Côte d’Ivoire: Ouattara’s new government, who is likely to stay or get the boot?

By Benjamin Roger
Posted on Thursday, 25 March 2021 14:14

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara speaks next to his wife Dominique in Abidjan, Ivory Coast October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago/File Photo

Côte d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara is due to unveil the composition of his new government in the coming days. But already, the names of certain politicians are being persistently mentioned.

The sudden death of Hamed Bakayoko on 10 March has deeply shaken the Ivorian political scene. But, as a government figure explained at the end of the seven-day national mourning period decreed in honour of the former Prime Minister, “life must now resume its course”.

For ministers and other executives of the Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP), this will largely depend on whether they are in or out of the new government, whose composition is expected to be revealed in the coming days.

Speculation is rife, but the broad outlines of this government are already taking shape. The staff should already be reduced. With 41 ministers and six secretaries of state, the outgoing government was indeed one of the most plethoric that the country has known in recent years.

“That government was guided by electoral interests, with the concern to include representatives of each region of the country,” explains a diplomatic source in Abidjan. “But on a purely administrative level, it didn’t make much sense. Many ministries were duplicating efforts.”

Generational renewal

The team will be reduced, therefore, but also rejuvenated. As he has repeated several times since his re-election in October 2020, Ouattara intends to initiate a generational renewal.

Before he was struck down by cancer at the age of 56, Hamed Bakayoko had also expressed this desire to rejuvenate the executive. This means less ministers in their sixties or older, with the idea of making room for ‘young people’ — meaning those under sixty.

The ministers in their forties who were already in place and who performed well  during the last mandate could thus be called upon to occupy higher positions, like Abdourahmane Cissé, minister of oil and energy, Mamadou Touré, minister of youth promotion, or Myss Belmonde Dogo, secretary of state to the minister of  women and the family.

“The president has clearly said that he intends to rejuvenate his team after the elections. But this is sometimes easier said than done. Some ‘older’ ministers still have real influence,” says a member of the government.

This is one of the headaches of the upcoming reshuffle for Ouattara: what to do with the heavyweights of his majority if he removes them from the government? It will be necessary to provide some compensation to not give them the impression that they are sidelined and avoid alienating them.

There are several avenues open to the Ouattara, notably through the various institutions. The posts of vice-president and president of the Economic, Social, Environmental and Cultural Council (CESEC) are still vacant.

The presidents of the Senate, Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio, and the National Assembly, Amadou Soumahoro, could also be replaced — even if the latter is actively campaigning to keep his seat. The same goes for Henriette Diabaté as head of the Grand Chancellery. It will also be necessary to find a successor to Hamed Bakayoko at the mayor’s office in Abobo, a strategic bastion of the RHDP in Abidjan.

An open government?

To help him make these tricky decisions, Ouattara will be able to rely on the results of the legislative elections. Before the elections, the (implicit) rule was known to all: to remain in government, it was better to be elected deputy and anointed with popular legitimacy.

Of the 30 or so ministers and secretaries of state, eight lost their seats. Will they necessarily be absent from the list? “It’s not guaranteed,” says an elected minister. “Some of them did not win but allowed the RHDP to make inroads in regions that are not favourable to us. There are also those who were not candidates but who did a good job in their ministry.”

Another question: will this be a more open government, as the president had suggested after his re-election for a third term? “Ouattara has a reason top open his team to the opposition and civil society to show that he keeps his commitment to peace. But will he really do it? It’s hard to know,” said an opponent.

In December, the resumption of political dialogue between the majority and the opposition helped ease tensions and led to peaceful legislative elections on 6 March. The country’s three main political parties — RHDP, Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) and Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) — all took part in the elections, something that had not happened for ten years.

At the same time, Kouadio Konan Bertin, the only candidate to run against Ouattara in the 31 October presidential election, was appointed minister for national reconciliation in mid-December. Keeping him in his post or giving him a more prestigious portfolio could be seen as a sign of openness at lower cost.

It remains to be seen whether opposition figures could potentially be asked to join the government and if so, which ones. Many would not be surprised to see Pascal Affi N’Guessan (the legally recognised president of the FPI) or other reputedly moderate opposition figures in the executive. But appointments of PDCI or FPI-pro Laurent Gbagbo cadres seem unlikely — though, they could, if they happened, be seen as a crafty political move by the president.

Who will succeed Hamed Bakayoko?

There are some specific appointments that will be very closely scrutinised, starting with the post of Prime Minister. The interim is Patrick Achi. This new deputy of Adzopé has been growing in importance in Ouattara’s system in recent months and he is the current favourite.

“I don’t see what could work against him,” confides a minister. “He is the one who designed the government programme, he was chosen to ensure the interim of Hamed Bakayoko … .”

Another ‘interim’ who could be confirmed is Téné Birahima Ouattara, the younger brother of the president and whose nickname is ‘Photocopie’, chosen to replace ‘Hambak’ at the head of the Ministry of Defence during his absence.

Very familiar with military and security issues, Ouattara junior, who was previously Minister of Presidential Affairs, could be kept in his post. But there would be a lot of criticism. “It would be too big to leave him at the Defence,” an opponent has already denounced. “He is only there because his brother is president. It would be inappropriate nepotism, bordering on abuse of power.”

Finally, several other close friends of Ouattara could enter the government or be called to occupy high positions. Adama Bictogo, the executive secretary of the RHDP, is expected to head an important ministry or to take up the post of Speaker of the National Assembly, which would make him the third most important person in the state.

Fidèle Sarassoro, the president’s chief of staff, should also be called upon to play a leading role. As for Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, the president of the ECOWAS commission, many people say he will soon be brought back in Abidjan.

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