The former head of state, deposed in a coup in 1999, is preparing his last attempt at a comeback in Ivory Coast: Henri Konan Bedie sees himself as the worthy heir to the “father of the nation”, Felix Houphoet-Boigny.
“If I am elected, this will be my last mandate,” Henri Konan Bedie told Francophone weekly Jeune Afrique (Young Africa) when he announced his candidature for the presidential election at the beginning of October.
The 76-year-old leader of the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PCDI) was deposed by a coup d’état on Christmas Eve 1999.
He is now embarking on his last campaign with gusto and determination.
Eleven years after suffering the indignity of being deposed by General Robert Guei, the chosen heir of “father of the nation” Felix Houphoet-Boigny is convinced he can win.
HKB’s election slogan - “Progress for all, happiness for each” – has galvanised crowds by cultivating nostalgia for the Houphoet-Boigny years, while staunchly defending his record as president before the Christmas Eve coup.
The much delayed vote, the first in over ten years, is due on October 31.
In search of legitimacy
Born in 1934 at Daoukro, a small town in the centre of Ivory Coast, Henri Konan Bedie studied at Dabou, near Abidjan, before going on to study law in Poitiers in France.
After qualifying he returned to Ivory Coast where he entered the civil service aged just 24.
Six years later he became ambassador to the United States (1961-1966) and then finance minster (1966-1970), before finally rising to the president of the National Assembly.
He held the position until the death of Felix Houphoet-Boigny in 1993.
After running the country as interim leader for a year, Bedie became president after elections that were boycotted by his most serious opponents, including former Prime Minister Alassane Dramane Ouattara, and centre-left candidate Laurent Gbagbo.
Despite Bedie’s landslide victory (96.44 percent of the vote) he never felt he had won genuine popular legitimacy.
In power, his reputation was marred by accusations including unfair distribution of profits and public-sector jobs, less than transparent management of the country’s important cocoa industry and accusations of embezzlement of EU funds.
International donors lost faith in his leadership while his countrymen became wary of his promises.
'Anything but Ouattara'
Unlike his mentor Houphoet, who was said to be sensitive to the slightest changes of mood within the administration, President Bedie remained deaf to his critics.
He was convinced that it was Alassane Ouattara (who did not hide his presidential ambitions), who was individually responsible for undermining him.
Riding on a wave of growing xenophobia, Bedie’s security services, working on the concept of “Ivorianness”, constantly undermined Ouattara.
Appointed as candidate of the Rally of Republicans (RDR) party for the 2000 elections, Ouattara’s Ivorian nationality was brought into question and his party was subjected to constant bullying.
In late 1999, following an opposition demonstration that ended with clashes, 11 RDR leaders were arrested.
At the fringes of the political manoeuvring, the mood in Ivory Coast was turning sour.
In their barracks, soldiers began to plot and on Christmas Eve 1999 a small group, led by General Robert Guei, launched a coup d’état against Bedie.
Bedie was caught completely off guard.
A strange alliance
“HKB” did not give up and returned to Ivory Coast from France in 2001. Like his opponent Ouattara, he was barred from standing in the 2000 elections after his candidature was rejected by the Ivorian Supreme Court.
The 2000 presidential campaign was won by Laurent Gbagbo, whom HKB has always considered to be an illegitimate usurper.
At the end of Gbagbo’s mandate in 2005, HKB formed an unlikely alliance with his former enemy - Ouattara.
Their two parties began a tortuous process of ending the political stalemate. After the signing of the 2007 Ouagadougou peace agreement in 2007, the two men have been working hard towards a fresh presidential election.
After many postponements, the date is set for October 31.