Mamadou Koulibaly, the former speaker of the Ivorian National Assembly, and the interim president of former President Laurent Gbagbo’s defeated Front Populaire Ivorien (FPI), has formed his own party, Liberty and Democracy for the Republic. In this interview, he tells Ruth Tete why the FPI did not join President Alassane Ouattara’s new “unity government” and stresses that pro- Gbagbo supporters have accepted Ouattara as president.
Q: How would you describe the general climate in Côte d’Ivoire after the recent inauguration of President Alassane Ouattara?
A: While the situation is improving somewhat, the lack of security remains pervasive. Looting, attacks and intimidation are still commonplace. The new army put in place by the government, the Force Republicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), is everywhere in the city of Abidjan. Yet regular police forces have the primary role to ensure law and order. The FRCI is essentially made up of young people from the North who for the most part have no formal education and lack military training. This makes maintaining public order extremely chaotic and difficult.
While the FRCI is assigned to maintain law and order, its members take part in witch hunts and harassment of opponents to the new regime under the pretext that they may be harbouring weapons. We are quite hopeful that things will continue to improve, now that the new government is in place, and that Abidjan will once again become a city where people are free to come and go as they please. It is also hoped that the regular police forces, which include policemen and gendarmes, will go back to work if an end is firmly put to the current practice of intimidation and humiliation that also targets them.
Q:In his speech after the inauguration, President Alassane Ouattara said he would form a government of national unity. He has since announced his government, but doesn’t it fall short of the unity government he had promised?
A: President Ouattara has formed a government consisting of members from his party and from the broader political alliance that supported his election. That is how it should be. He should be able to rely on a government that shares his vision for Côte d’Ivoire and one that will allow him to implement the programe he was elected for. This is very important.
As early as 2000, former President Laurent Gbagbo made the mistake of forming a government of national unity, which only led to inertia and paralysis. It is important that President Ouattara and his team have full control of the government for them to be held accountable by the Ivorian people, for its successes as well as its failures.
It is, however, a pity that both women and the younger generation are so grossly under-represented in this government. I believe that both groups would have greatly contributed to the reconciliation process and the regeneration of the political process in the country.
Q: No members of the Front Populaire Iviorien (FPI) were included in the new government, why?
A: Two ministerial posts were offered to the FPI. As the interim president of the party at the time, I called a general meeting to debate whether we should participate. The meeting concluded that it was not desirable that the FPI be part of the government.
Power sharing usually leads to failure and lack of accountability. In addition, we believe that the prevailing security conditions do not as yet allow the opposition to operate normally. President Ouattara was expecting our participation as a token gesture for reconciliation, but in our opinion it would only have been more about ticking the box. True reconciliation cannot be only about sharing the national cake. It requires more profound and essential elements such as how justice will be administered and rendered in the country.
Q: Do you think that The Hague is a solution or a better alternative to reconciliation in Côte d’Ivoire?
A: I believe that the choice of an intervention by the International Criminal Court in Côte d’Ivoire is a highly sensitive one. In fact, for its actions to be reconciliatory, the court’s mandate should be to look into all the atrocities committed by both sides, without exception. However, I fear that we are gearing towards a one-sided form of justice – the “bad guys” who lost the elections on one side, and on the other side the “good guys” who won the elections and are supported by the “international community”. But we all know that since 2002, crimes against humanity, human rights abuses and economic plunder have been committed by all sides, in fact the Gbagbo clan is far from being the only one responsible. Either everyone is prosecuted or no one is, at all. Maybe we should benefit from the experiences of South Africa or Rwanda in our approach to achieving justice and equity. We hope that Charles Konan Banny, who has been chosen to preside over the reconciliation process, although politically close to the Ouattara clan, will lead a fair reconciliation process, for this is crucial for the future of the country.
Q: At this point in time, can we say that Côte d’Ivoire has a parliament? And do you still consider yourself as the president or speaker of the National Assembly?
A: President Ouattara has promised to hold parliamentary elections before the end of this year. What role do you intend to play in the new Côte d’Ivoire under President Ouattara?
Whilst the Ivorian constitution has been disregarded since 2003, it does require that parliament remains in place until the next legislative elections to avoid a vacuum. Therefore, from a legal standpoint, the current parliament remains effective and as someone who is keen to uphold legal principles and the rule of law, I still consider myself as the speaker of this parliament until the next legislative elections take place.
We hope that the dates for the election will be announced shortly. More importantly, we think it is even more imperative to address a number of fundamental questions to ensure that the elections are clean and proceed without problems.
For example, it is necessary to revisit the composition of the electoral commission which is currently significantly skewed in favour of Ouattara’s clan, and review the electoral constituencies.
It will also be essential to ensure security for the contestants. These are essential prerequisites for the elections. In Africa, there is too often a willingness to accept poor electoral frameworks and conditions before the ballot and then complain after the event, when everybody knew that these circumstances would not be conducive to clean results.
The rules of the game must be agreed beforehand by all parties before the elections, to avoid post-election disputes. Côte d’Ivoire has already paid dearly for these mistakes in the past, and it would be criminal to repeat them!
For my part, I intend to contest the parliamentary elections. I also intend to continue to actively lead the opposition as I don’t share the commonly-held belief in Africa that opposition parties are essentially losers awaiting their turn. Instead, my view is that they are an essential and dynamic group looking after the public interest through constructive control and constructive criticism of government actions.
This is how I see my role in the new political environment in Côte d’Ivoire. I expect to continue to be actively involved in promoting liberal ideas in Africa through the independent think-tank that I have created, the Audace Institut Afrique.
Q: As there is no “sitting” parliament at the moment in Côte d’Ivoire, there is speculation that President Ouattara may be tempted to rule by decree. Do you share the same view?
A: That speculation may very well turn out to be correct if President Ouattara does not take action to improve his political governance. He has already chosen to rule by decree without consulting parliament. At the same time, the opposition media remain unable to voice their views, and no attempt is being made to reinstate their freedom of speech at a time when members of the opposition are marginalized and looked at with suspicion.
The former warlords of the 2002 rebellion, now commonly referred to as the “ComZones”, are the masters of Abidjan, levying and imposing various taxes and hunting those who refuse to be subdued. If nothing is done to correct this, we would end up in a kind of dictatorship officially sanctioned by the international community.
I do believe, however, that President Ouattara will take the necessary steps to get out of this oppressive state of affairs. He has, on numerous occasions, expressed his desire to return to the rule of law. Now that his government is formed, we are extremely hopeful for a speedy return to democracy and the rule of law.
Q: Do you think that Côte d’Ivoire has a functional and effective judiciary with the necessary separation of powers to ensure justice for all?
A: As is the case in many African countries, the Ivorian judiciary is fragile and the separation of powers is far from perfect. A lot of work needs to be done in this area on which the reconciliation process and economic regeneration critically depend. When contracts are not robustly protected by the judiciary, investment doesn’t occur. I have been a strong critic of all forms of favouritism in the recruitment of public servants. Competence should be the sole selection criterion.
Q: How does your party see the future?
A: Pro-FPI supporters are not interested in revenge. Whatever the conditions under which Ouattara came to power, they have accepted him as president. They want to rebuild their lives.
After all is said and done, they want to take their rightful place in Ivorian society, and restart their professional activities since they face financial hardships. One cannot live in a permanent state of coups, of trying to unseat governments that are already in place. We have lived through that kind of atmosphere since 1999, but it should not become the only mode of operation in people’s minds. On the contrary, pro-Gbagbo [FPI] supporters see things differently. They see their fight in the context of a democratic and legitimate opposition.
Q: What message do you have for the Ivorian people, who have been traumatized by the crisis in which thousands have lost their lives?
A: To begin with, I share the pain of the victims and their families as we are all extremely affected by the consequences of violence. Secondly I would like the Ivorian people to understand that politics is not a game and that mistakes and the lack of vision can lead to situations of disproportionate suffering. They must understand the risk of a state whose foundation is built around a few men who are intoxicated by the excesses of power. It will be necessary for us today to fight for a concrete decentralisation of power as well as individual liberties. Leaders must be servants of the people.
Q: It is extremely important that Ivorians be conscious of that, because without this awareness how would they fight for their rights?
A: “It would be desirable for the country to create a situation of bipolarity, with a strong and unified opposition that can play its role of providing checks and balances”
The Ivorians of tomorrow must be actors and no longer the victims of the excesses of power barons. I urge all Ivorians to understand their rights and responsibilities and to radically break away from the concepts of Ivoirité, tribalism, ethnocentricism, and the cult of political power-worshipping.
A great society, an open society which is free, democratic, and with a people who own the heritage of their nation, is beckoning.
We must create the ties that bind us together.