Cote d’Ivoire to hold local and regional elections this weekend amid political drama
BY JIBRIL TURE
The stage is set for new regional and local elections this Saturday in Cote d’Ivoire. While officials hope for a violence-free voting like the last few the country has known, they are faced with an unexpected political drama surrounding the elections.
The campaign officially kicked off on 28 September, the typical two-week-window leading up to an election in most of Africa. In a press release dated 4 October, the president of the Independent Electoral Commission, Youssouf Bakayoko, applauds the absence, thus far, of major campaign-related incidents, and assures the population that “appropriate measures have been taken to ensure a smooth voting.” In the same vein, the junior minister in charge of human rights, Aimée Zebeyoux, on 5 October released a communique “calling on the population to display before, during and after the electoral process, good citizenry to avoid crises that lead to human rights violations.”
The above, however, did not prevent the political drama that erupted within the governing party, the Rally of the Republicans of none other than President Alassane Ouattara.
ABOBO LA GUERRE
Abobo, a large, important administrative unit of 2 million souls in the suburbs of Abidjan, is among the most hotly-contested locations. No fewer than six candidates are fighting for votes in this locality that stands like a town of its own, with a bad reputation for violence. Abobo La Guerre (Abobo the War) as the most densely-populated locality of the nation has been nicknamed, lent a crucial support to President Ouattara during the post-election civil war of 2010-2011, and usually votes in favor of the president’s party, the Rally of the Republicans, RDR, that is now under the umbrella of the Rally of the Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace, RHDP (named in memory of the nation’s founding father, the late president Houphouet-Boigny). The out-going mayor, Adama Toungara, is Ouattara’s former oil minister. This “hot” location is viewed as a strategic spot for the 2020 presidential election, and is eagerly sought after by politicians.
SORO REFUSES TO TOE THE PARTY’S LINE
Guillaume Soro, the speaker of the Ivorian Parliament, a full-fledged member of RHDP who was appointed earlier this year vice-president of the RDR, is supposed to stand behind the party’s candidate for mayor of Abobo, Defense Minister Hamed Bakayoko aka Hambak, one of the men closest to Ouattara in the country. Instead, the head of the nation’s parliament chose to support the other leading candidate, an independent contender named Kone Tehfour, an elementary school teacher and former member of parliament. (Rumour has it that both Soro and Bakayoko aspire to run for president when Ouattara’s term ends next year.)
President Ouattara’s party went up in arms against Soro’s move.
Sidiki Konate, a member of Ouattara’s cabinet and influential party member, stated that Mr. Soro had to be heard by the party’s high echelon:
“That’s important because we are all indebted to this party […] We all chose to join this party and we must act accordingly.”
That condemnation notwithstanding, Soro doubled down. According to a news reports, an envoy of Guillaume Soro reportedly stated during a recent public event, allegedly quoting the speaker:
“Go and tell the people of Abobo that I, Soro Kigbafori Guillaume, have chosen Kone Tehfour as my candidate in Abobo. I have come to tell you that Guillaume Soro’s candidate in Abobo is Kone Tehfour, period.”
What was considered earlier on as a rumour, due to the lack a confirmation by Soro who was out of the country for two months, was confirmed when the speaker returned to Abidjan a few days ago and appeared by the side of, indeed, his candidate in Abobo.
FORMER PRESIDENT BEDIE’S SWIPE AT OUATTARA
But Guillaume Soro is not the only thorn in Ouattara’s side. Henri Konan Bedie, the president’s other long-time ally and president of Cote d’Ivoire’s older party, PDCI-RDA, on 8 October, during a meeting of his party, made harsh statements critical of the Ouattara administration that part of the local press has described as the last nail in the coffin of his one-time warm relationship’s with a man he often called his “younger brother.”
“Bedie is now in the opposition,” a local newspaper wrote.
Arguably in reaction to the former president’s remarks, President Ouattara today Thursday fired his deputy protocol director, Jean-Claude N’dri, a nephew of President Bedie.
Ivorians call the escalating feud between Bedie and Ouattara “a cold war” as a result, many say, of Ouattara’s plan to deny Bedie a role in the nation’s political future. Most of them hope this war will remain a cold one.
“The Ivorian people should rise up against these excesses,” Bedie says.