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Ouattara hedged his response and answered in two parts:
- Ouattara says he is ready to retire: “I have always believed that there is a need for generational change in Africa. Seventy-five per cent of Africans are under 35 years of age. The French president is 40; my eldest son is 52. It is clear to me that the path is towards a transfer to a new generation. Now, because of Linas-Marcoussis [the peace agreements signed in 2003] and its compromises, we have not put an age limit in our constitution. But morality calls for us to be reasonable.”
- But, he hastened to add: “I’m not telling you that I’m leaving, be careful.” He said there are other things to consider: “[Former president] Félix Houphoüet-Boigny said that a statesman must take three things into account: God, the people and your own conscience. I am a very religious person; I hope that God will give me health and longevity. The Ivorian people elected me with 83% of the vote in 2015; there can be no better tribute. And then there’s your conscience. We must ask ourselves: has your country achieved the objectives you set when coming to this position? Is it stable enough, secure enough? Do you have a team that can follow up? Once you have answered these questions, the rest becomes easy. So I will make my decision next year. I have a number of friends I will consult before making my final decision, but it is almost made.”
Will he or won’t he?
These statements summarise Ouattara’s state of mind, his allies say. According to them, Ouattara does not not intend to run again but would not hesitate for a second if the context so requires. That could mean if the candidate of his choosing does not succeed in obtaining unanimous support and if his rivals Henri Konan Bédié or Laurent Gbagbo decide to run.
In recent months, Ouattara has talked about this option several times in private. He argues that the 2016 constitutional change, which imposes a two-term limit on presidents, started the timer over again and that his election in 2010 and 2015 do not count against him. “The new constitution allows me to serve two terms from 2020,” he said in June 2018.
The opposition and some analysts have challenged this interpretation, pointing out that when it was adopted, in 2016, Ouattara had not yet raised the possibility of running again.
In January 2017, he made clear his intention to step down at the end of his second term. “The occasion of my 75th birthday leads me to reaffirm that the institutions of the republic that will be set up very soon will allow me to leave in 2020,” he said.
It was in November 2017 that he publicly talked about a potential third term for the first time. “A priori, I will not run [in 2020]. In politics, you never say no. Wait until 2020 to know my answer,” he told France 24 on the sidelines of the African Union-European Union summit.
The suspense is expected to end in early 2020, when the governing Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix will nominate its candidate.
This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.
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