Côte d’Ivoire: Ouattara kicks off an atypical presidential campaign

By Vincent Duhem, special correspondent in Bouaké
Posted on Monday, 19 October 2020 20:40

Supporters of presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara of the ruling RHDP coalition party hold signs during a campaign rally for the October 31, 2020 presidential election, in Abidjan
Supporters of presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara of the ruling RHDP coalition party hold signs during a campaign rally for the October 31, 2020 presidential election, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, October 17, 2020. The signs read "The best, the best for our country - ADO". REUTERS/Luc Gnago

The president of Côte d’Ivoire kicked off his re-election campaign ahead of the 31 October election this past Friday in the country’s second-largest city. Thousands of people attended the event.

Dressed in a white shirt bearing his initials, Alassane Ouattara waves to the crowd from the sunroof of his vehicle. His motorcade makes its way through Bouaké, with hundreds of young motorbike riders following behind it, dangerously zigzagging in the streets of Côte d’Ivoire’s second-largest city.

Just a few minutes earlier, the Ivorian head of state had had to cut his campaign launch event short after security personnel were unable to contain a large crowd of weary spectators who had been waiting for hours in anticipation of the event. Jam-packed, the “ADO” square was on the verge of bursting at the seams, disrupting the security protocol in place.

READ MORE Côte d’Ivoire: Can Ouattara break into this opposition bastion?

From the podium, for five short minutes, Ouattara played the offensive while whipping up the audience members, most of whom were very young.

“Just here in Bouaké alone, there are more of you than all of the opposition members who met in Abidjan. You are the majority. The RHDP [Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace, the ruling party] is the majority. ADO is the only candidate worth voting for. That’s why the others don’t want to participate in the election. They are afraid of losing. If they are real men, they will take part in the election and let the Ivorians decide the winner. All they have to do is come speak to the people. We will beat them. ADO will win the first round in a knockout!”

‘Active boycott’

However, the electoral folklore and chaotic hysteria of the young residents of the former capital of the rebellion were misleading. This past Friday, 16 October, Côte d’Ivoire looked nothing like a country in the midst of an election campaign. The day before, former president Henri Konan Bédié and Pascal Affi N’Guessan, two of the four candidates approved to stand for the 31 October presidential election, called on their supporters to “prevent any operation linked to the ballot from being held” and “implement an active boycott”. “We are entering the second phase of civil disobedience,” said N’Guessan.

READ MORE Côte d’Ivoire presidential election: Opposition threatens boycott

These instructions were followed last Friday in a few localities where the distribution of voter registration cards was disrupted. Bédié’s home town of Daoukro was paralysed and, in the east-central town of Bongouanou, tensions remained high on Saturday. That morning, several individuals had set fire to N’Guessan’s house.

The previous day, clashes broke out between opposition and ADO supporters, leading to a number of minor injuries and property damage. “Both sides are looking daggers at each other,” said a member of the local authorities.

Kouadio Konan Bertin (KKB) is currently Ouattara’s lone opponent. The dissident candidate of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) also kicked off his campaign on 16 October, in Divo. He plans on holding several events. Nevertheless, Bertin’s resources are paltry in comparison with the RHDP candidate’s machine, as evidenced by the huge posters bearing Ouattara’s face in the streets of Abidjan and Yamoussoukro.

While a boycott promoted by Bédié and N’Guessan, who challenge Ouattara’s right to stand for a third term, is taking shape, ADO has decided to change his campaign schedule. He will participate in just one other event – in Abobo on 29 October – effectively letting Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko and Secretary General of the Presidency Patrick Achi take over.

In Bouaké, while speaking before an audience of traditional chiefs, the head of state left little hope for the opposition given his tough stance on holding the election. “We engaged in a dialogue in 2020 to implement the electoral code, so let’s go forward with the election! We created institutions that we agreed on. And a few weeks before the election takes place, I’m hearing people saying, we need a dialogue. A dialogue for what purpose? We have institutions and these institutions decided that there would be four candidates,” said Ouattara.

The prospect of a reconciliation seems remote

Despite Ouattara’s speech, at almost the same moment, his cabinet sent Bédié and N’Guessan an official invitation to a work session “in relation to the organisation of the 31 October election”, presented as a response to the opposition’s stated willingness to have a dialogue. The offer was immediately declined.

READ MORE Côte d’Ivoire: ‘There are worrying signs of its political trajectory’

The prospect of a reconciliation seems increasingly remote. In recent days, members of Bédié’s entourage nevertheless appeared to believe that his diplomatic initiatives would be successful. On 12 and 13 October, the “Sphinx of Daoukro” pleaded his cause to the Asantehene Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II and Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo. However, his efforts didn’t result in a compromise between Bédié and ADO. Bédié is calling for the election to be postponed, whereas ADO, unyielding, continues to be against the idea.

On 15 October, Bédié’s close associates were nevertheless convinced that Akufo-Addo, in his capacity as chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), would turn up in Abidjan in the coming days. “I read that some presidents are supposed to come here. I have phone conversations with them every day. They have work to do at home. No one is coming here to negotiate anything,” said Ouattara.

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