Tidjane Thiam: “Côte d’Ivoire needs true reconciliation”

Elected at the head of the Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI) on December 22, 2023, Tidjane Thiam, 61, is both a newcomer to the Ivorian political landscape and a returnee

Tidjane Thiam: “Côte d’Ivoire needs true reconciliation”

Elected at the head of the Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI) on December 22, 2023, Tidjane Thiam, 61, is both a newcomer to the Ivorian political landscape and a returnee. After twenty years spent at the head of large European companies such as the British insurer Prudential or Crédit Suisse, the Franco-Ivorian banker, nephew of former President Félix Houphouët-Boigny and former minister of Henri Konan Bédié – whose funeral will begin on May 20 −, is back in Ivory Coast with obvious presidential ambitions for 2025.

We started from an in-depth consultation with 2,500 section secretaries and local officials. What emerged were first of all the real strengths of the PDCI: a long-standing presence throughout the territory, a pool of skills for the nation, which has provided numerous executives and leaders to Côte d'Ivoire, and a deep attachment to peace and dialogue. We saw this in December when our elective congress was canceled in the middle of the night. Our supporters demonstrated impeccable calm and self-control, even in the face of the exceptional deployment of the police.

But we also identified several opportunities for improvement. The rank and file felt a certain distance between their local leaders and the party's senior leadership. There was also a lack of a common project for the party and Ivory Coast. To compensate for this, we reorganized ourselves on a geographical basis which corresponds to the electoral division and, with a view to decentralization, we have established senior representatives in each of the fourteen districts.

I am delighted to see the recent influx of new members throughout the country: there are nearly 8,000 as we speak. This is a very positive indicator. And 60% of these new members are under 50, which is also a very good thing. It is true that our party is old, but it is important to show that it also has a future. There is real enthusiasm for the speech of appeasement and reconciliation that I give.

The objective is now to build a social project around six main axes: human capital, society, economy and equity, new technologies, sustainable development, peace and security.

Yes, this entire organization is geared towards 2025. We have just moved away from introspection and analysis to take action. The priority now is the massive registration of Ivorians on the electoral register. There are only 8 million registered out of 27 million citizens. For the ballots to be credible, the electorate must be of sufficient size to be representative. We set the goal at 12 million registrants. We also have our reservations, like other opposition parties, about the functioning of the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI), which we would like to see changed. I will do everything in my power to ensure that the election is transparent and fair.

At the PDCI, it is a convention which designates the party candidate. Our extraordinary December congress mandated me to prepare for the 2025 presidential election. So yes, I will stand as a candidate at the upcoming PDCI convention to be the party's candidate for the 2025 presidential election, God willing. wanna.

I was elected with 96% of the votes at the December 22 congress. We also held a broad consultation to develop our joint project. It is not the project of a single person, but the result of collective work. I advocate unity, not unanimity. I will not respond to criticism, I simply want us to be united in action to move forward. I believe in teamwork. I also reached out to PDCI executives who had submitted independent candidacies in the last local elections. I received them, I lifted their sanctions and they resumed their place in the party. As for Jean-Louis Billon, he refused this position but announced that he was staying with the PDCI. It is good that he expressed a desire to stay.

I don't have a reputation problem. The Ivorians know my family, they know me, my background... At the start of my political career, I was advised never to stay in Abidjan for more than a month and I followed this advice religiously. I traveled throughout the territory and the population remembers my visits. I will continue to go into the field, in contact with the Ivorians, to constantly ensure that the program we are presenting meets their expectations.

We are the party of dialogue and peace, we communicate with everyone. Minister [of agriculture] Kobenan Kouassi Adjoumani represented the RHDP [Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace, in power] at our elective congress in December. I met Simone Gbagbo on Thursday, I will also meet the RHDP and the presidency [a meeting with the head of state was planned for Monday March 11]. I want to play peaceful politics.

I have good relations with Laurent Gbagbo. The alliance between our two parties is real and it was further strengthened during this meeting. We certainly have our differences, particularly economic ones. The PDCI is in favor of the market economy, which is not the case for his party... But other meetings are planned in the coming months. Côte d’Ivoire needs true reconciliation.

I think this decision is going in the right direction, it is the price of appeasement. Ivory Coast has had a difficult history since the first coup in 1999. We will never stop deploring the loss of life. The challenges faced by each side must be recognized and all parties must commit not to resort to violence. The role of leaders is to set an example; you cannot build your happiness on the misfortune of others. The same goes for the sub-region: the “fortress Ivory Coast” is a dangerous illusion. Côte d'Ivoire must be at peace, within its borders and with its neighbors.

There has been undeniable growth. From 1980 to 2010, Ivory Coast was strangled by its debt, to which we devoted half of our budget. I was a member of the Commission for Africa set up by [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair in 2004, I fought for us to benefit from historic debt relief. The Ivorian economy has restarted since 2015, the Ivorians are enterprising, our country is rich and fertile... We must now consolidate these gains and better distribute this growth.

We absolutely must invest more and better in education and health, even if it seems costly in the short term. We must also develop better quality agriculture, more productive and less destructive to the environment. We must create an environment conducive to the development of Ivorian businesses, with a dynamic network of SMEs and SMIs. To attract foreign investment, we need a thriving local ecosystem of successful small businesses that are given the technology to bank.

Finally, we absolutely must develop savings in local currency through the development of pension funds. It is the savings accumulated by millions of people over years that makes it possible to provide businesses and the economy with equity financing, thus avoiding excessive recourse to debt. Debt can sometimes be useful to the State, for example to build large infrastructures. But capital is cautious: the country needs peace to attract investment.