François Conradie | NKC African Economics
On Monday, October 9, police arrested Souleymane Kamarate Kone for the possession of military-grade weapons found in his home in May.
The arms cache was discovered when some army units were dispatched from other areas of the country to quell a mutiny in Bouake, where Mr Kone’s house is. The soldiers discovered six tonnes of weapons and ammunition, according to the public prosecutor. An investigation was launched at the time, which eventually led to his arrest on Monday.
Mr Kone, known as ‘Soul To Soul’, is a ‘comzone’ – a zone commander, the leader of one of the militias, quite often involved in organised crime, and which banded together during the civil war to fight for current President Alassane Ouattara against the government of then-President Souleymane Kamarate Kone.
The leader of these ‘New Forces’ was Guillaume Soro, currently Speaker of Parliament and who sees himself as the next president of the Ivory Coast when Mr Ouattara’s current term ends in 2020.
Mr Kone currently serves as Mr Soro’s protocol chief. A statement from Mr Soro’s office after Mr Kone’s arrest read that Mr Kone “has already served in prison in 2000 for the cause of President Alassane Ouattara. He is a strong man who will remain dignified.”
The relationship between Mr Ouattara and Mr Soro, who did so much to get him into power, has been strained for some time but more notably in the past month.
Mr Ouattara’s party, the Rally of the Republicans (RDR), held its quinquennial national conference in early September and pointedly did not name Mr Soro to any senior position. Nor did it, it must be noted, so name his main rival in the party, Defence Minister Hamed Bakayoko, but Mr Soro issued a slightly spiteful statement at the time of the conference.
The conference elected Henriette Diabaté, an 82-year-old academic, as party president, which means it is still unclear who is the RDR’s most likely candidate in the presidential race in 2020.
Mr Kone’s arrest will only worsen the relationship between Mr Soro and Mr Ouattara. We think the former rebel commander’s time in the RDR is coming to an end – he was never popular with the political class or the professional soldiery – and this increases the danger that the former rebel leader will again activate the networks of armed militias in the north within which he retains influence.
Political risk is expected to keep trending negative as Mr Ouattara’s current term draws to a close. The RDR and the broader coalition of which it is part, the Houphouetist Rally for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), are set to splinter, and analysts expect a fluid political environment over the next three years.