DAKAR (Reuters) – Former Ivory Coast rebel leader Guillaume Soro has announced he will run in next year’s presidential election, a vote seen as a major test of stability in the West African country after two civil wars this century.
Soro, 47, led the rebels that tried and failed to oust former President Laurent Gbagbo in 2002, dividing the country for nearly a decade until a second civil war in 2010-11 installed Alassane Ouattara in the presidency instead.
But Soro has since fallen out with Ouattara and his candidacy could open fissures within the ruling coalition because the president is widely expected to back his prime minister, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, in the 2020 election.
Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa and was the fastest growing economy in West Africa last year, thanks to its agriculture, construction and retail sectors.
“There are pro-Soro political parties that have already chosen me as their candidate,” Soro said in a video of remarks to supporters in Spain over the weekend posted on his Facebook page. “So, I will be a candidate.”
Ouattara, 77, has said he intends to hand power to a younger generation at the 2020 election but he has also argued that a constitutional change in 2016 cancels out previous term limits, so he could stand again. His opponents dispute this.
Soro has served in the past as prime minister and speaker of parliament. Analysts say his relative youth and charisma could make him a strong candidate.
He also retains the loyalty of many former rebel commanders who now hold senior positions in the national army and control access to large stocks of weapons, analysts say.
Soro is the first major politician to announce his candidacy. There is a chance he could be up against Gbagbo, the president his rebels drove from power in 2011 after a disputed election.
Gbagbo, who was freed by the International Criminal Court in The Hague in February after being acquitted of war crimes during the civil war, has not yet said whether he will run.
The prosecution has appealed the ruling and Gbagbo, who is 74, has not yet been allowed to return to Ivory Coast.
About 3,000 people died in the 2010-11 civil war. Gbagbo’s supporters say he was unfairly singled out by the international tribunal because rebels who committed abuses during the fighting have not been sent to The Hague.
(Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by David Clarke)