As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think most Ivory Coast observers regard the 2015 presidential election as anything much more than a foregone conclusion. The principal question seems to be how much Ouattara will win by, and whether that percentage (and turnout) signals failure or success.
But 2020 looks a whole lot more interesting. While the country’s ‘heriteurs’ (the big three ‘inheriters’ who battled it out after Felix Houphouet-Boigny’s death; namely Bedie, Gbagbo and Ouattara) will probably all still be alive, they will have all almost certainly taken their leave: all will be over the constitutional age limit. Ouattara will have completed his two constitutionally mandated terms. (Gbagbo’s trial at the ICC will be likely finished and I don’t think anyone can be certain of the result of that.)
So who are the names to watch in the new generation? I’m in the airport in Conakry belatedly going through a list in Jeune Afrique magazine of the 50 most important people in Ivory Coast, and it’s as good a place as any to pick out a few names of people who have a good chance of being either strong candidates for the election in 2020, or at least powerful people in deciding which direction things go. Here are some of my picks with comments.
Guillaume Soro (42)
A skillful politician and constitutionally the current number two in the country as head of the National Assembly. He has a power base drawn from his time at the head of the Forces Nouvelles rebellion (a significant part of the current national army) and from his days at the head of the powerful student union, the FESCI. He has been drawing closer to Ouattara’s RDR party.
Comment: A strong contender for 2020 and never one to underestimate. Will face some resistance from within the party from any attempts to be the RDR candidate in 2020. For many in the south he will always be tainted as the ‘rebel’ and many still campaign for him to answer for crimes committed by rebels during that period.
Pascal Affi N’Guessan (62)
Head of the opposition FPI party, he is facing a fierce internal war for control of the party with hard liners who want to limit all engagements with the government until Gbagbo is out of The Hague. He’s also not from the natural ethnic base of the party in the south-east. Nevertheless he still looks like the big name in the opposition camp at least until Simone or Laurent Gbagbo are freed.
Comment: May be in a stronger position by 2020 but if the government track record is solid he would likely struggle unless the governing coalition fractures. The big drama would be if either of the former ruling couple are freed and return to Abidjan. Alternatively he may be severely undermined although the party lacks many other alternatives.
Hamed Bakayoko (49)
Along with Soro, Hambak is likely to be the main contender for the RDR card in the 2020 election. That’s if he’s want it – I don’t know him well enough to know if he’d see the top job as just too much limelight. He has strong roots in the RDR particularly with the youth, and has an established network of friends in the Abidjan elite, including in the communication sector (notably Voodoo). His time as interior minister has strengthened his hand as well. More high profile than Soro at the moment.
Comment: A strong contender for 2020, especially if he ends up receiving the blessing of Ouattara.
Mamadou Koulibaly (57)
I don’t think anyone would give him much chance in 2020 but I’ll include the name anyway as a major opposition political figure. His is considered by many as the most eloquent critic of the ruling coalition since 2011. But he has a very limited support base, especially geographically, so only really has a chance if the opposition unite around him, which is something I would judge unlikely.
Comment: An interesting figure on the Ivorian political scene, but likely to remain marginal.
Beyond the talk of Soro or Hambak, I can see two major alternatives. The first is that the PDCI succeeds in imposing their candidate as some sort of RHDP consensus (or stitch up). There is already talk of this ‘Alternance’ theory in the pro-PDCI press, though I haven’t even see an RDR figure mention it, which would seem to be crucial given it would involve the RDR agreeing to step aside in 2020 and allow a PDCI candidate to take the throne.
A second (potentially related) alternative is that Ivory Coast’s political class decides that they quite liked their nine years under a technocrat and would like more of the same. What would the major choices be:
Bruno Kone (52), RDR
This former telecommunications boss recently married Ouattara’s niece and communications director, and is minister of Information, Telecommunications and the Post Office. He’s also the government spokesman.
Thierry Tanoh (52), PDCI
Assistant Secretary General for the president, he’s currently on the recovery from a rough and brief spell as the head of Ecobank, which followed his vice-presidency of the IFC. Harvard-educated, and pushed by some (himself?) behind the scenes for several years. Limited profile within the country though.
Jean-Louis Billon (50), PDCI
Business leader, minister for commerce and one of the country’s richest people, Billon has a fair bit of local credibility and is well respected. I’m not sure how strong his voice carries in the PDCI party though, even if it has authority elsewhere.
I confess that I’ve pretty much come to the end of my list of names for the next generation. I still think Charles Ble Goude will return one day to be an influential player, but 2020 may be too early for that. Two other people to watch in the coming years are Yasmine Ouegnin, the young MP for Cocody who has shown an independent spirit in the otherwise compliant National Assembly, and (this really is an outside chance) new Credit Suisse boss, Tidjane Thiam. Both may face criticism for being too foreign.
Many of the above candidates would look ill at ease addressing a mass rally in Yopougon or Abobo. Most Ivorians are young, employed in the informal sector and not from the elite backgrounds of the above. Through a long process and a dedicated communications team, figures like Ouattara have been able to develop a common touch, but as Gbagbo and Ble Goude showed, there can be immense power in those who can mobilise and sound in touch with ordinary voters. To that extent Soro and Hambak remain very strong candidates, while any alternatives seem to lack either the powerful networks or the ability to excite a crowd.