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Here’s Why Vote on Ivory Coast’s New Constitution May Not Heal Old Wounds

Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara hopes Sunday’s referendum on a new constitution will finally turn the page on years of crisis and bloodshed.

But as he scrutinize newspaper front pages pinned up at a roadside in the commercial capital Abidjan, Brice Bosse, 44, wasn’t buying it. “I don’t think this referendum should happen,” said the construction worker.

“They rushed this through, and no one even knows what’s in it.” Ivorians, along with the investors who have poured into French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy since its civil war ended in 2011, crave stability. But rights groups and diplomats say a process that could have helped heal a deeply divided society has instead rushed out a document that few Ivorians have had time to read, much less debate. “It looks like a fait accompli,” said one Abidjan-based diplomat. “You can say what you like about the text, but the process could have been more transparent. It’s a missed opportunity.”

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The authorities say they have respected the legal time table for the referendum process, and that a vote on the constitution must be held before legislative elections in December.

Opposition groups are boycotting the vote, accusing Ouattara of tailoring the text to consolidate his power. And with no public debate, many on both sides are falling back on adversarial positions that caused nearly a decade of bloodshed and economic stagnation. “This constitution formalises the colonisation of a big part of our country by people who have come from somewhere else, “Innocent Anaki Kobena, a minister under former President Laurent Gbagbo, told a crowd in Abidjan’s Port Bouet neighbourhood on Wednesday.

Most of his audience were Gbagbo supporters whose refusal to accept Ouattara’s 2010 election win sparked a war that killed over 3,000. Gbagbo is now in The Hague, on trial for crimes against humanity.

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