Over the weekend, former presidents Laurent Gbagbo (76; 2000-2011) and Henri Konan Bedie (87; 1993-1999) met at Bedie's rural estate in Douakro. The former arch enemies' very public meeting solidifies an opposition alliance that has been in the making since 2019. It is far from certain whether the aging duo, both of whom are not undisputed within their own parties, will manage to stay united until the 2025 presidential election. Nevertheless, such an alliance would likely shift the political arithmetic in favor of the opposition. Until then, the two leaders will likely mobilize against President Alassane Ouattara (79; 2011 to date) by questioning the legitimacy of his third term and pushing a yet-to-be defined “reconciliation” agenda.
As previously analyzed, at its core, Cote d'Ivoire remains a three-party political system. As per the 2010 first-round results – the last time the three heavyweights of Ivorian politics ran against each other in elections deemed reasonably free and fair – Ouattara polled merely 32%, against Bedie's 25% and Gbagbo's 38%. Meanwhile, most eligible voters reside in the center and the south, where the opposition has its traditional strongholds, even though Ouattara's Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) have made major inroads there over the past decade.
While Bedie, in 2010, threw his support behind Ouattara in the second-round vote that led to Gbagbo's defeat and his subsequent extradition to The Hague, both men have reconciled ever since Bedie once again broke with Ouattara in 2018. Following a first personal meeting in Brussels in 2019, Gbagbo tacitly supported Bedie's boycott of the October 2020 presidential election, and his wing of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and Bedie's Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI) collaborated openly during the March 2021 parliamentary elections.
Both have incentives to continue their collaboration in the near term to fend off internal opposition: Gbabgo needs to consolidate his grip on the FPI, the legally recognized arm of which is still led by former prime minister Pascal Affi N'Guessan, while Bedie's failed election boycott strategy has reignited internal criticism.
For now, Ouattara provides the glue that keeps his enemies together. In their statements, both Bedie and Gbagbo remained vague; Gbagbo in particular has to tread a thin line as Ouattara keeps a suspended prison sentence as leverage. Nevertheless, Gbagbo implicitly questioned the legitimacy of Ouattara's controversial third term by calling upon African heads of state to respect their constitutions. Both former presidents also emphasized the need for “reconciliation”, traditionally considered Ouattara's weak spot and typically encompassing issues such as the release of remaining political prisoners, as well as electoral reforms. It remains to be seen which concrete demands they might make, as Bedie suggested more details were to follow in the weeks to come. While pushing the reconciliation line against Ouattara may have its obvious advantages, it also has at least one major drawback for Gbagbo himself: so far, he has avoided any mention of, let alone offering an excuse for, his own role during the 2010/11 political crisis during which some 3,000 people died.