Former speaker of the Ivorian parliament Guillaume Soro accused of plotting a coup

Ivorian prosecutor Richard Adou Kouame during a
newsconference today in Abidjan

BY ALPHA KONE

(Editing by Jibril Ture)

[ABIDJAN—The African] During a high-profile newsconference just hours ago today, Thursday, in Abidjan, state prosecutor Richard Adou Kouame brought up a charge of coup plot against the former speaker of the parliament, Guillaume Soro, which heightens the political tension in the West African country.

The prosecutor kicked off the newsconference held in his office in Abidjan’s bustling business quarters, Plateau, by playing a recording made by the Ivorian secret services that indicates that Soro, whose voice could be heard, was apparently plotting a coup. The prosecutor then revealed that the search of the homes of Soro himself and his political allies—fifteen of whom have so far been arrested—on a judge’s order has uncovered arms cashes and other items that the prosecutor said would be used to execute the coup plot: “16 phones, nine sims, radio communication equipment, 14 AK 47-type kalachnikovs, bullet-proof vests, 1 kevlar, 59 packages of AK ammunition, 19 AK 47-type kalachnikov chargers” and more.

The prosecutor facing the press

The recording and the items uncovered during the home search led the prosecutor to conclude that a coup was in the making, which, he said, justifies the charge of destabilization leveled against the former speaker of the parliament and, hence, the arrest of his alleged accomplices. The prosecutor was crystal-clear: “The penalty for attempting a plot against state security is a life sentence.”

No sooner did the prosecutor end his newsconference conducted in Abidjan than Soro’s counsel and former Communication Minister, Afoussiata Bamba-Lamine, a member of the French bar, fired a rebuttal from Europe.

Short of denying the authenticity of the recording, which she said dates back to 2017, Bamba-Lamine attempted to dismantle the government’s case: “You’ve all listened to prosecutor Richard Adou and heard his shocking explanations. You’ve also heard a poor-quality and incomplete audio.” she remarked, then asked rhetorically: Why unearth that now, virtually three years later?”

Bamba-Lamine, who had previously said her client is the victim of an attempt to bar him from contesting the upcoming October presidential election, concluded her remarks by reading a statement allegedly from Soro thanking his political allies back home for their support. The former speaker allegedly called on his allies to rise up against the authorities in Abidjan: “There’s only one way to stand up to autocracy: by resisting. The GPS [Soro’s political organization] is therefore poised to vigorously combat autocracy in Cote d’Ivoire.” In the statement, the former speaker’s counsel also said, “the president of the GPS calls on all Ivorian democrats who believe in liberty and justice to rise up. It’s worth devoting one’s life to the fight for democracy,” she remarked.

Before becoming speaker of the Ivorian parliament in March 2012—a position from which he spectacularly resigned in February 2019—and prior to serving as prime minister from April 2007 to March 2012 under two presidents, Soro was the leader of the rebellion movement, the Patriotic Movement of Cote d’Ivoire, that sought to overthrow the government of then-President Laurent Gbagbo in September 2002 but was stopped in the center town of Bouake by the French troops from going all the way to Abidjan.

A chain of complex developments eventually led to Ouattara being elected president in 2010, but he did not take charge until April 2011 after the civil war triggered by Gbagbo’s refusal to relinquish power after losing the election. Soro has long been believed to want to succeed his ally Ouattara at the helm of the country when the current president’s second term expires in 2020. But that prospect has been clouded by a number of events over the past year or so.

As a result, Soro, duly elected member of parliament under the umbrella of the ruling party, the Rally of the Republicans, did not attend the party’s convention held in September 2018. Furthermore, his protocol director, Souleymane Kamarate Kone, was arrested in connection with an alleged plot while the speaker was out of the country. (Kone was later pardoned like hundreds others by President Ouattara on 7 August of last year on the eve of the 58th anniversary of the country’s independence.

Soro’s so-called New Forces, the military component of the rebellion he led in 2002 against Gbagbo, were instrumental in leading his coalition with Ouattara to victory against the same Gbagbo in April 2011, sadly after a civil war that claimed three thousand lives, according to U.N. sources. It’s unclear how much military might Soro still has today—though he is believed to be popular among some military officers who owe their promotion to him—but it’s not sure where the country is heading now that the simmering tension between Ouattara, Soro (and former President Henri Konan Bedie) is getting out of hand.

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