Their last one-on-one meeting, dating back to 8 August 2018, had been an icy affair at the presidential palace in Abidjan. More than two years later, they met in the lounge of the Heden Golf Hotel, the same place where they forged an alliance against Laurent Gbagbo.
In the meantime, their differences have reportedly set off a fresh political crisis which has caused at least 85 deaths since August, according to an official toll published Wednesday.
Alassane Ouattara and Henri Konan Bédié met with one another late in the day Wednesday. The Ivorian president was the first to arrive, a little before five o’clock in the afternoon, with the elder Bédié arriving 15 minutes later. “And how is Dominique?” was Bédié’s first question. “Dominique is well,” replied Ouattara.
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The two former allies talked for 45 minutes in the presence of Fidèle Sarrassoro, the head of state’s chief of staff, and General Gaston Ouassénan Koné, one of the vice presidents of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI). After the discussion, Ouattara and Bédié spent a few minutes in separate locations before resurfacing to speak to the press.
‘We’ve broken the ice’
Ouattara described the occasion as “a brotherly meeting to restore confidence”. “We are in agreement that peace is the most important thing to us and to all Ivorians. This first meeting allowed us to break the ice so that we can restore confidence. We have agreed to hold another meeting very shortly in order to continue this dialogue, which has gotten off to a good start. Confidence has been restored,” said the Ivorian president.
Before being escorted out to his vehicle by the head of state, Bédié said, “We’ve broken the ice and the silence through this meeting today. In the coming days and weeks, we are going to continue to speak over the phone and to meet in person so that the country can finally be what it was before.”
According to our sources, while the meeting had been in the works at least 10 days ago, it was moved up in recent days thanks to the efforts of discreet intermediaries and pressure from the international community, with France leading the pack. The talks went forward even though some PDCI officials had expressed reservations. Imprisoned since 4 November, Bédié’s nephew and head of protocol, Jean-Claude N’dri, was released Monday. The blockade enforced since 3 November around Bédié’s home was removed mid-day Wednesday.
“The meeting was first and foremost symbolic,” said a source close to the talks. “It marks the beginning of a long process that could take several months before the situation can be fully resolved.”
The day after the 31 October election, the main opposition leaders, who had boycotted the vote, announced that they didn’t recognise Ouattara’s victory and created a National Transitional Council (CNT) headed by former president Bédié. This decision attracted the ire of the Ivorian head of state, a judicial investigation was opened and several political figures were arrested, including Pascal Affi N’Guessan, Albert Mabri Toikeusse, Maurice Kakou Guikahué and Narcisse N’dri.
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