Côte d’Ivoire and the Soro Saga: Ignoring History and the Consequences.

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The world-acclaimed Nigerian prolific author Chinua Achebe wrote in his memoir There was a country that “a man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body.” This simple, yet powerful proverb carefully summarizes the problem facing many African countries, in particular, Côte d’Ivoire (also called Ivory Coast), as the country’s court on Tuesday sentenced exiled former prime minister Guillaume Soro to 20 years in jail on charges of embezzlement and money laundering.

Interestingly, the 47- year- old Mr Soro, a former rebel leader helped President Alassane Ouattara to come to power in 2010 following the political violence that claimed 3 000 lives after former President Koudou Laurent Gbagborefused to leave the political arena following his Presidential election defeat in the hands of Alassane Ouattara. To regain his political mandate, Alassane Ouattara needed the military help from Guillaume Soro to defeat Gbagbo, who was later arrested and handed over to the International Criminal court (ICC).  Guillaume Soro became an ally to Ouattara and served as prime minister and then parliamentary speaker under him until last year. Their political bromance suddenly soured  immediately Mr Soro revealed his presidential ambitions in the up-coming election scheduled in October 2020, which will see the end of President Alassane Ouattara’s term. Ouattara is barred by the constitution to sit for the third term after his second term expires.

In what many have called a political witch hunt, the Abidjan court on Tuesday sentenced Mr Soro to 20 years in jail, which effectively banned him from contesting in the October Presidential elections. That is not all. The court barred him from civic duties for five years and fined him almost seven million euros (4.5 billion FCFA), for money laundering and embezzlement. Furthermore, the court ordered Soro to pay 3 million euros (2 billion FCFA) in damages to the state of Côte d’Ivoire and authorised the authority to confiscate Soro’s Abidjan home, allegedly purchased with public money.

The court also issued a new arrest warrant against Soro, whose February warrant was declared “null and void.”

Guillaume Soro’s conviction has been greeted with an outcry in some quarters. Mr Soro, who is currently living in France has labelled the court verdict a “parody” and an attempt to ban him from challenging the candidate of the ruling party, whom many analysts believe might lose against Mr Solo.

Soro had since taken his case to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“I am still running for the presidency and I will win,” Soro responded on social networks.

The Tanzania-based African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights had recently ordered Ivory Coast to immediately suspend the arrest warrant issued against Soro. Instead of obeying the court orders, the government of Ivory Coast withdrew from the African Human Rights and Peoples Court, a week after the court orders. Defending the government’s decision to withdraw its membership of the court, government spokesman Sidi Toure said:

“We respect our international commitments, but we also appreciate our sovereignty.”

Those claims bring one back to the famous Achebe’s warning that “a man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body.”

There was a country called Côte d’Ivoire, which used to be one of the most stable and economically powerful countries in Africa. Today, although Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s biggest exporter of cocoa, accounting for  1,448,992 tonnes of cocoa export yearly, its stability and economy have been severely damaged due to the refusal or Ivorian leaders to learn from history. Former President Koudou Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to vacate the political arena after he lost the Presidential election to incumbent President Alassane Ouattara led to the civil war that resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives. The political and economic fallout of the senseless war has put a permanent scar in the history of the country. The social fabric that had held the country together since its independence from France started disentangling and disintegrating, causing ethnic consciousness and rebellion amongst Ivorians. Presently, the blister left in the economic, social and political life of Ivory Coast due to the refusal of its leaders heed to the history is too obvious and dangerous to ignore.  

Ironically, following the death of thousands of Ivorians during the civil war, it took the then opposition leader Alassane Ouattara and Guillaume Soro to restore normalcy in Ivory Coast and prevented the country from descending into perpetual anarchy, simply because President Laurent Gbagbo had refused to listen to the history. Now, as the President, Alassane Ouattara has ignored the Gbagbo experience and history and has systematically pulled the trigger that could exterminate all the political, economic, social gains Ivory Coast has made, following the end of the civil war.  Will the Alassane Ouattara and Guillaume Soro, who brought peace to Ivory Coast be the catalyst that will destabilise the country?

“He quickly forgot that the justice system he is manipulating today is the same one that decreed him ineligible a few years ago … The rest we all know: he became president,” Guillaume Soro reminded President Alassane Ouattara.

A man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body.

Photo: TV5Monde