Our next leaders

Allow me the indulgence of another political blog post. If the last 20 years have been totally dominated by three ageing men (Gbagbo, Bedie, Ouattara), the next decade in Ivorian politics could revolve around the central question – where and who are the replacements?

Henri Konan-Bedie

The first major political group to broach the question will be the PDCI. While in African-style, Bedie will remain the acknowledged leader until he passes away, the party needs to choose a successor for the 2015 presidential elections. That is unless there’s some sort of agreement on a joint-RHDP ticket, which would be a way to put off the decision. The party is in bad shape. Despite a large network, a good base of voters in the centre-east and the legacy of the Houphouet-Boigny years and subsequent nostalgia, it only came in at third in the presidential elections and won less seats than the RDR in the parliamentary elections. The ‘old party’ of ‘Le Vieux’ is showing its age, as are the ‘barons’ who continue to dominate party affairs. While in private, almost the only thing that unites Ivorian commentators from all sides is the disaster of the Bedie years (1993-1999), in public the PDCI acknowledges no errors or sins to repent of. There are no obvious candidates to put the spark back into the party. It does still have a number of technocrats with decent public reputations, but they lack control on the levers of party power.

Prediction: 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.

Laurent Gbagbo

Even if Laurent Gbagbo had accepted defeat and headed into political retirement after the 2010 elections, the party/parties in his coalition would have faced a leadership crisis. Gbagbo was the key to uniting a number of different strands in Ivorian political life from feelings of being sidelined in south-western ethnic groups, to frustrated anti-elite urban youth and those wanting change. Hey, there even a few socialists in the mix! He was able to float above the accusations of corruption that touched others in his entourage and appeared as a likeable/popular figure. The party now has a difficult to choice with no obvious candidates to replace him. Perhaps firstly, the party faces the thorny issue of whether he should be replaced (now he’s at the ICC), or whether he should remain nominally in charge.

Prediction – 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 it’s 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.

Alassane Ouattara

Even more than Gbagbo, the current president has a profile far removed from most of the members of the political movement he is a part of. Providing his health continues to hold, he will be the favourite to win the 2015 election, in which he will face none of the same major candidates as he did in 2010. Like any major political party, the RDR have a number of different strands including those who see themselves fundamentally as Alassanistes rather than RDR-ists. The party may want to continue with the current recipe and select a technocrat as the figurehead, providing the next few years prove the success of such a scheme. Ouattara himself may decide to nuture someone to replace him, and when he retires he should be in a strong position to preside over the transition.

Prediction – 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.

Conclusion

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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