From the Editor’s Keyboard

Cote d’Ivoire at the political cross-roads

20 January 2020 at 19:27 | 1140 views

Commentary

By Koyie Mansaray, Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire)

Until the eve of Christmas 1998 coup d’Etat, staged by the military against President Henri Konan Bedié, Cote d’Ivoire was considered as one of the most stable and peaceful countries in West Africa, if not the whole of Africa. That military intervention brought General Robert Guei to power. Guei’s failed attempt to rig the 2000 Presidential elections in his own favor, brought the eventual winner, Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters to the streets of Abidjan in a show of civil disobedience. General Guei had to beat a retreat and retired later to his village. The military was at it again on 19 September 2002, while President Gbagbo was seeing the Pope, a heavy detachment, led by Ibrahim Coulibaly (IB) and his colleagues, attempted to seize power. The pro-Gbagbo elements in the military stoutly resisted the attempted putsch. Its leaders, however, withdrew and moved northwards, to Cote d’Ivoire’s second city of Bouaké. There they set up a rebel administration. Cote d’Ivoire was therefore cut into two, with President Laurent Gbagbo presiding over the southern half, while the rebels reigned in the north, with at first, no well-defined leadership structure. It was later, a young former student activists, who graduated in English from the then Cocody University, was made the rebels’ spokesman. His name is Guillaume Soro. Many attempts were made by the international community to reunite the country, but to no avail. At one stage, the former colonial power, France, brokered a power-sharing agreement in 2004 between President Gbagbo’s Government and the rebels in Paris, at Marcoucy Rugby facilities. The country still remained divided, even after rebel ministers had joined the Government of National Unity, under a neutral career diplomat, Abdoulaye Diawara, as Prime Minister.
President Laurent Gbagbo displayed skillful statesmanship, by prudently managing the country’s economy and paying the salaries of public sector employees, even those in the northern rebel-occupied parts of the country. He gradually became more nationalistic, to the dislike of the French.

He undertook fundamental reforms that the French, who had and still have the strangle-hold of Cote d’Ivoire economy, frowned at. This former professor of history, was Pan-Africanist in his policy outlooks. The French countered by closing all their banks around the country. Many deaths were reported following this draconian move by the French. Several individuals who fell ill and could not have access to their savings and therefore could not buy the prescribed medication, succumbed to pointless deaths. As the situation reached a crisis point, the then President of Burkina Faso, President Compaoré, stepped in to mediate another peace deal between the rebels and the Gbagbo regime. Known as the Ouagadougou Peace Accord of 2007, the greatest beneficiary was Guillaume Soro. The latter was elevated to the enviable position of Prime Minister of the unity government that resulted.

The country became relatively peaceful after that peace accord. The country was reunited once again and there was free movement between the north and south. However, the international community had sent ONUCI (United Nations Operations in Cote d’Ivoire), supposedly to consolidate the peace throughout the length and breadth of the country.

President Gbagbo had been re-elected in 2005, without much difficulty. As 2010 beckoned, Presidential Elections were expected at a time to be decided by the leadership. In the run-up to the said elections, former President Bedié and Dr. Allasane Ouattara, who were once bitter political rivals, decided to establish an alliance. Ouattara’s Rassemblement de la République(Rally of the Republic(RDR) and Henri Konan Bédié’s Parti Démocratique de Cote d’Ivoire(Democratic Party of Coted’Ivoire-PDCI) formed a united front that pitched candidate Dr. Allasane Ouattara against President Gbagbo, who was not bound by any limitation of terms not to contest under the Constitution then in force.

President Gbagbo dithered for some time before deciding on the time for the said elections. It was eventually in January 2011. The polls were conducted and the outcome was hotly disputed by both front-runners, Gbagbo and Ouattara, claiming to have won. As Gbagbo was the incumbent, he refused to budge. He went ahead and appointed his cabinet and started administering the country.

Dr. Allasane Ouattara’s friends, especially the French, made no bones about unseating President Gbagbo by any means necessary. French helicopter gun-ships began bombarding Gbagbo’s official residence , while a number of African troops from the neighboring countries were mobilized for the final onslaught against Gbagbo’s seat of power in Cocody. Meanwhile, Allasane Ouattara had set up his own headquarters at the Hotel Golfe, only a distance of two or three kilometers away. What became known as the 2011 Post-Electoral Crisis in Ivorian history would come to an end on 111 April 2011. It was the day the multilateral forces, led by the French, over-ran Gbagbo’s bunker and arrested him for being headstrong in refusing to hand-over power to their ally. Arrested, Gbagbo and former First Lady, Simone Gbagbo, were taken and handed over at Hotel Golfe, like trophies presented to a triumphant team. The rest is history. Gbagbo was later sent to the International Criminal Court in 2012, to be joined later by his former Minister of Youth Affairs, Charles Ble Goudé, a former Secretary General of FESCI(Federation of Ivorian Students and Interns) and who worked with Guillaume Soro, then the President of the student organization. Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were acquitted and discharged in January 2019 of crime against humanity and are only awaiting the outcome of ICC Prosecutor’s appeal.

Even from his base in Brussels, Laurent Gbagbo has already declared his desire to run as candidate for Presidential elections scheduled for October this year. If , indeed, he becomes the flagbearer for the Ivorian Popular Front(FPI), this may pit him against his former Prime Minister, Pascal Affi N’guessan, who has been holding the FPI fort.

The most serious political crisis unfolding on the Ivorian stage is the abandonment by Guillaume Soro of the alliance he had forged with President Ouattara and its consequences on the whole political spectrum. Until February 2019, Guillaume Soro was the Speaker of Ivorian National Assembly. He was pressurized into resigning because he was reluctant to join a new political formation, the RHDP, Rally of Houphuetists for Development and Peace, which Ouattara has formed as a unified party that ostensibly seeks the disappearance of all other parties allied to the Presidency. Soro resigned, formed his own political movement, United Generations and Peoples (GPS) and since six months, he has been living in Europe. It was from there he declared himself a Presidential candidate. For the same reason, PDCI’s Henri Konan Bedié left Ouattara’s coalition. It is inconceivable for him to be considered as one leader that presided over the total eclipsing of the party of the founding father of Country, Felix Houphuet-Boigny. Also, the PDCI and the RDR had concluded a gentleman’s agreement in supporting Ouattara in 2011. The PDCI is to produce a united Presidential candidate in 2020, an arrangement President Ouattara has reneged on.

Guillaume Soro intended to return to Abidjan on 23 December 2019. Overflying Burkina Faso, the pilot of his private jet intercepted a message that troops were massing at the Abidjan airport in order to attack and arrest Guillaume Soro on landing. The former rebel leader asked the pilot to re-route the plane to Accra. On landing at the Kotoka International Airport, Soro reportedly asked to be granted a permission to disembark and the Ghanaian authorities refused. He is back in Europe, but the Ivorian authorities have launched an international arrest warrant against Soro, accusing him of attempting to destabilize Cote d’Ivoire, embezzlement of public funds and money laundry. From his base in Las Palmas, Soro countered that the only attempt to destabilize Cote d’Ivoire was the one fomented on 19 September 2002 and it had as its prime sponsor, Dr. Allasane Ouattara. Following the failed attempt to arrest Soro, on 23 December last year, there has been a general clamp-down on all GPS facilities and associates. In all, 15 key individuals close to Soro have been arrested, including one Honourable Lobognon, an M.P and a brother of Soro’s a senior police officer. Homes have been searched, right up Soro’s village in the Ferkessedougou area. Some Ivorian watchers believe the amount of 1.5 billion CFA Francs(about $2.5 million) is accused of having embezzled refers to an amount the rebels scooped from a branch of BCAO (West African Central Bank) in the Bouaké area and laundered in Dakar, at the time of President Wade.

The RHDP itself is not as unified as some observers have said. Ouattara’s chosen successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, is not unanimously endorsed by the party rank and file. Foreign Minister Marcel Amon Tanoh, has declared his intention to be a Presidential candidate. Some tip Defence Minister, Hamed Bakayoko as a better successor. The latter is very close to the First Lady, Dominique Ouattara, who owns a business empire in the country. In the face of uncertainties with respect to his own succession, President Ouattara recently made a very ambiguous statement: ‘I shall not be a Presidential candidate, but if well-known figures are running, I see no reason why I wouldn’t be a candidate myself. Already Konan Bedié has visited Laurent Gbagbo in Brussels, tacitly to patch up their strained relationship. Guillaume Soro seems more amenable to the opposition coalition gathering momentum.

This is why Cote d’Ivoire finds herself at the political cross-roads. As the clock ticksand seconds give way to hours, and hours to days and days to weeks and weeks to months, October 2020 may or may not be a turning-point in the Sixty-year History of the country of the Elephant.

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