In Abidjan, the reunion of the three “elephants” of Ivorian politics

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The wrinkles of the last three Ivorian presidents have deepened, the voices are more quavering and the gaits limp, but have the years erased hatreds, reduced ambitions and desires for revenge? For their reunion, Thursday July 14 in Abidjan, Alassane Ouattara, Laurent Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bédié, 245 years old between them, should undoubtedly bow to the game of clichés full of knowing smiles and fraternal hugs.

Their last group photo dates from 2010. Behind the apparent good humor and the promises of peace, the first round of the presidential election was approaching, the war too, between Laurent Gbagbo braced on his refusal to concede defeat in the ballot box and an Alassane Ouattara, then allied with Henri Konan Bédié, whose internationally recognized victory could not do without resorting to arms.

Read also In Côte d’Ivoire, the false promises of reconciliation

Twelve years later, everything has changed in Côte d’Ivoire. Or almost. Following the death of Amadou Gon Coulibaly, whom he had designated as his successor, Alassane Ouattara, 80, put his retirement dreams aside and began his third term as head of state at the end of 2020. Freed from charges by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Laurent Gbagbo, 77, returned to his country the following year after a decade in prison, with the declared desire to regain his place on the political spectrum. Their eldest and predecessor, Henri Konan Bédié, 88, has so far blocked all possibilities of succession to the leadership of his party, the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI).

“The tensions are still there”

The three “elephants”, who have used among themselves all possible combinations of alliances to conquer the presidential chair, continue to set the tone of Ivorian political life. For almost thirty years, their quarrels for power have made the misfortune of their fellow citizens, their rivalries have drained behind them their communities of origin, awakening deeper tensions around nationality and land ownership.

“For almost thirty years, their quarrels for power have made their fellow citizens unhappy”

If their meeting, this Thursday, is part of the “political dialogue” engaged between power and the entire opposition since 2019, their meeting comes at a time of appeasement of the political climate, less than two years after the re-election of Alassane Ouattara. This had been marked by the boycott of opponents, who contested the legality of this third term, and by violent protests which officially left 85 dead and 500 injured. As predicted by one of his relatives, the head of state then hardened his tone to strengthen his authority, before reaching out and opening the game – in appearance.

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