Abidjan, on the esplanade of the presidential palace, mid-morning 14 July.
Dressed in all black and wearing a surgical mask, as required by health regulations, Alassane Ouattara listens to the tributes paid to Amadou Gon Coulibaly by the Minister of National Education, Kandia Camara, and then by the secretary general of the presidency, Patrick Achi.
The Head of State seems lost in thought, torn between various emotions. Grief – rekindled by this ceremony in honour of his Prime Minister -, the need to put on a good show, and the more insidious urgency to go back to the drawing board for the plan he had so meticulously crafted: his succession.
Despite nearly three decades of political struggle during which he faced many storms, including a civil war that claimed more than 3,000 lives, Alassane Ouattara is now facing one of the most painful sequences of his career.
His faithful companion, his spiritual son, the one in whom he had blind faith, died on July 8.
An immense void
The heart of the “Lion”, as Coulibaly was known, was fragile to the point of earning him a heart transplant in 2012 and two months of convalescence in France this year, in May and June, after a heart attack, has failed.
Amadou Gon Coulibaly, the man who for thirty years walked in the shadow of his mentor without a single hitch, is no more. He leaves an immense void around the leader. No more Prime Minister, no more ‘dauphin’, no more confidant, no more “son”.
At the same time, Vice President Daniel Kablan Duncan, another close relative and old travel companion, forced Ouattara to make public his resignation, which was handed in at the end of February.
It was not a spur of the moment idea: Kablan had already sent a first letter of resignation in June 2018. It is now an open secret that Kablan had presidential ambitions, which came up against the choice of Coulibaly.
If he had ended up taking this on board, he would at least have liked the forms to have been put in place, that a primary or some sort of consultation had been organised to designate the dolphin, feeling that the leader was hesitating. Kablan could hardly bear what he felt was a lack of consideration and preferred to withdraw with his head held high.
“Preserving the stability of the country”
From the famous Presidential Council, this quartet of Ouattara’s closest collaborators, consisting of Amadou Gon Coulibaly, Daniel Kablan Duncan, the Minister of State for Defence, Hamed Bakayoko, and Patrick Achi, remain only the last two.
Without forgetting the doors previously slammed by other former allies such as Henri Konan Bédié and Guillaume Soro but also, more recently, by Marcel Amon-Tanoh or Albert Toikeusse Mabri.
The ‘royal road’ announced last March, when a Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) at the height of its power designated Amadou Gon Coulibaly as a candidate for the presidential election of October 31, now looks like a ‘Way of the Cross’…
What will Alassane Ouattara do?
Two trends are emerging in his entourage.
On the one hand, there are those who are pushing him to run for a third term, notably because this option reassures them and guarantees them a place in the sun – which would be less obvious with the appointment of a substitute candidate like Bakayoko or Achi.
On the other hand, there are those want to hold him his promise to hand over to the next generations, a group that include who speak from conviction and from opportunism.
The first camp is now in the majority.
One member of RHDP’s senior management,” explains one of its members, “has officially asked the Head of State to stand for re-election. He wanted to take the time to think before responding. But no one knows what he will announce, or when.”
There is little doubt, however, that ADO will run again.
“At the moment, given the delays, I unfortunately see no other solution to preserve the stability of the country,” he confided to us on July 15, during an interview at his residence in Riviera-Golf, while specifying that he would continue his reflection.
Because, obviously, the change of course is, to say the least, brutal.
Coulibaly or nothing
By the admission of those closest to him, the head of state had really turned the page since his March announcement.
He was increasingly concerned about his future life, and in particular the establishment of his institute, designed to put his African and international experience at the service of those who would ask him for it.
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And he was focused on the upcoming campaign, during which he was determined to give his candidate his full support. He was to accompany him to a first meeting to be held in Korhogo.
Cruel wink of fate: instead of this meeting in the capital of the North, it will be the burial of his “son” …
Could he make another decision?
Since the beginning of the process that had led him to renounce a third term and to designate Gon Coulibaly to run for the presidency, ADO never considered a Plan B. It was AGC or nothing.
“For a variety of reasons, the president cannot imagine that another would take Amadou’s place,” one of his close friends says.
“First, because he believes Gon was the best of us. Second, because no one can claim the same level of trust.”
“With Coulibaly at the palace, Alassane Ouattara would have stayed by his side and Amadou would have listened to him attentively. Such a scenario is not guaranteed with others.”
“Finally, and this is not insignificant, he believes that any other candidacy within the allotted timeframe, which is very short since the election date is maintained, would be likely to create divisions and could plunge the country into instability. The Coulibaly plan, although it was only made official in March, has been in the pipeline for many months and is being carefully prepared. The electoral machinery placed at its disposal only needs to be reconnected for the Head of State. With another candidate, whoever he is, it would be far too complicated in just a hundred days”.
So the Bakayoko or Achi options, which are most often mentioned, are no longer available.
“It is all the more difficult for the head of state to pass this bitter pill on to his troops, especially to these two barons of the party, whom he needs more than ever, but to whom he is sending a hardly positive signal, since he cannot bring himself to pass on the torch to them today,” continues our source.
Hamed, which seemed to be the most obvious Plan B, is too autonomous in the eyes of the President.
But the president knows he can count on him, that he will not make waves. Moreover, he still offers him interesting prospects: primacy and perhaps the vice-presidency later. And let’s not forget that he is now his constitutional successor in the event of a vacancy… ”
What does the interested party think?
Contacted on July 14, he replied: “Four years ago, in an interview, you asked me what my attitude would be for the 2020 presidential election. I said, ‘I will do what the president tells me to do. I haven’t changed my mind’.”
Bonanza for the opposition
According to our information, Alassane Ouattara is expected to make his decision public in the second half of August, once the forty days of mourning have passed.
The rest is not going to be easy. He will have to find the right arguments to motivate a choice that his detractors will not fail to present as an abuse of authority.
As exceptional as the circumstances may be, the Head of State will give the impression of contradicting himself and of giving up on encouraging the emergence of a new generation.
Even if he really wanted to leave power before the death of Amadou Gon Coulibaly, he will find himself de facto classified as a president who cannot leave his palace. An opportunity for his opponents.
And if, on paper, he is theoretically allowed to run for a third term, since a new constitution was adopted in 2016, his opponents will challenge him on this right, recalling that he has already served his two terms.
This promises the return of fiery debates by constitutional experts on the Ivorian Radio-Television (RTI) .
Ouattara knows that he will not come out of this campaign unscathed, that the gains he has made since March, in Côte d’Ivoire but also throughout the continent, will inevitably suffer from his candidacy.
Admittedly, circumstances have changed dramatically. Of course, he will also be able to explain his desire to preserve the country’s stability, even if it is to the detriment of its image.
Certainly, finally, he will find the PDCI’s Henri Konan Bédié blocking his path, himself 86 years old, who will have a hard time convincing people that he is the only man to lead Côte d’Ivoire.
Nevertheless, while everything seemed to be in place for a peaceful election, as much as possible in any case, there is little doubt that the knives are ready to come out.
Spicy detail: fortunately for Ouattara and Bédié, the age limit (75 years) was not reintroduced during the last constitutional amendment in March, as was once envisaged. The one who had opposed it, for the sake of openness and appeasement, especially vis-à-vis the Sphinx of Daoukro [Bédié], is none other than Amadou Gon Coulibaly …
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