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Côte d’Ivoire: Ouattara, Gbagbo, Bédié and Soro, or the never-ending war of egos

Marwane Ben Yahmed
By Marwane Ben Yahmed
Publication Director of Jeune Afrique

Posted on Tuesday, 28 January 2020 12:26, updated on Tuesday, 11 February 2020 10:21

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara shakes hands as he arrives for the cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Abidjan January 8, 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Should we worry about Côte d’Ivoire? With just a few months to go before a critical presidential election, old, loathsome political machinations are resurfacing.

The most recent episode involved Guillaume Soro’s drama-filled aborted return from exile at the end of December.

Former prime minister Guillaume Soro is currently the target of an international arrest warrant for attempting to undermine the authority of the state, misusing public finds, receiving stolen goods and money laundering.

An undated audio recording (yes, another one!) has been circulating. In the recording, Soro is heard talking about a “plot” and a “civil and military insurrection,” and then lists his “supporters in the army” and brags about the fact that they are ready to do his bidding whenever he commands it.

Rumours are swirling, whether about his 1.5bn CFA franc ($2.5m) villa purchased with government funds or the weapons that were seized on premises he owns in Abidjan and others still in the resort town of Assinie.

The state prosecutor’s charges against Soro are serious. However, they are not the first stain on his extensive career, as the “Machiavelli of Eburnie” has often been under a cloud of suspicion. Soro, who always skilfully feeds off of the conflict, did not wait long to strike back.

His classic retort is to denounce the government for having instrumentalised the courts to prevent him from running in the October presidential election, of which he believes himself to be, of course, the front runner.

And so the story goes in Côte d’Ivoire where, too often, public and political discussion looks like a bad, West African remake of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Behind the curtain

What is playing out now is the epilogue to a never-ending war of egos. Ouattara, former president Laurent Gbagbo and former president Henri Konan Bédié have been going at each other since the mid-1990s.

In 2002, Soro joined them in their senseless scuffle – an incredibly violent fight to the death marked by a deep-rooted hatred, one that is fed by fear, betrayal and these political figures’ respective inner circles.

Behind the outward appearance of speeches calling for reconciliation and the establishment of an open, democratic presidential race, an all-out, no holds-barred war is being waged, with every weapon used in turns – and not only figuratively speaking.

It is hard to get a clear picture of what is going on when everything unfolds offstage. There are a few absolute certainties, nevertheless. Alassane Ouattara’s Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix will do everything possible to stay in power.

For the presidential election, Ouattara will in all likelihood pass the torch on to his prime minister, Amadou Gon Coulibaly.

Côte d’Ivoire’s electorate, meaning those who vote and support politicians, are leaning towards him. But he will compete against Bédié and the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire. With the “sphinx of Daoukro” wanting his revenge at any cost, all signs point to him entering the race.

Soro, who has gone too far to turn back now, will do everything in his power to thwart Ouattara’s plans, but the situation is thorny. Currently in exile, deprived of support and money, he may be reduced to a supporting role.

Meanwhile, Gbagbo, who hates Bédié as much as he does Soro, dreams of coming home and restoring his political weight, even if that does not necessarily take the form of him directly participating in the October election. Ironically, he may be tempted to turn to Ouattara given that it is the president, and the president alone, who can make his dream a reality.

Turning a corner

After all, Côte d’Ivoire is no longer on the verge of a regime change. How could the Ivorian people not be done with being taken hostage?

They expect their leaders and their political class to gain and exercise power in another way.

They refuse to relive the tragedies of the past and want to be reassured about what the future holds. For the time being, sadly, Ivorians are barely being heard.

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