The sudden death of Alassane Ouattara’s chosen successor could see him run for a third term as president of Ivory Coast, countering the push in Africa to limit leaders’ stay in office.
Ouattara helped secure the party ticket for Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly after announcing in March he would step down. That ended uncertainty over his intentions after hinting in 2018 he was considering extending his mandate to ensure economic gains were sustained in the world’s biggest cocoa producer.
Now that his protégé has died, Ouattara is facing pressure to reverse that decision.
Ouattara’s “mission isn’t completed yet,” Kobenan Kouassi Adjoumani, a spokesman for the ruling Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace, said Wednesday in a speech that urged the incumbent to stand for re-election. The party is reconsidering its options, including a third term bid, its executive director Adama Bictogo told reporters last week. “As of today, everything is possible.”
A Ouattara bid would buck the respect for term limits that’s gained momentum in Africa, and particularly West Africa, over the past decade after a history of leaders extending their rule. On the other hand, the lack of a clear candidate for the ruling party weakens its campaign pledge to provide continuity after years of rapid growth.
Burkina Faso demonstrators blocked a 2014 attempt to change the constitution to allow President Blaise Compaore to extend his mandate. In 2016, the Economic Community of West African States took rare military action to unseat Yahya Jammeh, who’d vowed to lead Gambia for “a billion years.”
Ouattara, 78, who hasn’t commented since Gon Coulibaly’s death, had previously said a new constitution adopted in 2016 wipes his slate clean and allows him to run again.
The RHDP, which has called the situation “a force majeure,” is expected to announce its candidate this month.
“There’s pressure on the ruling party to make a decision,” said William Assanvo, a senior West Africa researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies. “This may make people more understanding.”
However, it isn’t yet clear whether the constitution allows it, he said.
Ouattara’s presidency ushered in a period of stability for Ivory Coast, where elections have historically been fraught. More than 3,000 people died in 2011 when former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat.
Since he took office mid-2011, the economy expanded by an average 8.5% a year. Growth is expected to slow in 2020 due to the impact of Covid-19.
French President Emmanuel Macron had welcomed Ouattara’s decision in March not to stand for re-election, describing him then as a “man of his word and a statesman.” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met with Ouattara Monday in Abidjan, but the details of their conversation weren’t made public.
“Since the end of the civil war, Ivory Coast has been a darling of the international community and leading democracy in West Africa,” according to Judd Devermont, the director of the Africa Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “What happens in Ivory Coast will reverberate throughout the region.”