Alassane Ouattara

Alassane Ouattara

Abidjan. — West African powerhouse Ivory Coast geared up yesterday for a key vote hoping to turn the page on searing political violence that left thousands dead and split the world’s top cocoa producer into two.

As campaigning for the October 25 presidential election kicked off yesterday, incumbent Alassane Ouattara stands far and away the favourite in a field of 10 contenders in this closely-watched race.

Ouattara has led the once stable and prosperous economic regional powerhouse through a revival after a debilitating conflict that divided the country into a rebel-held north and a loyalist south for almost a decade.

His 2010 election proved to be the final but deadliest chapter in the conflict, when then president Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to the former deputy head of the IMF, triggering five months of bloodshed in which over 3 000 people died.

Now as the country of 23 million people — and 6.3 million voters — prepares to vote, Gbagbo marks time in a Dutch jail, awaiting his November war crimes trial by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Ouattara meanwhile has pitched his election campaign on the nation’s upbeat economic performance, saying he hopes to win an outright majority at the first October 25 round of the vote, without having to resort to a second run-off round.

The tall 73-year-old economist, married to a Frenchwoman and nicknamed “ADO” after his initials, heads a coalition including his own RDR party but also the key PDCI set up by Ivory Coast’s founding father Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

His campaign kicked off yesterday in Houphouet-Boigny’s home town Yamoussoukro, site of one of the world’s largest churches. — AFP.