Côte d’Ivoire: crowds rally for Gbagbo-Bédié alliance

By Anna Sylvestre-Treiner, in Abidjan
Posted on Monday, 16 September 2019 12:27, updated on Friday, 20 September 2019 15:11

A sea of blue and treen at the PDCI-FPI rally on Saturday, 14 September. Photo: Anna-Sylvestre Treiner

After the meeting between Henri Konan Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo at the end of July in Brussels, these new allies' two parties held their first joint rally in Abidjan on Saturday, one year before the presidential elections.

How many would turn up? “2,000, at best 5,000,” as the leader of the ruling party predicted? Or “20,000- 50,000,” as promised by the most ambitious opposition bigwigs? One thing was certain: this Saturday, 14 September, the Ivorian opposition had won its bet.

By the end of the morning, a sea of blue and green – blue wrappers for some in the colours of Laurent Gbagbo’s Front Populaire Ivorien (FPI), green shirts for others with the logo of Henri Konan Bédié’s Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) – covered the pitch at the Palais des Sports stadium in Treichville, Abidjan, and the stands were filling up. Some 10,000 people was the estimate. “They wanted to know? Now they know,” pronounced Maurice Kakou Guikahué, secretary general of the PDCI. “And next time, there’ll be ten times as many of us!”

Historic moment

This was an “historic moment”, the leaders of the two main opposition parties repeated, and the stakes were high. A year ahead of the presidential elections, the PDCI and the FPI were holding a joint rally for the first time, demonstrating on the ground that the two former enemies – Henri Konan Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo – were now allies. The two had met in Brussels on 29 July for the first time since the end of the post-election crisis, sealing their rapprochement.

But although their faces were on the T-shirts and their names in the slogans, the two men were conspicuously absent. Still on parole after his acquittal by the ICC, Laurent Gbagbo cannot leave the Brussels region, and Henri Konan Bédié has been staying in France since the beginning of July.

Resurrection of the opposition

So it was their lieutenants who showed up, hand in hand. Former first lady Simone Gbagbo for the FPI, Maurice Kakou Guikahué for the PDCI. There were those close to Guillaume Soro, the former president of the national assembly, including the former minister Alain Lobognon.

“There’s nothing facing us but corn,” shouted Adou Assoa, the secretary general of the FPI, echoing one of the slogans of the 2011 campaign. He clearly saw this gathering as a resurrection of the opposition.

“In 2011, when they bombed the presidential residence, they wanted to kill Laurent Gbagbo! When he was in prison in Korhogo, he was fed only a small bowl of rice with a chicken leg floating on it. They wanted him to die! Fortunately, Laurent Gbagbo is not dead,” Assoa said, before blaming President Alassane Ouattara for all the country’s ills.

Anyone but Ouattara

With one year to go before the presidential election, the Ivorian president is more than ever the pet peeve of the opposition, whose alliance mostly resembles an “Anyone but Ouattara” movement. The Houphouëtist Henri Konan Bédié and the Socialist Laurent Gbagbo, opponents for 40 years, do not have much in common.

Moreover, no programme has been outlined, and the form that this rapprochement could take – electoral alliance, non-aggression pact, common candidate? – has not been clarified. To those who point to an opportunistic alliance, both parties reply that it is “reconciliation”.

Ten years after their clash, which led to the post-electoral crisis of 2010-2011, Bédié, Gbagbo and Ouattara still hold the fate of Côte d’Ivoire in their hands.

At 85 years old, Bédié, who previously said he would not be a candidate in 2020, suggests he has new presidential ambitions, while Ouattara, 77, is talking about the possibility of a third term.

Gbagbo, meanwhile, at 74, is “a fighter more than ever”, according to his relatives. Today, 16 September, he finds out whether or not the ICC Prosecutor will appeal the acquittal he pronounced last January. If this is not the case, Gbagbo will be totally free and will finally be able to fulfil his dream of returning to his country. The Ivorian political cards will then be dealt out, once again, among the three men.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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