Ahead of the 2020 elections, succession politics will dominate most other government business, resulting in policy paralysis, while the risk of outbreaks of partisan violence and even coup attempts will increase.

On 31 May, the office of President Alassane Ouattara announced that the president had appointed a 10-member experts panel, including Justice Minister Sansan Kambile along with legal experts and law professors, to draft a new constitution. The new constitution is likely to omit a controversial nationality clause that has alienated many immigrants from neighbouring countries. Yet the main objective behind the constitutional reform will be planning for Ouattara’s succession in 2020, when he is due to end his second and final term in office. Currently, Speaker of Parliament Guillaume Soro is constitutionally next in line to succeed the president if he is incapacitated, while fresh elections are due within 90 days. EXX Africa sources in Abidjan claim that Ouattara is seeking to create the post of vice president to ensure a direct succession in case he is incapacitated and to allow him to appoint a favourite for the 2020 succession.

The constitutional reform process is likely to frustrate the succession ambitions of Soro, who is also the leader of the former Forces Nouvelles rebel group that supported Ouattara in a brief 2010-11 civil war. Soro’s former partners still control substantial territory under the influence of ‘com-zones’ or warlords and have access to arms outside of state control. If Soro is deprived of a viable chance to succeed Ouattara, he would be increasingly likely to stage an unconstitutional transfer of power with the support of the former Forces Nouvelles rebels. However, Soro has been significantly weakened over the past few years over human rights abuse allegations and conspiracy to stage a coup in neighbouring Burkina Faso. Nevertheless, he still commands significant support across the country and has strong name recognition, unlike many other party leaders within the governing Rassemblement des républicains (RDR) party.

RDR party chiefs that are lining up to prevent Soro’s succession include Secretary General to the Presidency Amadou Gon Coulibaly, Commerce Minister Jean-Louis Billon, and RDR Acting Secretary General Amadou Soumahoro. Meanwhile, Ouattara is widely reported to favour Minister of Internal Affairs and Security Hamed Bakayoko as his eventual successor. However, many ‘old guard’ RDR leaders have also been weakened and are perceived as out of touch with the party’s grassroots supporters. Special Advisor to the Presidency Ibrahim Cissé has been placed in charge of seeking to placate the grievances of many party supporters.

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Meanwhile, the RDR’s governing partners in the Parti démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) party are stepping up calls for the governing Rassemblement des houphouëtistes pour la démocratie et la paix RHDP) coalition leadership to be transferred to the PDCI once Ouattara’s term ends. PDCI leaders such as party Executive Secretary Maurice Kacou Guikahoué, former banker Thierry Tanoh, and PDCI former youth leader Kouadio Konan Bertin are also lining up for the RHDP nomination to succeed Ouattara, even though the RDR leadership has effectively ruled out such a transfer to the PDCI for the 2020 elections.

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Risk implications: The constitutional reform process is likely to determine the succession of President Ouattara as he eventually appoints a vice president indicating his favourite to succeed him in 2020. However, Guillaume Soro will seek to appeal to the RDR and PDCI’s disgruntled grassroots supporters to build a national support base and to secure the RHDP nomination. If he is fails to secure the nomination or is thwarted by RDR party leaders, Soro’s allies such as Bouaké ‘com-zone’ Martin Kouakou Fofié, will be increasingly likely to regroup the Forces Nouvelles rebel group and begin a violent insurgency against the government, including political assassinations, grenade attacks on security forces, and possibly an unconstitutional transfer of power in favour of Soro.

Moreover, government policy will be dominated by the constitutional reform process and the politics of succession in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. This will increase the risk of licensing delays and politically-motivated decision-making for the crucial oil and mining sectors, as well as the booming construction, banking, retail, and telecoms sectors. President Ouattara will struggle to retain control over the RHDP as the RDR and PDCI compete for the presidential nomination, resulting in fractures and divisive disputes within the government. Meanwhile, Soro’s influence in the national assembly will be aimed at frustrating the government’s policies and advocating his own agenda to succeed Ouattara in 2020.

Robert Besseling is the founder and executive director of EXX AFRICA, a specialist intelligence company that reports on African political and economic risk to businesses. He holds an MA (Hons.) in History from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He also has an MBA and a PhD in African political and economic history.

Visit Frontera’s Research and Intelligence Marketplace for more of EXX AFRICA’s reporting on political and economic risk throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

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