going to be formidable candidates, particularly one Djibril Bassolé, who was President Compaoré’s gendarmerie general and later Foreign Affairs minister.
Rivals were cleared
Though a victory by such former regime stalwarts would not have necessarily meant a reincarnation of the Compaoré state, chances were that the former leader would have gone scot free of possible assassination charges involving the late revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara.
Mr Marc Kaboré – the only Compaoré ally standing as a candidate – was spared for having abandoned the regime long before the civil uprising that drove the strongman out of power.
The likely runoff is billed to be a race between Mr Diabre and Mr Kaboré.
In the light of a possible victory for Mr Diabre, there is speculation that he could tap Bénéwendé Sankara, the late Sankara’s family lawyer, as his prime minister.
But Mr Diabré seems to have doubts about the fairness of the poll. Shortly after his rivals were cleared, he expressed suspicion about fraudulent practices in the countdown to the vote.
Without naming anyone explicitly, he warned the election commission of “creating an electoral hold-up”.
Some believe he could be suspecting a military intervention in the aftermath of a contested poll by some of the presidential hopefuls, Guinea-Bissau style.