By Nfor Susungi
Let me start by telling you a true story. In 1996 Chairman John Fru Ndi travelled through Abidjan to Mali to attend some socialist meeting there with President Alpha Oumar Konare and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (who is now the President) (both of them socialists). On his way back he got stuck at the airport in Abidjan because he did not have a visa to Cote d’Ivoire. While killing time at the airport he was noticed by an Ivorian policeman because he was wearing his trademark traditional dress. When the Chairman explained his visa status to the policeman, the officer reported the matter to his boss. Before long, the matter had been transmitted through channels to the highest ranks of the police to the Minister of the Interior and finally to President Henri Konan Bédié.
President Bédié reacted by giving instructions that the Chairman should be given a visa and brought into Abidjan as a guest of the Ivorian government. He was lodged at Hotel Ivoire. Before long the Chairman was brought to President Bédié’s home in Cocody where he was received by the Ivorian President.
During his meeting “en tête a tête”, with Chairman John Fru Ndi, the Ivorian President called Laurent Gbagbo ( at that time President of the FPI) and said: “Hey Laurent, j’ai ton ami Fru Ndi avec moi dans mon bureau. Je te l’envoie après”. In spite of the fact that Henri Konan Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo were political adversaries, the strange camaraderie between them illustrates the fact that politics in Cote d’Ivoire was still being played at a certain level of parliamentary honour.
I speak as a witness to these events and to the fact that the FPI and the SDF are close political parties and that the relationship between the John Fru Ndi and Laurent Gbagbo has been close. President Laurent Gbagbo came to power on 26 October 2000 following the presidential elections which were organized by Robert Guéi. But the traumatic events which were to trail Cote d’Ivoire for ten years started with the attempted coup of 19 September 2002 which gave rise to a rebellion that resulted in the country being split into two. There is no question about the fact that Mr. Soro Guillaume Kigbafori was a central part of that rebellion.
Following a series of conferences and peace talks in various African cities, a Union Government was formed at the head of which Mr. Soro Guilllaume was named Prime Minister and head of a government by President Laurent Gbagbo himself and he occupied that position from 4 April 2007 to 4 December 2010. This is the government composition which went to the contested presidential elections of November 2010 following which Soro Guillaume resigned as Prime Minister in the ensuing electoral dispute. After Alassane Ouattara was sworn in as President on 6 May 2011, Mr. Soro Guillaume resumed the position of Prime Minister which he occupied till 13 March 2012 under Alassane Ouattara.
It is dangerous for us as foreigners (non-Ivorians) to go back to the question of who won and who lost that election of November 2010 because it is a historical fact that the electoral dispute was finally adjudicated only after the French army pounded the residence of Ivorian President for over two weeks until President Laurent Gbagbo was taken out alive on 6 April 2011. He was finally sent to the Hague to face charges at the ICC after the current President Alassane Ouattara had been sworn-in as the President of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire.
Subsequent parliamentary elections resulted in the emergence of Mr. Soro Guillaume Kigbafori as the new President of the National Assembly. It is very dangerous for us as non Ivorians to go back to labeling anyone as “rebel”. I need not remind you that for a long time certain countries called Nelson Mandela a “terrorist” because of what he had to do at a certain stage of his life. This brings us to the question as to the moral and political justification of the position of the SDF in response to the invitation to the National Assembly in Cameroon.
The Visit of Soro Guillaume to Cameroon
I am of the opinion that the SDF made a mistake in taking such a public position against the visit of Soro Guilllaume in the capacity of the President of the Ivorian National Assembly and instructing its deputies to walk out on the speech of the Ivorian leader. To characterize Soro Guillaume as a “Chief Rebel” is a mistake. He is now the President of the National Assembly and an integral part of constituted authority in the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire. This does not call on anyone to like him or to love him. It calls on everyone to acknowledge and to respect the office because Cote d’Ivoire is a nation that is above Soro Guillaume, Alassane Ouattara, Konan Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo or any other person who might, at one time or another, be called upon by political circumstances to occupy any of the constitutional offices of the land.
It was not necessary for the SDF NEC to pass a resolution distancing itself from the visit of Soro Guillaume to the National Assembly. There are certain political situations which call for a response at a statesman level rather than at a streetsman level. The SDF could have intervened with Cavaye Djibrill the President of the National Assembly to negotiate for a private visit to the Chairman by Soro Guillaume as a condition for the SDF MPs to remain in the Assembly Hall during Soro Guillaume’s speech. This visit would have enabled Mr Soro Guillaume to brief the Chairman John Fru Ndi on the purpose of his visit and it would have also given the Chairman the opportunity to let Mr. Soro Guilllaume know what the SDF thinks about the events that took place in Cote d’Ivoire. It would have been a very suitable occasion for the SDF to call for the release of all political prisoners in Cote d’Ivoire and to summon the Ivorian authorities to do more for reconciliation. If all of this had been done, Mr. Soro Guillaume would have left Cameroon with a completely different view of Cameroonian democracy and the SDF would have emerged the real beneficiary of the visit of Soro Guillaume to Cameroon. Cameroon/ Cote d’Ivoire relations would have been put at a completely different level.
But the SDF decision has put them in a corner and they have emerged gaining nothing out of their approach in handling this event. In fact they are the big losers. I can state with full authority that Laurent Gbagbo will be of the opinion that the SDF made a mistake in handling the matter the way they did. If consulted, Laurent Gbagbo would have encouraged Chairman John Fru Ndi to receive Soro Guillaume who is a mere 42 year old young man, holding a very important position in his country. He wants to reach out and talk to people in a country like Cameroon where most senior positions in the country are still held by much older people. That is why more and more Ivorian leaders are coming to Cameroon. If the Chairman had remembered the way that President Henri Konan Bédié received him in 1996, I am sure that he would have handled the Soro Guillaume visit in a different way.
How to repair the damage
There are certain mistakes which are difficult to correct and we should strive to avoid making them. But any mistake can be corrected once it is acknowledged that it was a mistake. The SDF needs to move quickly to repair the damage. If anyone is interested in knowing how to repair the damage, let them contact me.