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Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara
Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara (Photo by Sia Kambou/via AFP)

After weeks of speculation, President Alassane Ouattara has confirmed that he will stand as the candidate for Côte d'Ivoire’s ruling RHDP party, taking the place of his chosen successor Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who passed away suddenly last month. Opposition parties claim Ouattara’s announcement is a violation of the Ivorian constitution, which limits a president to two consecutive terms. But the RHDP argues the constitution adopted in 2016 effectively reset Ouattara’s term limits, so his first term didn’t count.

Though this decision is seemingly an about-face from prior statements made by the incumbent, Ouattara had warned that should Laurent Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bédié run as candidates he would consider seeking a third term.

Former Ivorian president Henri Konan Bédie
Former Ivorian president Henri Konan Bédie (Photo by Issouf Sanogo/via AFP)

Bédié was president of Côte d’Ivoire from 1993 to 1999, and implemented changes to the country’s constitution that barred Ouattara from running for president in 1995 and 2000. The changes stipulated that both parents of a presidential candidate must be of Ivorian birth, which Ouattara and his supporters said was designed to specifically exclude him given that one of his parents was rumored to be from Burkina Faso. Another stipulation that barred him from running was the prohibition of ever having claimed citizenship of another country; Ouattara held Burkinabe citizenship for a while.

Ouattara was formally granted Ivorian citizenship in 2002, and in 2004 the National Assembly voted in favor of changing the constitution to specify that Ivorians with at least one parent who was Ivorian at birth would be allowed to contest presidential elections. The change was not immediately ratified, however, but was finally adopted in the 2016 constitution.

 

A Third Candidate

As for Gbagbo, his refusal to step down after the 2010 elections was one of the catalysts for the Ivorian Civil War, which claimed more than 3,000 lives. Gbagbo’s party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), declared former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan as its candidate. Both the FPI and Bédie’s party, the PDCI, declared they would run a joint ticket should the presidential election go to a second-round runoff.

The election is set to be held on October 31, 2020.

 

In the wake of former prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly’s death, Côte d’Ivoire’s ruling RHDP alliance must now find a replacement candidate for the October presidential election. The decision is made more pressing by the candidacy of former president Henri Konan Bédié.

The announcement in March that President Alassane Ouattara would not seek re-election was followed by the nomination of Coulibaly as the RHDP candidate, which helped to calm tensions in the country. The opposition had been heavily critical of Ouattara possibly running for a third term, even though he was technically allowed to do so following the ratification of major constitutional amendments in 2016. Now that Ouattara’s potential successor has died, members of his original party, the Rally of the Republicans (RDR), have been urging him to run.

 

 

Two Potential Candidates

Should Ouattara keep to his previous commitment not to run for president again, two people in the RHDP alliance stand out as potential candidates.

The first is Hamed Bakayoko, the minister of defense, who is popular among the Ivorian youth for his friendship with celebrities, like the late DJ Arafat, and who enjoys the support of First Lady Dominique Ouattara. While Coulibaly was on medical leave in Paris for two months, Bakayoko stood in as acting prime minister, and his performance in the position boosted his support within the RHDP.

Patrick Achi, secretary-general of the Ivorian presidency, arrives at the presidential palace in Abidjan on April 25, 2019. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP)
Patrick Achi, secretary-general of the Ivorian presidency, arrives at the presidential palace in Abidjan on April 25, 2019. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP)

Another potential candidate is Patrick Achi, the secretary-general of the RHDP and a close ally of Ouattara. Achi served as minister of the interior from 2000 to 2017 under both former president Laurent Gbagbo and Ouattara. More importantly, he was a former high-ranking member of the PDCI, the party of Henri Konan Bédié. Achi has maintained good relations with his former party, and previously served as mediator between Ivorian political figures and movements. Good mediation skills would be invaluable for a future head of state to have, especially since Ouattara’s initial ascension to power came at the cost of a debilitating civil war.

 

Ivorian prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly died on July 8, 2020, at the age of sixty-one. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP)
Ivorian prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly died on July 8, 2020, at the age of sixty-one. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP)

Amadou Gon Coulibaly, prime minister of Côte d’Ivoire, passed away suddenly on Wednesday, July 8, in Abidjan, six days after returning to the country following a two-month stay in France. He was taken to hospital after he started to feel ill during a cabinet meeting. He had been battling chronic heart problems for years and had had a heart transplant in 2012, and after his latest check-up in Paris he underwent a procedure to have a stent inserted in a blocked coronary artery.

Coulibaly was a close political ally of incumbent president Alassane Ouattara for thirty years. Before he was appointed prime minister in 2017, he served as secretary-general of the presidency under Ouattara from 2011 to 2017, and before that as agriculture minister from 2002 to 2010.

Patrick Achi, secretary-general of the presidency, issued a statement of condolences on behalf of President Alassane Ouattara, saying, “Côte d’Ivoire is in mourning… I salute my young brother, my son, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who had been my closest ally for thirty years.”

Former president Henri Konan Bédié issued his own statement on behalf of himself and his party, the PDCI-RDA, saying, “His unexpected death today deeply saddens us. A great servant of the state, he remains an example of loyalty and fidelity with respect to his political convictions.”  

 

Presidential Election

Côte d’Ivoire is set to hold a presidential election on October 31.

Ouattara had made it clear in the past that he would run for another term should Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo—president during the country’s civil war (2002–2011) and recently acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court—participate in the October election.

Following months of speculation and fears that Ouattara would seek a third term, he announced in March that he would not run. The governing Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP) alliance then designated Coulibaly as its candidate. His death is likely to increase tensions in the country and set off a jockeying for the candidacy within the RHDP alliance.

Bédié, who is eighty-six years old, has stated his intention to run for president. So did former prime minister Guillaume Soro, but in April this year he was convicted in absentia on embezzlement charges and sentenced to twenty years in prison. His lawyers have claimed this was a ruse to prevent him from contesting the election.

Formal campaigning was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and during an April 8 cabinet meeting held via video link President Ouattara hinted at a possible postponement of the election. Coulibaly’s death throws the political situation into more disarray.

 

 

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 29, 2020 Former rebel leader and would-be Ivory Coast presidential candidate Guillaume Soro poses during a photo session in Paris. An Ivory Coast court on April 28, 2020, sentenced former prime minister Guillaume Soro to 20 years in jail on charges of embezzlement and money laundering. Soro, a former rebel leader and a candidate in presidential elections this October, currently lives in exile in France.  Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP
Guillaume Soro, former prime minister of Côte d’Ivoire, photographed in Paris on January 29, 2020. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP)

 

On Tuesday, April 28, an Ivorian court sentenced exiled former prime minister Guillaume Soro to 20 years in prison after convicting him of embezzlement and money laundering. The trial lasted for only a few hours, with Soro absent and his lawyers boycotting the proceedings, alleging it was all political theater designed to prevent him from running for office in the October 31 presidential election.

Soro had also been accused of plotting an anti-government uprising. He has consistently denied all the charges against him.

 

The trial has highlighted the continuing repression of political opposition.

 

Slide toward Authoritarianism

The court verdict raises the specter of Côte d’Ivoire falling into a similar pattern of regression to authoritarian rule that contributed to the civil war breaking out following the 2010 elections, during which at least 3,000 civilians died.

The trial also highlights the continuing repression of political opposition. Hundreds of activists and opposition party members are languishing in prison for expressing their political views or for organizing protests. 

 

Moral Obligation

Amnesty International has called on African countries to avoid turning prisons, which are often overcrowded, into epicenters of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Ivorian presidency announced on April 8 that President Ouattara had granted  a remission of sentence to 1,004 prisoners and pardoned another 1,000. Amnesty International says, however, that this is insufficient, and that human rights defenders, journalists, and activists detained for simply exercising their rights should also be released.

 

 

In this file photo taken on January 29, 2020 Former rebel leader and would-be Ivory Coast presidential candidate Guillaume Soro poses during a photo session in Paris. An Ivory Coast court on April 28, 2020, sentenced former prime minister Guillaume Soro to 20 years in jail on charges of embezzlement and money laundering. Soro, a former rebel leader and a candidate in presidential elections this October, currently lives in exile in France.  Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP
Guillaume Soro, former prime minister of Côte d’Ivoire and would-be presidential candidate, photographed in Paris on January 29, 2020. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP)

 

The trial of Guillaume Soro, the former Ivorian prime minister who is accused of plotting an uprising against the government of President Alassane Ouattara and of embezzling public funds, starts today, April 28, in the capital Yamoussoukro. Soro has lived in exile in France since the arrest warrant issued in December prevented him from returning to Côte d’Ivoire from Europe, so the trial is continuing in his absence.

 

Soro has denied any wrongdoing.

 

The African Court on Human and People’s Rights (CADHP) has urged the West African nation to suspend the arrest warrant against Soro and release nineteen associates of his who have been detained as political prisoners.

Jeune Afrique reports that the decision to continue with the trial may be an attempt by the Ouattara administration to withdraw Côte d’Ivoire from the CADHP protocol, as its neighbor Benin did not too long ago.

 

Upcoming Presidential Election

Soro has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers have denounced the trial as an attempt at preventing him from running as a candidate in the presidential election, which is set to be held on October 31, 2020. President Ouattara, who has served as president for two terms and will not run for re-election, is expected to back his current prime minister, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, for president.

 

On March 5, Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara announced he would not seek a third presidential term in the national elections scheduled for October, easing the concerns of Ivorians and international observers who feared Ouattara’s participation would lead to a repeat of the 2010 election, which resulted in a bloody civil war. Yet, as Jessica Moody writes, this announcement belies other authoritarian actions taken by Ouattara that have been ignored by Western powers and international institutions otherwise pleased with his governance of the West African country, which has one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent.

 

Why It Matters

In spite of macroeconomic metrics showing a vibrant economy, nearly half of all Ivorians still live in poverty and are food-insecure. Checkpoints have continued to disappear between the north and south of the country, divided as such during the height of the civil war, and travel has resumed more or less without provocation. Yet, the underlying socioeconomic conditions that erupted into the post-electoral violence of 2010 have not disappeared. In 2016, Ouattara held a referendum on a proposed new constitution that went ahead despite only 42 percent participation by Ivorian voters. Among the changes, it gave the president the power to appoint one-third of the ninety-nine seats of the newly created senate, giving the executive greater power over the national legislature.

Then there’s Ouattara’s increasingly aggressive assaults on opposition parties. The most dramatic of which is the arrest warrant issued for Guillaume Soro for an alleged coup attempt. The former president of the national assembly led the Nouvelles Forces rebel group that helped install Ouattara at the end of the civil war. An audio tape was submitted as proof of Soro’s guilt, but the tape dates to 2017, leading skeptics to question why the government waited this long to release it. That Soro had announced plans to run for president suggests a political motive behind the timing of the tape’s release. 

Ahead of the elections in October, Ouattara and his ruling Rally of the Republicans party will need to make a sincere commitment to open political dialogue, release political prisoners, and acknowledge opposition grievances regarding the composition of the electoral commission, which is accused of being biased in favor of the ruling party. Short of this, Ouattara’s plan to not run is likely to do little to assuage fears of a deteriorating political situation that could make this year’s election as contested as that fateful one in 2010.

 

https://africasacountry.com/2020/03/when-things-fall-apart

 

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