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With its long, rarely congested alleys, wide pavements and luxurious villas, the Beverly Hills district in the commune of Cocody, Abidjan, is home to some of Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest fortunes. Businessmen, general managers and leading politicians have taken up residence there, including Patrick Achi, the current head of government, and Kandia Kamara, the foreign affairs minister. Tiémoko Meyliet Koné, the newly appointed vice-president, is their neighbour.
On the evening of 23 April, Achi walked a few metres between their residences to attend a summit meeting. On 15 April in Abidjan, and again on 21 April in San Pedro, the Ivorian security services got their hands on a large shipment of drugs, more than 2 tonnes of cocaine from Latin America. It was worth an estimated 41.1bn CFA francs ($67m). Once informed, Alassane Ouattara (ADO) decided to entrust this sensitive case to Koné, which was why Achi had come to his home. The presidency’s secretary-general, Abdourahmane Cissé, as well as the ministers Birahima Téné Ouattara (defence) and Vagondo Diomandé (interior and security) were also present.
IMF and BCEAO
Koné not only saw this as a baptism of fire just a few days after leaving the Dakar headquarters of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), of which he had been the governor since 2011, but also a sign of the place that ADO intends to give him. “Symbolically, seeing the prime minister move to his home was important. It set the tone,” says a government member.
Just after his appointment, Koné went to several West African capitals to bid farewell to the local authorities and – sometimes – to convey a message from the head of state. On his return to Abidjan, he met with Mahamat Saleh Annadif Khatir, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, before representing the president at the Night of Destiny celebration.
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By vaguely defining the position of vice-president, the Constitution allows ADO to give it the weight he wants. However, the head of state does not intend to turn Koné into a new Daniel Kablan Duncan, who merely played a representative role. The two men have certain points in common, such as being good technocrats who have worked at the IMF and BCEAO. This is also the case for ADO.
At 72, Koné is well aware that his appointment should not be construed as a possible springboard to a presidential bid in 2025. “The head of state intentionally did not appoint a political figure to this post in order to avoid any such interpretation, as was the case with Duncan,” says one of his old friends.
This lack of political ambition seems to have led ADO to entrust him with a number of important dossiers. The president wanted him to quickly familiarise himself with their content, which is why he chose the vice-president’s chief of staff, Emmanuel Ahoutou Koffi, who had performed this function for his last three prime ministers (Amadou Gon Coulibaly, Hamed Bakayoko and Achi).
ADO also wanted to escape certain constraints, notably national, continental and international obligations. Nevertheless, he remained in charge. On 15 April, he left Abidjan to spend a week in France. In his absence, the weekly Council of Ministers did not take place.
The head of state rarely makes decisions quickly. “He has time on his side and time has so far proved him right,” says one of his evening visitors. ADO also takes great pleasure in surprising people, by saying one thing and doing the opposite. In mid-March, he had privately confided that he wanted to wait until July to reshuffle his government. In addition, he also admitted that he was reluctant to appoint a new vice-president, a position that has remained vacant since Duncan’s resignation in July 2020. “By leaking this information, he wanted to test the reactions. In reality, he had already defined his timetable: to reorganise the Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP), then the government, and appoint a vice-president in the wake,” says someone close to him.
In doing so, ADO has finished assembling his new team, the process of which was disrupted by the deaths of prime ministers Coulibaly in July 2020 and Bakayoko in March 2021. Prior to this, ADO had lost the support of Duncan and that of Marcel Amon Tanoh, his former chief of staff, who has since made amends and been appointed to the Council of Understanding. In June 2021, he nominated Claude Sahi as his chief of staff, a position formerly held by minister Sidi Tiémoko Touré and unoccupied for several months. A former close associate of Ibrahim Coulibaly, Sahi is a good connoisseur of the administration. He was one of the pillars of the ministry of the interior, where he was the director of political affairs. Bakayoko had recruited him in 2014.
Koné’s arrival slightly redefines the balance of power between the members of his inner circle, in particular, for his prime minister. Relegated one rank in the order of protocol, should Achi be worried about the arrival of a new figure of weight within the head of state’s entourage? Since his appointment, he has been under great pressure and sometimes found it difficult to impose his authority on a plethoric government.
Alassane Ouattara will surely test his new system for one or two years.
According to our information, his relationship with Abdourahmane Cissé, the presidency’s secretary-general since the end of March 2021 and another essential part of the new Ouattara system, has become complicated. As a conduit between the presidency and the government, he is at the heart of the executive apparatus and speaks with the head of state daily.
In private, Achi has complained that Cissé regularly interferes in his dossiers. He personally feels that the man whom some within the presidency’s corridors have even nicknamed ‘Macron’, in reference to his young age and potential presidential ambitions, is too ambitious.
Sarassoro is young. He has time, unlike Koné, and the boss has not played his last card.
“Even though he will have a certain authority, Koné will not overshadow Achi. They are not competitors. The vice-president will assist the prime minister in certain matters and allow him to concentrate on other issues. The president wants to put him in the best conditions,” says someone close to ADO who reiterates that Achi and Kone know and appreciate each other. They have already worked together, particularly while preparing for the CFA franc reform, which ADO and Emmanuel Macron announced in December 2020 in Abidjan.
Although Koné is not a pure politician, his entrance in the scene could also impact electoral geopolitics. Since the AGC and Bakayoko deaths, no leader from the northern part of Côte d’Ivoire has really emerged for the moment. Originally from Ferkessédougou on his father’s side and Tarifé – where he owns a ranch, a secondary residence and a hotel complex, the former BCEAO governor is one of the north’s most prominent representatives. His zone of influence is adjacent to that of another of the head of state’s close associates, Fidèle Sarassoro.
He is also seen as one of ADO’s potential successors, as he has been his discreet cabinet director for the past five years. At ADO’s request, Sarassoro ran in the latest legislative elections in his stronghold of Sinématiali (North), where he was easily elected. This manoeuvre allowed the president to introduce a new figure in Senufo country. Sarassoro, who already holds the position of president and secretary of the Conseil National de Sécurité (CNS), had also seen his powers expanded.
Could the emergence of another northern figure thwart his rise to power? “Sarassoro is young. He has time, unlike Koné, and the boss has not played his last card. Alassane Ouattara will surely test his new system for one or two years. He may well carry out another reshuffle that is more important than the last one and appoint another vice-president before 2025,” says the head of state’s entourage. For now, ADO remains the master of his country’s political time clocks.
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