Despite winning the presidential poll, new Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara could only take power with the help of Ivorian Prime Minister Guillaume Soro’s fighters, who are seen by analysts as the regime’s pillar.
Soro’s fighters backed Ouattara and launched an offensive to overthrow former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, who had refused to accept defeat by his rival in the Nov. 28 presidential run-off.
“Alassane Ouattara won the presidential election ... but he was made king by the weapons of Guillaume Soro and France,” regional observer Antoine Glaser said.
Pro-Ouattara forces, backed by UN and French troops, seized Gbagbo on April 11 from a bunker in the presidential residence where he had been holed up.
The 38-year-old Soro was the leader of the New Forces rebels who ruled the northern half of Ivory Coast when the country was split into two, with Gbagbo wielding authority in the south.
Following a 2007 peace deal with the government, Soro become Gbagbo’s prime minister, but later switched allegiance to Ouattara, whom he backed with his fighters, renamed Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI), to drive out Gbagbo.
“Alassane Ouattara chose a combatant as prime minister to respond to Laurent Gbagbo’s forces,” said Gilles Yabi, the International Crisis Group’s west Africa region chief.
“The political and social forces that helped Ouattara win elections had to give way to military forces that helped him effectively take power,” Yabi added.
Ouattara continues to rely on the FRCI to restore security in the country, notably in the main city of Abidjan where hardline pro-Gbabo fighters are still operating and refuse to lay down arms.
However, the FRCI last week eliminated militia leader Ibrahim Coulibaly, who had settled in Abidjan’s northern Abobo district with his men. Coulibaly was killed days after Ouattara threatened to use force to disarm militia still active in the city.
A former coup-leader, Coulibaly was also seen as a threat to the fledgling Ivory Coast government, especially being a longtime rival of Soro who ousted him as the leader of their rebel group which tried to topple Gbagbo in 2002.
“In the recent weeks it seemed like preparations were under way for the night of the long knives. Ibrahim Coulibaly had political ambitions, but he was mostly suspected of being behind an attack on Guillaume Soro’s plane in 2007,” Glaser added.
Almost three weeks after Gbagbo was captured, the new regime has yet to fully secure Abidjan, where normal life is creeping back after civil servants resumed work and public services are being restored.
“As long as the situation doesn’t return to normal in Ivory Coast and as long as there is insecurity, Guillaume Soro, the prime minister and minister for defense, will be the country’s strongman,” Glaser said. “All depends on Alassane Ouattara’s capacity to make the institutions work and unify the army. The more the country stabilizes, the more powerful Ouattara will be.”