Côte d’Ivoire: Why the hurry, Guillaume Soro?

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Guillaume Soro has ended the “fake suspense” over his presidential bid

On 12 October the former rebel leader and prime minister under both Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, who resigned as parliamentary Speaker following a much-publicised falling out with the president in February, was the first to officially throw his hat in the ring.

“Several pro-Soro parties have already chosen me as their candidate, so yes, I will be a candidate.”

In one sentence, pronounced in front of a crowd in Valencia, Spain, Soro put an end to the fake suspense that has surrounded his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election for several months. Welcomed by thunderous applause from his supporters in the Spanish diaspora, the announcement was then widely relayed by Soro’s campaign network.

One question remains: Why was Soro in such a hurry to make his announcement? Especially since, with just over a year to go before the presidential election in October 2020, the country’s main political parties – including the ruling RHDP – have not yet revealed their choices.

Setting his own pace

The announcement comes a month after a meeting in Paris between Soro and Henri Konan Bédié, the leader of the Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) who became Alassane Ouattara’s main opponent after being his ally for eight years. At that meeting the two men agreed to each present a ticket in the future presidential election in the hope that they could transfer the votes of the best-placed opposition candidate in the event of a duel with the RHDP.

  • “In reality, he wants to position himself as a serious challenger – if not the most serious challenger of the upcoming presidential election, the one who will set the pace,” says academic and political journalist François Konan, who notes that up until his declaration “Soro’s been hesitant, walking on eggshells”.
  • “Guillaume Soro is looking first and foremost for security. He wants a status – that of a candidate – that will attract more external attention in order to ensure his safety,” says political scientist Sylvain N’Guessan. During his speech in Valencia, Soro accused the government in Abidjan of having tried to get him arrested by the Spanish police the previous week.

Formalising the break with the RHDP

“In many cases, countries are battling for the return of their nationals who are in trouble in other countries. In my case, it’s my country that is fighting for all other countries to arrest me,” he said, without pointing the finger specifically. Then he added: “Don’t we have the right as politicians to choose our own party?”

For Sylvain N’Guessan this is a “victimisation strategy” aimed at “drawing attention to himself in order to attract potential voters”.

“It is also about Guillaume Soro reassuring his supporters that the divorce is indeed consummated with the RHDP,” says the analyst, who also points out that the former Speaker wanted to silence the rumours that have been circulating in recent weeks about a supposed truce with the presidential party.

Distinguishing himself within the opposition

The third reason for this “premature” statement, according to N’Guessan: “Soro’s playing his trump card against an opposition that lacks a common strategy, that’s divided by internal crises and personalities. He wants to have an impact in the event that the opposition opts for a single candidate from the first round.

Until now, only Pascal Affi N’Guessan, Laurent Gbagbo’s rival and legal president of the Front Populaire Ivorien, had openly declared his intention to run. The October 2020 election will be the first to be held on the basis of a “ticket” for president and vice-president, a new feature introduced by the 2016 constitutional reform.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.