March 9, 2021


COTE D’IVOIRE: Cabinet reshuffle amid looming post-election dispute

BY Malte Liewerscheidt

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On 8 March, President Alassane Ouattara announced an cabinet reshuffle, necessitated by Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko’s apparently rapidly deteriorating state of health. As Bakayoko’s chief internal rival, Ouattara’s chief of staff Patrick Achi, becomes prime minister ad interim, this may tilt the balance in the party-internal race for Ouattara’s succession permanently in his favor. Meanwhile, both the ruling Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) and the opposition have claimed victory in the 6 March parliamentary elections, even though the electoral commission has yet to release all results. As such, the vote, which was supposed to smooth the political climate after the disputed October 2020 presidential election, may again aggravate political tensions.

Bakayoko was flown to France on 18 February after he had apparently contracted Covid-19 twice in previous months, alongside a malaria infection, to which he reportedly ascribed a persistent state of tiredness. Previous medical checks in Paris in January apparently yielded no results and media reports suggest that he has now been transferred to a hospital in Germany. While reliable information is impossible to come by, the official radio silence surrounding Bakayoko suggests that his state is indeed severe.

Bakayoko had been appointed prime minister in July 2020 following the sudden death of Amadou Gon Coulibaly, Ouattara’s closest confidant. At the time, Ouattara had to choose between a candidate from the party establishment represented by Achi, or the then-defense minister Bakayoko, who is more popular outside the party but lacks deep networks within the RHDP. Fearing an Angola-style scenario, i.e. being targeted by his successor once he steps down, Ouattara does not appear to trust either camp too much. Nevertheless, the new interim arrangement may become permanent even if Bakayoko, whom the Achi faction has reportedly managed to increasingly isolate in recent months, may still stage a comeback.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s parliamentary election was the first vote in about ten years in which all major parties did participate, as the opposition had abandoned its unsuccessful boycott strategy following the October 2020 presidential election. Instead, Henri Konan Bedie’s Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI) had formed an electoral alliance with the wing of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) led by exiled former President Laurent Gbagbo, while the FPI faction led by Pascal Affi N’Guessan competed independently. As such, the vote also signaled an endgame for control of the FPI between Gbagbo and N’Guessan, and is further testimony of eternally fluid allegiances in Ivorian politics. Back in October, N’Guessan still served as Bedie’s main ally.

While voting day itself passed off with few disruptions, both the ruling party and opposition subsequently claimed to have secured a majority in the 255-member national assembly. Full official results are only expected by mid-week. Rather than consolidating a ‘return to normal’ following the hugely controversial presidential election, another post-election dispute may thus be in the offing.

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