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Cote d’Ivoire: The divorce chronicles of Ouattara & Soro

By André Silver Konan
Posted on Thursday, 2 January 2020 12:15, updated on Tuesday, 11 February 2020 10:30

Soro and Ouattara in December 2010 © Thibault Camus/AP/SIPA

The ongoing battle between Guillaume Soro and Alassane Ouattara has reached a boiling point. The dispute finally came to a head on Monday, 23 December, when the former rebel leader unsuccessfully attempted to return to Côte d'Ivoire.

Here are the events that led up to this moment.

On February 2019, Guillaume Soro resigned from the presidency of the National Assembly, after succumbing to pressure from President Alassane Ouattara.

This came after Soro refused to join Ouattara’s new party – The Rally of the Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) – and lead to a major dispute between the two politicians.

Soro wanted an alliance with Henri Konan Bédié, the leader of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), in the run-up to the October 2020 presidential election. Bédié also broke off ties with Ouattara by refusing to join the RHDP.

In an interview with Radio France Internationale (RFI), Ouattara laid bare his frustrations and warned Soro against joining the opposition platform.

  • “I think it is not in the interest of Guillaume Soro to do so. And I told him,” said the Ivorian president in a firm tone.

“I am a free man,” replied Soro, who went to Daoukro to meet with Bédié in his stronghold.

The arm-wrestling contest broke out in broad daylight.


Growing tensions

On 23rd December 2019, Ivorian prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant for Soro on allegations of “attempting to undermine the authority of the State and the integrity of the national territory and conspiracy against the authority of the State; concealment of misappropriation of public funds and money laundering”.

After vacating his office as the president of the National Assembly, Soro left the country in May 2019.

Speaking in Spain in October, Soro accused Abidjan of orchestrating a failed attempt to kidnap him from a hotel room.

  • “I, Guillaume Soro, am not a messiah. I am not ‘Soro Solutions’ [referring to ‘ADO Solutions’ – Ouattara’s 2010 campaign slogan]. No, I don’t know everything. But when someone stands up, [and says] ‘I have the solution to all your problems’. [I ask] Are you God? [This is] A deadly and imperfect man who comes to you and says, ‘I have the solution to all your problems. He is a ‘djinamori’’ [magician, in Malinke]. There is no one who is super-intelligent and the rest of us are super-beasts,” said Soro at the time.

Soro’s newly created political movement – Generations and People in Solidarity (GPS) – has over 50,000 members after only four months. He was planning to return to Côte d’Ivoire to launch his pre-election campaign from Ouattara’s stronghold in the North.

Ouattara & Soro’s long history

In 1998, Soro relinquished his position as general secretary of the Student and School Federation (Fesci).

Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) supported Charles Blé Goudé for the position, while Alassane Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans (RDR) supported Soro’s candidate, Yayoro Karamoko.

Charles Blé Goudé won, and later became Gbagbo’s “Minister of the Street” following the outbreak of the Soro rebellion in September 2002. Meanwhile, Karamoko claimed the presidency of the RDR youth.

During this period, Soro cooperated with Ouattara and broke off ties with Gbagbo.

The ‘Sons of the North’, Ouattra and Soro are originally from the Senoufo region of Tchologo. In 2000, Soro ran for the legislative elections in Port-Bouët with Henriette Diabaté, secretary general of the RDR, before the party decided to boycott the elections. This came after the Supreme Court, controlled by Gbagbo’s relatives at the time, ruled out Ouattara’s candidacy for the election.

Leading the New Forces

When the New Forces (FN) rebellion broke out against Gbagbo in 2002, Soro presented himself as its secretary general. The FPI named Ouattara as the “father” of the rebellion.

Back then, the FN also took up the demands of the RDR, including the fight against Ivorian culture. Henri Konan Bédié claimed it was intended to promote Ivorian culture, while critics claimed it was a weapon to eliminate their political opponents in the North.

18 years later, former FN spokesperson Affoussiata Bamba-Lamine, who’s now at odds with the Ouattara government, says something else.

  • “Soro wants to reassure Ivorians that he recognises only one destabilisation, that of 19 September 2002, on behalf of the current President, Mr. Alassane Dramane Ouattara,” Bamba-Lamine announced on Christmas Day.

Problem with the new Constitution

  • “In reality, the bone of contention dates back to November 2016, when the vote to adopt the new Constitution was taken,” says political journalist Jules Claver Aka.

Before that date, the president of the National Assembly took over the position as the country’s president in the event of a vacancy. The new Constitution allows the vice-president to assume the role as interim president.

  • According to Aka, “Guillaume Soro has undoubtedly understood that he was no longer in the succession scheme of his mentor, especially since the latter had taken care to increase the power of Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly [also a native of the North]”.

In May 2017, Côte d’Ivoire was rocked by a second mutiny by former rebel soldiers who were integrated into the national army after the fall of Laurent Gbagbo in April 2011. They were demanding that Alassane Ouattara pay them millions in bonuses.

As loyalist soldiers prepared to quell the protest, the mutineers found a weapons cache at the home of Kamarate “Soul To Soul” Souleymane Koné, Soro’s director of protocol. This shifted the balance of power.

The mutineers won, and left Ouattara feeling betrayed. He suspected that Soro had been instrumental in the mutiny. While Soro denied it, Koné was arrested and thrown into prison. He was released a year later, thanks to a 2018 presidential amnesty, which also saw the release of Simone Gbagbo.

Reconciliation impossible?

There’s still very little chance that Soro will be able to return to home, reconcile with Ouattara, or compete in the October 2020 presidential election in Cote d’Ivoire.

  • “[Ironically] Guillaume Soro finds himself today in the same situation as his ex-mentor Ouattara twenty years ago, before the Christmas coup of 1999 that brought down Bédié. He has an arrest warrant, is accused of trying to destabilise the government and is forced into exile. History in Côte d’Ivoire seems to be a perpetual beginning,” notes political analyst Sylvain N’Guessan.
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