Ivory Coast Succession Battle Risks Split of Ruling Alliance

Updated on
  • Cracks in coalition have begun to appear as 2020 vote nears
  • Each party wants to appoint its own presidential candidate

The ruling alliance that steered Ivory Coast to become sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest-growing economy is at risk of falling apart as the main partners are bitterly divided over who will succeed President Alassane Ouattara when he steps down in 2020.

Top officials of the Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace, a coalition known by its acronym RHDP, are jockeying for positions as each party claims the right to appoint a preferred presidential candidate. After six years of relative stability, succession politicking may grow increasingly disruptive.

Alassane Ouattara, flanked by his wife Dominique

Photographer: Sia Kambou/AFP via Getty Images

Presidential elections in Ivory Coast have often fueled tension since the death of the first post-independence ruler Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1993 and two out of four votes have turned violent. In 2010, ex-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to acknowledge he’d lost the election to Ouattara, who won the final round because of the backing of the former ruling Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, or PDCI, and its leader Henri Konan Bedie. Gbagbo’s refusal triggered six months of fighting and resulted in more than 3,000 deaths.

Together, Bedie and Ouattara, who heads the Rally of the Republicans, or RDR, command a comfortable majority of voters in a country where ethnic and regional loyalties dominate politics. While Ouattara is popular among northerners, Bedie has his traditional power base in the eastern cocoa-growing regions. Cracks in the coalition, which has been credited with restoring peace and overseeing record economic growth, already began to appear in the run-up to last year’s parliamentary vote. More than 700 candidates chose to run on independent tickets, including several who’d been purged from the RHDP.

“The 2020 presidential vote is on everybody’s mind, and everybody wants to take a chance,” Ousmane Zina, a political analyst at the University Alassane Ouattara in Bouake, said by phone. “It’s very likely that the coalition will implode before the election.”

Huge Influence

Growth averaged more than 9 percent since 2012, twice as fast as the average in sub-Saharan Africa, as Ouattara pushed for infrastructure projects and lured multinationals such as Carrefour SA and Burger King. The political bickering may impact the economy negatively, according to Eurasia Group.

At 83, Bedie, who was deposed as president in a bloodless coup in 1999, is too old to run again, but he still wields huge influence. In June, he declared that there was an agreement to rotate the presidency and that the coalition’s candidate for 2020 should come from his party. A month later, Ouattara demoted two PDCI ministers in a cabinet reshuffle before urging people to stop talking about his succession.

“Our people don’t need this kind of debate within the ruling coalition,” Ouattara said in a speech on state TV. “For the good of our country, we have to stay united.”

While Ouattara created the post of vice president last year and awarded the position to PDCI member Daniel Kablan Duncan, men from his own party hold most of the key positions in the cabinet. Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly was handed the budget portfolio in July, and Hamed Bakayoko took over the defense ministry. Both have been close advisers to Ouattara for years and Gon Coulibaly is widely seen as the leader’s preferred successor.

Twitter Following

Another contender is parliamentary speaker Guillaume Soro, 45, who lost his position as constitutional heir to the presidency when Ouattara named a vice president. A former rebel leader who tried to oust Gbagbo, then served as his prime minister and finally threw his weight behind Ouattara, Soro has strong support among the armed forces. He also has the largest Twitter following of any Ivorian politician, with 455,000 people.

The appointment of Bakayoko was interpreted as a sign that Ouattara sought to curb the powers of Soro, who will probably run in 2020.

Read more: Soro says government ‘despised’ by soldiers after mutinies

Political analysts say that the discord may trigger a rapprochement between Soro and Bedie. Soro twice met with Bedie in Paris this year and is probably seeking a deal that would place him on the PDCI’s 2020 ticket, Amaka Anku, an Africa analyst at Eurasia Group, said in an emailed note.

The succession issue won’t be on the agenda of the party congress of Ouattara’s RDR, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 9, according to a statement.

“Ivory Coast is on the verge of a political watershed,” Nick Branson, an analyst at the London-based Africa Research Institute, said in an emailed response to questions. “It’s up to Bedie or Soro to determine whether the country will return to inclusive and stable politics under the authority of Ouattara, or if the next three years will be marked by escalating tensions between rival blocs.”

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