In Côte d'Ivoire, a halftone opposition a year after the return of Laurent Gbagbo

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The return to Côte d’Ivoire of former President Laurent Gbagbo on June 17, 2021 paved the way for outspoken opposition to the party of Head of State Alassane Ouattara. A year later, the rapprochement between the various Ivorian parties, thanks to the national reconciliation project, suggests the opposite. Where is the opposition, a year after the return of Laurent Gbagbo?

On June 17, 2021, the day of Laurent Gbagbo’s return to Côte d’Ivoire, the Yopougon district was in turmoil. But today, the atmosphere is much calmer in the streets of this popular district of Abidjan, stronghold of the former Ivorian president. Raphaël welcomes this: “We want peace, that’s the most important thing.” This ex-policeman from the Niangon district has been enjoying his new life in Abidjan since his return from Togo where he remained after 11 years in exile.

A sympathizer of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) of Laurent Gbagbo, he had to flee the country in 2011. Raphaël returned in November 2021, five months after the return of his idol. A return synonymous for him with a new chapter to write: “Once Laurent Gbagbo returned, it was a sign that our safety was assured, so I returned with my wife.”

Adama Bictogo, a decried figure elected almost unanimously

In June 2021, the return of Laurent Gbagbo embodied a promise of appeasement for Côte d’Ivoire. This event was also to mark the birth of strong opposition to President Alassane Ouattara and his party, the RHDP (Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace). A hope nourished by the enthusiasm of Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters who had swept through the streets of the Ivorian economic capital on June 17.

The rapprochement with Henri Konan Bédié’s Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) in July, then the creation of the African Peoples’ Party-Côte d’Ivoire (PPA-CI) in October, marked progress towards the establishment of outspoken opposition to the current government.

However, the vote of June 7 reveals another dynamic. That day, the main opposition parties – including Laurent Gbagbo’s PPA-CI – aligned themselves with the presidential party to elect, almost unanimously (97.5% of the vote), Adama Bictogo to the presidency of the National Assembly. A figure however decried by the opposition, in particular during the presidential campaign of 2020.

Alassane Ouattara in a “hegemonic” position

A vote that the various parties explain by the desire to support the national reconciliation project led by Prime Minister Patrick Achi. In an interview with France 24, Adama Bictogo welcomes this vote, seeing it as a sign of “a peaceful context (…) which should bring us to peace”. Same story within the party of Laurent Gbagbo: for the deputy Lanciné Soumahoro, it is an act which “proves that the opposition takes its responsibilities with regard to social peace”.

However, the political observers contacted by France 24 perceive in this unanimous vote a weakness of the opposition. “Laurent Gbagbo’s PPA-CI is bound hand and foot. Laurent Gbagbo is not receiving his presidential retirement, many activists are still in prison. If they want to get something, they have every interest in keeping a low profile”, emphasizes political analyst Sylvain N’Guessan. “Ouattara is in a hegemonic position in the political arena. He has succeeded in neutralizing his adversaries”, adds Rodrigue Koné, political scientist at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

The separation from Simone Gbagbo and the FPI

The choices made by the former president since his return could partly explain this situation: “The separation from his wife, Simone Gbagbo and his former party, the FPI led by Pascal Affi N’Guessan, will have contributed to crumble the camp Gbagbo. However, if they came together and managed to form an alliance with the other opposition parties, they would have a chance of overturning the table”, analyzes Rodrigue Koné.

The request for divorce from his wife and co-founder of the party, Simone Gbagbo, a few days after his return to Côte d’Ivoire, will have demobilized some of Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters: “This leads everyone to ask questions. They say to themselves: ‘if he is ready to part with Affi Nguessan and Simone Gbagbo, what will it be for us?'”, observes Sylvain N’Guessan.

A new party under construction

Among the supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, the former GOR – Gbagbo or nothing – the time is not for alliances but for the construction of this new party, the PPA-CI. “We come from afar. The president was deported, many activists are no longer with us. Today, we have a new structure, so we have to rebuild everything”, specifies Éric, delegate of the local section.

Since its creation in October 2021, the watchword has been reconstruction and recruitment. The front pages of newspapers affiliated with Laurent Gbagbo highlight the dynamics of the party every day, especially among young people. “Laurent Gbagbo builds his popularity with pan-African ideas, speeches that are currently on the rise in Africa with the new generation”, observes Rodrigue Koné. A dynamic to be observed with caution: “Without means, without funding, it’s complicated. If there was such enthusiasm, it would be known”, nuances analyst Sylvain N’Guessan.

The law on term limits

Pending the structuring of the new party, it is difficult for the PPA-CI to position itself without knowing whether Laurent Gbagbo will be able to be a candidate in 2025. For the past year, all eyes have been on a law limiting the age of presidential contenders and which constitutes the major question mark of Ivorian politics. This law will be discussed at the beginning of next year in the National Assembly. If passed, it would dismiss Laurent Gbagbo, Alassane Ouattara and Henri Konan Bédié from the next presidential race. It will undoubtedly be mentioned during the meeting between the three men, announced by Adama Bictogo to France 24.

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