Côte d’Ivoire: Fidèle Sarassoro, the president’s trusted advisor

By Florence Richard
Posted on Monday, 6 June 2022 12:21

Fidèle Sarassoro, President Alassane Ouattara’s cabinet director, on 16 February 2022. © LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP

Fidèle Sarassoro has been President Alassane Ouattara's chief of staff for the past five years and is a central part of the presidential apparatus. This technocrat with a long UN career, who was elected to parliament in 2021 in the northern part of the country, is now viewed as a potential successor to the head of state.

He is a central and essential cog within the Ivorian presidential mechanism. He is not only known for his discretion and composure but is also notoriously influential. “There is nothing exuberant about him,” says a political observer.

The 62-year-old has been Ouattara’s cabinet director since January 2017. Prior to this, he had served as his special adviser and chief of staff in charge of the presidential agenda for two years. “At this level of responsibility, discretion is an important criterion, even a great quality,” says a close friend.

The technocrat, the file man elevated to the rank of minister, who in a first life held high positions at the UN, has also recently taken on the role of a grassroots politician. He was pushed in this direction by several northern leaders of the RHDP, the presidential party, and encouraged by the head of state. At home, in the Poro region, on the border with Burkina Faso, he won more than 99% of the votes cast and was thus very comfortably elected to represent the Sinematiali constituency during the March 2021 legislative elections.

Alassane Ouattara was aware of his very high level of competence and the value of his experience at the UN in complicated areas

This victory was facilitated by the withdrawal of the outgoing RHDP parliament member, Souleymane Dogoni. “Before becoming a parliament member, he was already doing a lot for his native region. He is now doing it officially,” says someone from Poro.

His father, Hyacinthe Sarassoro, is a major political and intellectual figure in Côte d’Ivoire, a founding member of the RDR and a recognised law professor, whom Ouattara appointed as an adviser to the Constitutional Council in 2011, for a six-year period.

“Absolute confidence”

At that time, Fidèle Sarassoro was on a mission in DRC, where he had been appointed the UN’s deputy special representative. Ouattara followed the career of this brilliant student, who holds a doctorate in economics from a US university and a degree in economics from Abidjan. Before the DRC, he was posted to Ethiopia and Togo as a UN resident coordinator and representative of its development programme, the UNDP.

“The two men were already in contact when he was in [the] DRC. Alassane Ouattara was aware of his very high level of competence and the value of his experience at the UN in complicated areas. He appreciated the fact that he was a pure technocrat, apolitical,” says a source.

Ouattara asked Fidèle Sarassoro to join him and entrusted him with supervising the Autorité pour le Désarmement, la Démobilisation et la Réintégration (ADDR) of ex-combatants from the politico-military crisis. It was a risky mission. In July 2013, he escaped an armed attack on his convoy between the towns of Ferkessédougou and Kong, during which one of the gendarmes in his guard was killed.

His mission, which was completed in 2015, was generally praised. However, the persistent circulation of thousands of weapons in the country, which had been acquired during the rebellion, and the discovery of several caches in the following years ended up tarnishing his record. “He has done a remarkable job,” says a person close to the head of state. “He is a very appreciated person. Alassane Ouattara has absolute confidence in him.”

This trust earned him the right to combine his position as cabinet director with that of executive secretary of the Conseil National de Sécurité (CNS). During the health crisis, Ouattara entrusted Fidèle Sarassoro with executing his response plan after becoming annoyed with the slowness of various ministries.

The latter was ordered to transfer all contracts and orders related to Covid-19 to the CNS. In close collaboration with the defence minister and the president’s brother Téné Birahima Ouattara, Fidèle Sarassoro was also managing the sensitive issue of the fight against terrorism.

On the ground

At the end of February, the neo-parliament member joined the RHDP board, in the seventh position in the protocol order. He had been nowhere to be found in the presidential party’s organisation chart until then. He sometimes played tennis with Adama Bictogo, the party’s executive secretary. For a while, it had seemed that he would be given the position of vice-president.

However, Ouattara finally decided on Tiémoko Meyliet Koné, whose profile is similar to that of Fidèle Sarassoro. Like him, he is originally from the Senoufo North (Ferkessédougou), has a solid background as an economist, a technocrat profile and a reputation for being discreet. The only notable disparity is their 10-year age difference: Koné is 72 years old.

Ever since former prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who is originally from Korhogo, died in July 2020, the president has made it clear that he would like to prop up new political figures from the north.

Since being elected, Fidèle Sarassoro has made numerous trips to his constituency and displayed his ambitions for Sinématiali, which he promises to develop into “a centre for agricultural development, a cultural centre, a training centre and above all a digital centre”. At the end of May, he sponsored one of the most important cultural events in the neighbouring Tchologo region.

After spending three months in the sacred woods, the young men from the villages returned to their homes. This marked the end of an ancestral initiatory journey, which gave rise to two days of festivities, in the presence of local and national authorities. The sponsor of this 2022 edition saw it as an opportunity to plead for the preservation and promotion of culture. “Initiation teaches us, among other things, discipline, honesty, rigour, the values of work well done, humility and solidarity,” he told the young “initiates”, echoing his own journey.

Although his name has come up as a potential successor to Ouattara, three years before the next presidential election, no action has been taken thus far. “What we can say for the moment is that it is a dynamic moment for the north. The future will tell,” says a senior official. “Obviously, the fact that he became a parliament member is not anecdotal. It means something. But what, and especially when?” He points out that “politics is learned through practice. Look at Alassane Ouattara”.

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