Looking back

It’s something of a regret that I started this blog very late into my life in Abidjan: the first post was made in May 2011, at the beginning of the Ouattara presidency. I struggle to remember why I hadn’t been blogging earlier – certainly the previous six months before that first post were some of the most interesting of my life so far, and remained sadly un-blogged.

While this isn’t primarily a political blog, within the first 12 or so months, I tried to analyse the challenges facing the Ouattara presidency, and this morning I was curious to see how things worked out. Here’s a bit of a look-back:

Syndrome 2002 (June 2011)

In my second month of blogging I wondered about the threat of continued military instability. I tried to give some arguments as to why, though the threat of military attacks was real (and proved to be so), the chances of success for anti-government elements were very slim. The government – with the help of neighbours – managed to largely stamp out the problem.

Ouattara’s four big challenges (Oct 2011)
In this post, I picked out four big challenges for the new Ouattara government which I identified as:
i) Reunifying the country (the problem of warlords and smuggling)
ii) Favouring big business (risk of discontent, high market prices)
iii) Changing culture
iv) The Wild west
The reunification of the country seems to have gone reasonably smoothly. I don’t doubt the former com-zone commanders still wield authority, particularly Fofie in Korhogo, but the north seems to have successfully completed its return to the rest of the country, even if some residual concerns linked to the ex-rebellion, particularly demobilisation, persist.

The discussion of the government reconstructing through big business seems to have dated a lot. Talk of high market prices persisted for several years after 2011, but I hear it less now – perhaps because inflation is low (it always was officially low), or because people are starting to feel a few positive impacts from overall economic growth, or perhaps just because people got bored of talking about it. The recent drop in fuel prices should have helped.

Practices of corruption and certain bad work practices may have improved slightly, but I have little evidence to go on. The west is largely calm, with only the occasional and limited armed attack from Liberia, but the land issue is far from sorted out.

Four reasons for pessimism (Oct 2011)
A second blog post in October 2011 played devil’s advocate about why the Ouattara presidency could potentially fail. The reasons were that it was the same people who’d shared power with Gbagbo before, that the business environment had serious issues, that the country faced continuing security challenges, and that there was uncertainty about the role the opposition would play.

From the viewpoint of 2015, things have improved on all those fronts, though the challenges were real. While corruption remains an issue, the government seems to be delivering and I think we’ve moved a few degrees in the right direction towards a more professional civil service. The business environment, while not yet clean, has been made easier, at least according to the Doing Business reports. The threat of armed rebellion has faded, and while the opposition looks increasingly fractured, it is at least attempting to move forward.

Beyond one dimension (June 2012)
‘What will it take to bring true reconciliation to Ivory Coast? Most people say: time. Ouattara will do his two mandates and then retire, Gbagbo will spend 4-5 years fighting his ICC case and then either come back old or get locked up for life. And then in about ten years’ time, when both leaders are off the scene, people will be able to move on.’

‘Our next leaders’ (Aug 2012)
This post made a number of explicit predictions about the big three (Bedie, Ouattara, Gbagbo). Starting with Bedie the explicit prediction was ‘no radical changes while Bedie is alive, a lacklustre performance in 2015 and a continual sense of decay until a dynamic leader is found. Expect overtures from the FPI.’ The text included the comment that deciding on a joint RHDP ticket for the 2015 presidential election would be one-way of putting off the question of succession, which has proved to be the case. I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘decay’ now – some sense of success for the party has come through the sharing in government successes, but there are clear tensions looking forward to the post-Bedie era.

For the Gbagbo camp, my prediction was: ‘finding a leader to replace Gbagbo looks so difficult that he will remain the official figurehead for the movement. 2010 will remain at the centre of pro-Gbagbo debates despite its increasing distance from the present day and an uninspiring leadership will struggle to keep the party on its feet until 2020. The party will increasingly have to address the issue of armed groups acting in Gbagbo’s name.’ The armed attacks are now rare and limited, but replacing Gbagbo or not remains a heated and central issue for the party, which looks even weaker now than it did in 2012. But there is a real constituency behind the LMP/FPI movement, which means the opposition are likely to be a continual force in the future.

Finally for Ouattara, my prediction was: ‘Ouattara wins a second term in 2015, an RDR leadership fight happens in 2016/2017, which Ouattara is heavily involved in behind the scenes to appoint a successor who will continue his tradition.’ I don’t think there’s much to add to that three years on.

Looking ahead the conclusion in 2012 was as follows:
‘The 2020 presidential election will be a very interesting affair indeed with the likelihood of all three major parties having fresh faces competing against each other for the first time in three decades. It also provides an opportunity to move on from the harmful debates of the past 20 years. Providing Ouattara has built a strong track record, his party is probably favourite to remain in power, though some voters may feel it’s time for a change, especially if the RDR fails to select a suitable replacement with an appeal beyond the traditional base, and if the second term gets mired in corruption and falling enthusiasm. The PDCI and the FPI face a major challenge in finding votable replacement leaders, with the PDCI having the added difficulty of being the weaker partner in a governing coalition; government successes will be attributed to the RDR while government weaknesses will favour the opposition.’

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