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A Political Earthquake is Rumbling through Côte d’Ivoire

On April 28, an Ivorian court found Guillaume Soro, a hopeful in the October presidential election, guilty of embezzlement and money laundering. The 48-year-old former rebel commander-in-chief was sentenced to 20 years in jail. The political dimension of Soro’s conviction was not lost on Ivorian citizens. They have watched his rise to power over the past two decades. But his presidential ambitions largely explain his judicial downfall. Soro’s conviction can be understood as the latest chapter of a power struggle that began to unravel since President Alassane Ouattara’s re-election in October 2015. There is arguably nobody in Ivory Coast who contributed more to Ouattara’s ascent to the presidency than Soro. Soro was the commander-in-chief of the rebel forces that brought former President Laurent Gbagbo’s illiberal regime to an end. Soro’s military and political struggle to topple Gbagbo began with the failed coup of September 2002. It lasted until Gbagbo’s defeat and arrest in April 2011. Ouattara felt understandably indebted to Soro and rewarded him generously. For this reason, he also turned a blind eye on the atrocities perpetrated by Soro’s rebels as they marched on Abidjan. But as time passed and the wartime loyalties faded away, Soro’s past became a political liability for Ouattara and a looming threat for Ivory Coast’s fragile democracy.