Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara (ADO) last spoke with us in March 2020. That interview seems to date back to another time, a time when the post-ADO era was being forged.
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The head of state, who was 78 years old at the time, had decided to leave power and pass the baton to Amadou Gon Coulibaly (AGC), his “son” and closest collaborator for nearly 30 years. The Rassemblement des Houphouétistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP), which had been formed just a few months earlier, was lining up to support this candidacy.
Hamed Bakayoko, one of the party’s heavyweights who was close to the president, had agreed to rally behind Coulibaly and put his talents as well as his network at the service of the “Lion of Korhogo”, of whom he was so complimentary.
A year and a half later, this scenario, which was supposed to pave the way for tomorrow’s Côte d’Ivoire, now looks like a relic. “AGC” and “Hambak”, who died in July 2020 and March 2021 respectively, left a huge void.
ADO finally decided to run for a third term, which set the world on fire. It resulted in a nauseating electoral campaign, a high-tension election, violence and the opposition calling for either destabilisation, civil disobedience or a boycott (depending on the level of animosity felt towards the head of state). During this umpteenth political crisis and its resulting fiery consequences, the ghosts of the December 2010-April 2011 period haunted the Ebrié Lagoon.
After these sinister events, reason and appeasement finally prevailed. ADO was re-elected, Laurent Gbagbo, who was acquitted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), returned to Côte d’Ivoire and Henri Konan Bédié agreed to take the good with the bad.
The head of state even met with his two predecessors and long-time adversaries, and the trio is once again showing each other “brotherly love” by repeatedly and joyously kissing one another.
In terms of substance, and what each thinks of the other two, this changes nothing. But with regard to form, it changes everything.
Patrick Achi has taken the reins of government, Gbagbo has left the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) to create a new party and the Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) is still waiting to know if Bédié will one day hand over power. As for Guillaume Soro, the former rebel leader who became president of the National Assembly and is now out of favour, remains in exile. No doubt he is pondering the vicissitudes of fate. After all, if he had just been a little patient and remained in the RHDP, he would now be considered a potential candidate to succeed ADO.
The head of state received us late on the morning of 15 September in his large office at the presidential palace in the Plateau. During this interview, which lasted more than an hour and was the first he has given since his re-election, he answered our questions about the events of the past 18 months and his vision for his country’s future.
The past year has been particularly trying, between the deaths of your two prime ministers, your third term candidacy that was challenged by the opposition and a tense presidential election. Not to mention the Covid-19 crisis. What was it like going through it and what did you learn from it?
Alassane Ouattara: This year has indeed been very difficult. The death of two of my very close collaborators, whom I saw as sons, Coulibaly and Bakayoko, represents a huge loss for Côte d’Ivoire as they accomplished a lot of work in the service of their nation. And of course for me too, because of the personal and emotional ties we had.
AGC had been nominated as the RHDP’s candidate for the presidential election, in particular, to embody the generational renewal that I had been calling for. His sudden death, only a few weeks before the candidacies were to be submitted, led me to change my decision [to leave office], and I did so at my party’s request. The Constitution, which was approved by more than 93% of Ivorians in 2016, allowed me to do so. I did not wish to do so because I had made the choice, in my soul and conscience, to step down. But I felt that it was necessary to ensure the country’s stability.
What happened afterwards profoundly shocked me and left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. The election was marred by serious incidents after some opposition “leaders” called for civil disobedience and tried to promote the idea of a transition government that had no legal basis or legitimacy.