Posted by: Martin | November 5, 2010

Gbagbo: votes and funny faces

Crossing ethnic lines

I got a new theory to explain why voters of ethnic groups not close to Gbagbo set tribal loyalties aside and voted Gbagbo to a non insignificant extent.

Back in 2001, in Senegal,  I had the chance to tag along with the incumbent PDS party (incumbent for a year after 26 year in opposition) campaigning in the interior of the country for the parliamentary elections that year.

Essentially, it worked like this, you get to a village that has already prepared ahead for the arrival and people have dressed up in their best boubous.  A sound system is set up and then dance shows and theatre are mixed with political speeches, and there are gazillions of children.  The whole thing goes on late into the night and is really a great party.  Occassionally I was given the microphone and said a few words in French knowing that 98% of the audience only spoke the local wolof language.  Still got very loud cheers just going on stage though  – think it was the “Wow, it’s a toubab” factor.

Then at 2-3 o’clock in the night the party representatives get down to business with the village elders and discuss quite matter of factly how many bags of rice, cellphones, coverage of medical costs etc, that the PDS party will give to the village in return for its votes.

Incumbent advantage

So political campaigning in Africa is a lot of fun, but very expensive.   And the incumbent has the big advantage of being able to use the resources of the state to do campaigning.    From the village’s perspective it makes a lot of sense to vote for the incumbent,  they are likely to get more stuff from the incumbent, and they want to be on the winning side, and that is most likely the incumbent side.   Paved roads have a tendency to be built more to villages that voted for the incumbent than the opposition.

In the Ivory Coast, Gbagbo has a lot of these advantages.

UPDATE: What I’m trying to say is that the choice isn’t always between voting along ethnic lines or voting for issues/programmes/ideology, there is also a third option of selling your vote and aligning yourself/your village with the winner.  The third option is especially common on the countryside (although parts of Abidjan essentially function as many villages next to each other),  and is – I believe – used by all main candidates, but especially by candidates with more resources.

And speaking of Gbagbo, why is it that he almost always manages to look so funny when caught on camera?  His face is just very expression-ful I guess.



  1. This is what I think as well — that votes have been bought with free drinks and promises of food and medical items. It’s frustrating to not know what really goes on in the villages during campaigning. Have you read ‘Les Catapilas, ces ingrats’ by Venance konan? He describes elections African style quite well.

  2. […] not uncommon practice of giving gifts to a village in return for their votes as described in the Gbagbo: votes and funny faces […]

  3. […] will  vote for Gbagbo again in the second round. The incumbent advantage effect discussed in the Gbagbo: votes and funny faces post can weaken in a second round round of presidential elections.  That’s how the […]

  4. […] than the RHDP as FPI/LMP have a stronger grip on the state and can use its resources. As per the Gbagbo: votes and… post resources are used not only for pure campaigning but also to buy votes, and I guess in this […]

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