Ivorian president alassane ouattara has rejected emmanuel macrons efforts to defuse tensions ahead of elections in the former french colony, rebuffing a paris suggestion it would support former credit suisse chief executive tidjane thiam in a future government.
During a meeting at the elyse palace on september 4, the french president failed to persuade his ivorian counterpart to postpone presidential elections, the first round of which is taking place on october 31, according to three people with knowledge of the conversation.
The name of mr thiam, a franco-ivorian citizen, was subsequently floated among others as a person paris would view favourably in a senior role in a future ouattara administration, should the incumbent ivorian leader win a third term, the people said.
Mr macron has tried dissuading the 78-year-old mr ouattara from seeking another term, which many ivorians oppose and is forbidden under a constitution adopted in 2016. the elyse favours a transfer of power to a younger generation and fears a contested result could lead to violent clashes in a country that has suffered two civil wars in the past two decades. at least a dozen people have been killed in anti-ouattara protests in recent weeks and opposition figures have called for civil disobedience.
However, mr macrons diplomatic efforts have been perceived as old-style meddling by mr ouattara, the people said.
Mr macron has vowed to end frances tradition of interference in its former african colonies affairs. known as franafrique, the policy had resulted in supporting autocratic leaders to protect french economic interests. france nevertheless remains a key trading partner for many west african countries, and has troops fighting islamist groups in the sahel.
A french official who attended the elyse meeting confirmed mr thiams name had come up among others but insisted that it was fiction to suggest mr macron had made concrete proposals for a participation of mr thiam in a ouattara administration. it is true that the conversation has been quite open and blunt, but there has never been any situation like that on the table, he said.
Asked about a possible role for mr thiam in ivorian politics, the official said: this could be a positive development for ivory coast, but we couldnt be in a position to promote it. if we put this on the table this would be the best way to kill it.
But one of the people briefed on the conversation noted mr thiam was an outsider in his country: i think he is being put in the mix becausemacron is looking to have some benign influence.
Mr thiam, who was the first ivorian citizen to graduate from french elite engineering school ecole polytechnique and the first black ceo of a big european bank, has not lived in ivory coast for years. his ouster from credit suisse in the spring followed revelations about corporate spying against departingtop executives. the bank found no evidence he was involved in ordering the observation and an investigation from swiss regulators is ongoing.
Mr thiam has said the conditions for peaceful or credible elections do not exist in ivory coast and that he fears a return to violence. although he has disavowed an interest in politics, a person close to him said he could be persuaded to return to his country of birth.
A spokeswoman for mr ouattara denied mr macron had urged him to delay the election and said the french president did not suggest anyone, including mr thiam, for roles in the government. france has always made it clear that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, and this includes cte divoire, she said.
The elyse declined to comment on mr thiam. mr macron and mr ouattara had a frank and transparent discussion over lunch at the elyse on september 4, a french official said, adding: he [mr macron] is in favour of a democratic transition, and there isnt one.
It is beyond reasoning why ouattara, who has brought so much economic growth to his country and could exit as an elder statesman would run again, said idayat hassan, head of the abuja-based centre for democracy and development. this is an unfortunate setback for democracy in the region.
Pariss preferred solution had been for both leading candidates mr ouattara and 86-year-old opposition leader henri konan bdi to withdraw from the contest, according to people briefed on the talks. the idea was for the old elephants to step aside, one paris official said.
Ivory coast, the worlds biggest cocoa producer, has been scarred by two civil wars this century the most recent in 2011 when then president laurent gbagbo refused to stand down after losing an election most of the international community said had been won by mr ouattara. french and un troops backed mr ouattara.
Mr ouattara, a former central banker, changed his mind about not seeking another term after his preferred successor, amadou gon coulibaly, died in july. the ivorian leader says the third-term rule does not apply to him because it was adopted five years into his tenure.
Additional reporting by victor mallet in paris and stephen morris in london