COTE D’IVOIRE: Changing alliances increase uncertainty and instability risk ahead of November poll

COTE D’IVOIRE: CHANGING ALLIANCES INCREASE UNCERTAINTY AND INSTABILITY AHEAD OF NOVEMBER POLL 

Ahead of presidential polls in November, long-time opponents are coming back to haunt the president despite his impressive track-record in the eyes of the international investor and donor community. Fast-changing political alliances increase political uncertainty and stability risks ahead of the poll, which appears increasingly difficult to call.  

Changing alliances increasing uncertainty 

The authorities on 23 December issued an international warrant for the arrest of Guillaume Soro, the former president of the national assembly and candidate in the November polls. The move, which forced Soro’s flight to turn around reverse track mid-air en route to Abidjan, is widely seen as politically motivated, mainly because of its timing just under a year before the elections. 

Three months earlier, Soro announced his bid for the presidency – a move that has unlikely been accepted by his former mentor, President Alassane Dramane Ouattara. Soro’s overtures towards Laurent Gbagbo have likely concerned the president who has seen his protégé now striking a more conciliatory tone towards his former arch-rival.  But just as Ouattara’s administration has overseen a tightening space for political expression over the past five-year term, so is Ouattara’s space for creating alliances with the heavyweight candidates. He is now increasingly isolated against Bédié, Gbagbo, and Soro. 

Ouattara’s impressive track-record of overseeing approximately 7 per cent annual GDP growth since 2012 will unlikely appease growing frustration with his administration. Instead, non-headline macroeconomic indicators point to rising inequality, despite significant progress made in terms of infrastructure expansion. Despite the risks of mounting civil unrest, Ouattara’s chances of being re-elected should not be written off.  

Challenges abound, but incumbency has its advantages 

In 2015, he was elected with an overwhelming majority of 83.7 per cent against runner-up of the FPI Pascal Affi Nguessan, who garnered no more than 9.3 per cent. This points to broad-based support for the incumbent (even though his intentions are still unclear), who also benefits from infighting within the FPI as well as the PDCI factions.  The shifting alliances and infighting raise the prospects that Ouattara or whomever his party chooses as their presidential candidate an advantage in the polls within the current electoral environment. 

Because of this, frustration with the administration is also likely to be increasingly channelled into street protests or other types of disruptive action, as opposition supporters may feel powerless in the face of the powers that be. It could also fuel ambitions to take a more violent approach, including armed violence such as military mutinies.  

While no one wants to see a return to the levels of violence seen in 2011, the growing friction among Côte d’Ivoire’s leading political figures, who have been central in mobilising masses in previous political crises, poses growing risks of localised violence and broader stability risks for the country in the coming year.