The death of Amadou Gon Coulibaly on 8 July has left the Ivorian political party Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (Rassemblement des houphouëtistes pour la démocratie et la paix – RHDP) without a candidate for the presidential election. Who can fill in his shoes?
Pascal Affi N’Guessan: “The wall that separated me from President Gbagbo has been broken.”
Pascal Affi N'Guessan, President of the officially recognized branch of the Front populaire ivoirien (FPI), met with Vice-President Daniel Kablan Duncan on 13 February. Among the subjects discussed was the return of Laurent Gbagbo to Côte d'Ivoire.
Pascal Affi N’Guessan wants to strike while the iron is hot. At the beginning of February, he travelled to The Hague to attend the hearing on the review of the conditions of Laurent Gbagbo’s parole, before meeting the former Ivorian president in Brussels — their second interview since the beginning of 2020.
Upon his return to Abidjan, the former Prime Minister was received on Thursday 13 February by Vice-President Daniel Kablan Duncan, Minister of State for Defence Hamed Bakayoko, Minister of Territorial Administration Sidiki Diakité and Secretary General of the Presidency Patrick Achi.
Why did you want to meet with Vice President Daniel Kablan Duncan and other members of the government?
Pascal Affi N’Guessan: First of all, it was the Head of State that I wanted to meet. I sent him a letter to address the worrying situation in which our country finds itself, a few months before the presidential term.
On the technical level, things are stalling.Whether it is to reach a consensus on the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the definition of the general framework for the elections, or on the electoral code.
On the political front, clouds are gathering over the fact, first, that we have not yet resolved the aftermath of the 2010-2011 crisis, since there are still political prisoners.
In addition to this situation, there are problems related to tensions within the HPRD and the legal proceedings against Guillaume Soro.
There are currently discussions between the government and the opposition on the issue of the electoral code. What is the status of these discussions?
The framework for discussions has revealed serious shortcomings, in that the ministers who are negotiating have no decision-making power, no authority. Everything depends on the Head of State.
That is the reason for my request to meet him. He alone can unblock the situation.
So, there is no area of consensus with the government on the future electoral code?
Very little. Admittedly, the government is not closed to financial support for the presidential candidates. But on key issues, such as the IEC, there are major disagreements.
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At present, with 98% of the local commissions in the hands of the RHDP, no credible election can be envisaged. We had also proposed the organisation of a regional election using proportional representation, for better representativeness, but this was rejected.
Is it true that a third “round” of negotiations on the political environment of the elections must be organised?
That is what we proposed, and the government did not oppose it. I assume that the meeting with the vice-president is part of this new stage or is the prelude to it.
What was Duncan’s reaction to your concerns?
He was only mandated to receive us, to listen to us, and to get clarification on certain issues. We hope he will take stock with the head of state and that we will have answers to our concerns.
You also called for the return of Laurent Gbagbo. Have the authorities issued an opinion on this possibility?
The reactions have not been negative. Our interlocutors understood the merits of this issue and the need to work together to find a solution. Nothing can be resolved without the involvement of President Gbagbo’s supporters. Each side has to give assurances, to prove its goodwill.
Côte d’Ivoire’s lawyers made it clear in The Hague that the issue of President Gbagbo is a political one. Solutions must be found to reassure the authorities, who believe that his return could be a source of difficulties.
The aim of our approach is to show that we are open to negotiation and the peaceful resolution of the differences between the government and the opposition.
Did Laurent Gbagbo give you a direct mandate to negotiate his return to Abidjan, or is this a personal initiative?
He has not asked me to do so, but he is not opposed to what can lead to appeasement, to reconciliation. He thinks he can play an important role.
You recently saw him in Brussels. What was the purpose of your meeting?
I attended the hearing on 6 February. I couldn’t be in The Hague and not meet him. There was no specific agenda. We exchanged on the national and international situations, on the process that should lead us to the reunification of the IPF.
Precisely, what is the status of this process?
We can say that it is 50% or 60% complete. The wall that separated me from President Gbagbo is broken. And that was the most important thing. He received me for the second time. A kind of collaboration is being established.
Today there are still technical issues to be resolved in order to move towards the unification of the party and to form a common leadership without leaving anyone behind.
Does this mean that Gbagbo has agreed to some of your demands, including your appointment as first vice-president in charge of the interim?
He is not opposed to it. Otherwise, he would have said so. What matters is unity, which must be achieved around President Gbagbo and myself. We must form a partnership. Because a reconciliation that would be to the detriment of one or the other is not motivating.
Has he told you that he wants to be a candidate in 2020?
We are not yet at that stage. The priority is the unity of the IPF. We will then address the issue of the 2020 election, in which we must necessarily participate in order to put an end to the dramatic situation in which our country finds itself.
But didn’t you ask to be Gbagbo’s running mate if he was a candidate?
That is true. Assuming that we have managed to resolve all the judicial problems, both in The Hague and in Côte d’Ivoire, and that he can be a candidate, I have no objection, and I will be his running mate. If not, the idea is that I would be the candidate for the IPF with a running mate that we would choose together.
Are you willing to accept anything to get the IPF back to its unit?
Yes. But it has to be on an objective basis, and it has to be inclusive. Above all, it must not be an opportunity to punish anyone for what may have happened. I don’t see how you can put two sides together by sacrificing one of the heads.
With Gbagbo, is the hatchet buried for good?
Yes, he himself told me that he had never asked to run for the presidency of the FPI in 2014, but that he had accepted at the insistence of some people who accused me of betraying the struggle.
So, his hand was forced?
Yes, that’s even what he said in front of Assoa Adou. He insisted that this matter be clarified.
What is your relationship with Assoa Adou?
I have no problem with him. It’s a new page we’re opening. He knows what President Gbagbo wants from us. I saw him before I went to The Hague in February. We agreed to start technical discussions next week.
In this reunification, what should Simone Gbagbo’s place be?
A place of choice. She must be involved in the process. She is one of the figures of the FPI. Our party needs everyone.
Have you ever seen her since her release from prison?
Not yet, but I will soon. We were first waiting to find out what Gbagbo’s position would be towards me.