Continued election delays and political turmoil have for years been used as excuses to justify poor governance and the lack of investment in public services, say civil society groups and public sector workers.
Presidential elections are scheduled for 31 October, according to the latest announcement, but this follows six aborted elections over the past five years.
“The current political crisis is often used to justify a lack of investment in public services,” Traoré Drissa, an Abidjan-based human rights lawyer and head of the Ivoirian Movement for Human Rights, told IRIN.
Many basic indicators are worsening across the country. The number of women dying in pregnancy or childbirth rose from 459 per 100,000 in 2003 to 810 in 2009; while primary school enrolment amongst boys and girls in 2009 fell to 81 percent and 64 percent compared to 92 percent and 70 percent in 2003, according to the UN.
Both the government and opposition have vowed to restore state infrastructure and services in their electoral campaigns but basic services are increasingly out of reach for ordinary citizens, teacher and regional government adviser Abdul Koné, and medic Emmanuel Kouadio, told IRIN.
“There shouldn’t need to be an election for a state hospital to be well-equipped,” Kouadio, who has worked for 20 years at CHU Treichville Hospital in the commercial capital, Abidjan, told IRIN. “There is always talk of funds, rehabilitation and upgrades to the hospital being blocked because there are no elections,” he said.
“The buildings in this hospital are fine, but that’s because they were well-built in colonial days. It’s the materials the government doesn’t provide, and it’s hard to understand that, when we know how much money the hospital is bringing in,” Kouadio said.
The hospital, Abidjan’s second-largest, collects US$29,000-38,000 per month in patient fees and charges, he said. “But we’re missing basic working materials. We doctors often buy our own gloves to carry out operations.”
Many of his former patients have stopped coming as they cannot afford to pay for care, given their deepening poverty and unemployment, he pointed out.
Another doctor at the same hospital told IRIN when women need Caesarean sections, their families have to go out and buy the needles themselves, as hospitals cannot provide them.
Teacher Koné told IRIN at his school: “We are never given money for books... How can you teach without books? There is always talk of how books are distributed freely to schools, but they never arrive. Sometimes when a handful of books do come, the director of the school sells them on the black market. And that’s because they are also on low salaries.
“The entire system needs to be overhauled. In the rebel zones it’s even worse. With the government’s decentralization programme, we in the south are the lucky ones,” Koné said, referring to delays in deploying local authorities to the north and northwest.
Côte d’Ivoire is split into a government-held south and rebel-controlled north: as of 2007, following the peace deal, government services started to be deployed in rebel territory, but the impact of services in these areas is still muted after years of absence, aid agencies told IRIN.
Like most school teachers, Koné earns $400-600 a month; but with the high cost of living, some weeks he struggles to pay his return bus fare from school.
Donors and aid agencies, among them the African Development Bank, have rehabilitated hundreds of primary and secondary schools, but the government has neglected its role in this, said Koné.
École Nangui Abrogoua, one of the primary schools where Koné teaches, is in a much better state than others in Abidjan.
“There are around 63 students per teacher - that’s a small class; it’s considered good. But there are no tables, no chairs, sometimes there’s no light. Sometimes students take it in turns to come into the classroom to sit on the few chairs. The toilets are so unhygienic you can’t even enter them; and let’s not even pretend canteens exist.”
And the quality of education has dropped, he said, as the government has cut teacher training from three years to eight months.
A senior official in the Ministry of Higher Education, Alexis Ibo, agrees the socio-political impasse is delaying progress: "There is an [education] reform under way, funded by multilateral donors. But because of the socio-political situation, funds are not being released. Things have stalled."
He says corruption among teachers and parents also plays a role: "The fall in education standards in Côte d'Ivoire is due in part to corruption and violence in schools and universities, which are like gangrene to the system… Corruption also comes from parents who, for example, give their children money to buy off teachers at exam time. Children will not work if they know they can pay."
Development is further hampered by graft among authorities and Forces Nouvelles leaders, which has been rife since the political crisis erupted eight years ago, said human rights lawyer Drissa. Like many countries in the sub-region, poor governance, rather than lack of state income is the principal problem, he said.
“If there hadn’t been a political crisis, funds from the rebel-held zones would have entered state coffers, rather than enriching certain individuals,” said Drissa. “At the same time, there’s been huge embezzlement of public funds. Despite the crisis, if state funds had been better managed, they would have covered more of the population’s needs.”
President Gbagbo’s team and supporters regularly say he sent out a message of clean governance when he ordered a graft probe in June against Interior Minister Desiré Tagro, one of his closest political allies.
The public prosecutor cleared Tagro of embezzling public money, citing a lack of evidence. A parliamentary inquiry into Tagro’s possible role in graft is also under way, but the country’s legislative chambers which will decide on the case, have themselves remained unelected for the past five years.
Force Nouvelles rebel spokesperson Felicien Sekongo told IRIN his authorities do not engage in embezzlement. “People report all kinds of things that surprise us. The reason we are here is to fight for the population. This fight is not about enriching ourselves… It's true that the population is suffering, but that’s because the crisis has continued.”
A new deal?
Some public sector workers warned against seeing elections as a magic bullet to resolve deep-rooted social ills.
“Will things change if there are elections? Personally, I don’t think so,” said Koné. “There’s a lack of imagination by the political class. As far as education is concerned, a different solution has to be found. Otherwise this country is going to continue trailing 40, 50 years behind its potential.”
But others say elections are still a prerequisite for moving forward. “Will public funds actually be released, assuming elections even take place? Well, we’re just waiting for the elections to actually happen because maybe at least the new president can propose a new deal,” Kouadio told IRIN.
“Elections won’t solve all our problems,” said Drissa. “But they will at least allow us to return to a normal political situation. The country will be reunited, and the government will be able to start concentrating on the population because at the moment everything is focused on the crisis. Elections are the first stage towards resolving things,” he added.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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