Violence erupted at around 100 polling stations in Ivory Coast on Sunday as voters decided whether to approve a new constitution that President Alassane Ouattara argues will ensure peace in the wake of years of political turmoil. Elections worker Nandi Bamba was preparing to open the voting when a group of young men, some of them armed with clubs and machetes, attacked her polling station in Abidjan’s Yopougon neighborhood. “They demanded we stop working because the new constitution wasn’t for the people. Then they smashed the ballot boxes, scattered the ballots. They broke everything,” she said. Under Ouattara, Ivory Coast has made an impressive recovery since a 2011 civil war capped a decade-long crisis. The International Monetary Fund projects it will be Africa’s fastest growing economy this year. However, despite five years of peace, Ivorians remain deeply divided along political and ethnic faultlines. And both they and the investors who are now flooding in crave the stability that will allow the world’s top cocoa grower to cement its status as the continent’s rising star.
Opposition parties called for a boycott of the vote, arguing that the new text was designed to further entrench Ouattara’s political coalition.
Some called upon their supporters to act to stop the referendum from being held – and a low turnout could rob what is expected to be a “Yes” vote of legitimacy in the future.
Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said security had to be reinforced in some areas after violence erupted at around 100 polling stations in Abidjan and western Ivory Coast. “We think there’s a group going from zone to zone that is truly well organized, which has as its mission to disrupt the vote as much as possible,” he said, adding that the incidents were not expected to have an impact on the result.