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Côte d’Ivoire: ‘If Ouattara runs, the best candidate to beat him will be Bédié’ – KKB

By Benjamin Roger
Posted on Friday, 13 December 2019 12:04

Konan Bertin Kouadio at the Jeune Afrique offices on 29 November 2019. Vincent Fournier for GJA

Back in the ranks of the PDCI, Konan Bertin Kouadio - known as "KKB" - delivers his analysis on the challenges of the 2020 presidential elections.

The page has been turned, Konan Bertin Kouadio says. After running as an independent in the 2015 presidential election – against the advice of Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) leader Henri Konan Bédié, who preferred to support Alassane Ouattara’s candidacy for a second mandate – Konan Bertin Kouadio, better known as “KKB”, returned to the party founded by Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 2017. Since then, he has shown his support for Bédié and is trying to regain his place in his party.

In Paris at the end of November, on his way to meet Charles Blé Goudé in The Hague, “KKB” came to Jeune Afrique/The Africa Report‘s offices. He gives his vision of the political situation ahead of the October 2020 presidential elections.

Your relations with party president Henri Konan Bédié have not always been good, particularly because of your candidacy for the presidency in 2015. What are they like today?

Konan Bertin Kouadio: In reality, our relationship has always been very positive. Bédié and I come from almost the same village. He was my uncle’s wedding witness in the 1980s, then my own wedding witness. Our relationship goes beyond politics.

I was a student when the 1999 coup d’état took place. We could certainly have blamed Henri Konan Bédié for some things, but weapons are not the way to sanction a democratically elected president.

The PDCI management had met to put Bédié on leave and renounce him. I opposed it and mobilised the young people to ensure that he remained the president of the PDCI, even though he was in exile in France. Then we fought to prevent Robert Gueï from winning back the PDCI.

We didn’t do all this to see the PDCI disappear 15 years later. But, for me, in politics, the mother of all battles is the presidential election. In 2015, when the PDCI met to decide on its candidate, President Bédié decided that Alassane Ouattara would be the PDCI candidate.

For me, this was unacceptable because doing so was like signing the death warrant of the PDCI. It was like standing up against my father, but, in view of the current events, was I not right? I have since returned to my party and I’m working to rebuild its unity.

Bédié and I are the tree and the bark: no one can put a finger between us

So there will be no more tension between you two?

Before I came here [to France] he gave his blessing. We see each other almost every day. I call him every day. The relationship is warmer than ever. Bédié and I are the tree and the bark: no one can put a finger between us. My deep conviction is that the best way to rehabilitate Henri Konan Bédié is to help him find the seat he unfairly lost through violence.

Do you want him to run in the next presidential election in 2020?

Of course.

Does he himself wish to be a candidate?

I can’t answer for him. But I know one thing: in the PDCI, the tradition is that the party’s president is its natural presidential candidate. This has always been the case.

READ: Côte d’Ivoire: Bédié as president ‘would be a revenge’

Isn’t it time for Bédié, at 85 years old, to hand over the reins?

The last party congress I attended, in 2013, had as its theme: “The PDCI: renewal, rejuvenation, rebirth. “This theme, chosen by our executives, reflects nothing more than the deep desire of our fellow citizens to see the political class renew itself and rejuvenate itself. All over Côte d’Ivoire, there is a need for rejuvenation.

So why are you saying, at the same time, that you are in favour of Bédié running again?

Because politics means appreciating the realities of the moment. We have to settle the electoral dispute that arose from the poorly managed elections of 2010. The three actors – Alassane Ouattara, Henri Konan Bédié, Laurent Gbagbo – are still on the stage. Either they leave together, or they settle their disputes to leave peace for future generations.

Either they leave together, or they settle their disputes to leave peace for future generations

Do you not think, as President Ouattara said during his tour of Hambol last week, that the time of his generation – and therefore that of Henri Konan Bédié – has passed?

In life, everything that starts has an end. Before them, we had Félix Houphouët-Boigny. And, like him, Ouattara, Bédié and Gbagbo are not eternal. That is a fact. After that, all peoples get the leaders they deserve.

READ: Côte d’Ivoire: If Gbagbo and Bédié run then so will I – Ouattara

Wouldn’t it be wiser for these three men not to run?

We would have avoided this situation in Côte d’Ivoire if Ouattara had not changed its Constitution. We had an age limit of 75 for running for president. If Ouattara had not amended the Constitution, Bédié would not be able to run. Ouattara must take responsibility for this change.

Do you not fear that a new battle between these three men will lead to further unrest in the country, or even a new electoral crisis?

That is not what we want. The Ivorian spirit didn’t die with Félix Houphouët-Boigny. We all have the Ivorian spirit in us. I’m not pessimistic, I hope that all three will find within themselves whatever is necessary to avoid a new crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.

How will the PDCI react if Alassane Ouattara announces that he is running for a third term?

You can see what third mandates on the continent are doing. We’ve gone beyond the era of third mandates. This would be a major problem for Côte d’Ivoire. However, Ouattara going for a third term would, of course, legitimise a Bédié candidature. If Ouattara is running for a third term, the best candidate to beat him will be Henri Konan Bédié.

Bédié recently made a controversial statement that the Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP) had “gone to get all the Malians” from a mosque to fill the ranks of its meeting in Paris in November. What is your reaction to what he said?

It is this creeping idea of “ivoirité” that creates controversy. Ivoirité has caused far too much damage in Côte d’Ivoire already. We are a patchwork of people. Houphouët wanted it like a melting pot. It has opened our borders.

Today, Côte d’Ivoire has a destiny that it must fulfil. It’s a land of hospitality and a land of hope. We have a mixed society, and we must accept it. It’s not me, the convinced Houphouëtist, who’s going to oppose this.

But was it a mistake for Bédié to say that? He is regularly accused of making such xenophobic comments….

From this perspective, yes. But I don’t think Bédié said it to define Ivorians or taunt the Malians. You say he is regularly accused of xenophobic statements, but what has he talked about? He once mentioned the case of armed clandestine gold-panners. That is a reality. As soon as Bédié puts his finger on problems that undermine our society, it raises controversies.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is highly contested by the opposition. Is the PDCI ready to discuss its composition with the government?

The PDCI is a party of dialogue. We know that the current IEC, if not amended, could be a source of unrest. It is only through dialogue that we can solve these problems. We are therefore ready to raise this issue. We need to discuss this.

Do you think that this IEC can organise the elections calmly in 2020?

It is already suspected of being an IEC under orders. In a match, it is difficult for players not to challenge the referee’s decisions if the referee is not neutral.

I am very concerned that we are assembling the ingredients of a crisis similar to the one we have already experienced

How can we escape from this impasse?

Since the same causes produce the same effects, I am very concerned that we are assembling the ingredients of a crisis similar to the one we have already experienced. That is why I have always advised dialogue and moderation.

Where are you in your plans for alliances with the other opposition parties?

Things are going in the right direction. During the big meeting held in Yamoussoukro at the end of October, the PDCI, alone, without anyone’s support, brought out all those people that you saw.

We must work to give the PDCI back its soul and restore its former strength. Make it the premier party in Côte d’Ivoire again. If it wants to have an impact on the national political scene, the PDCI must exist.

I will fight to bring it back to life and make it a party that is respected by its weight and presence throughout the country.

READ: Côte d’Ivoire: Charles Blé Goudé and Guillaume Soro back together 

But should this be done through alliances, and in particular with Laurent Gbagbo’s Front Populaire Ivorien (FPI)?

The PDCI can no longer win the elections in Côte d’Ivoire on its own. It needs allies. If we return to the 2010 scenario, we can see that power in Côte d’Ivoire stands on three feet: the PDCI, the RDR [Rassemblement des Républicains] and the FPI. When you have two feet together, they enter the palace. If the PDCI and the FPI join forces, the RDR has no chance.

Should this alliance with the FPI be implemented quickly?

Yes. I was the first to recommend this alliance. I want to be consistent to the end.

What about Guillaume Soro, who has already announced he will be a candidate in 2020?

We are on a path, all that remains is to move forward. But I can already see that he is on president Bédié’s platform.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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