Major reform of Ivory Coast’s armed forces needed to stop attacks
BETWEEN July and August, at least five cities in Ivory Coast have been targeted in attacks on gendarmerie outposts or police stations, while the country has witnessed four prison breaks, with more than 100 inmates escaping jail.
These incidents come after mutinies in January/February and May and a series of protests by demobilised soldiers.
The mutinies resulted in clashes with security forces and left at least 10 dead, while access to the port in Abidjan was restricted for two days in January and movement within the major cities of Abidjan, Bouake and Adiake was restricted.
This is a far cry from the Ivory Coast that was heralded as the fastest-growing economy in Africa by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the end of last year.
Nor does it much resemble the country that saw UN peacekeepers depart in June amid claims their mission, which helped bring an end to a nineyear intermittent conflict in 2011, had been a huge success.
Instead, the unrest this year points to a country that’s struggled to implement reconciliation or reintegration plans and which suffers from deep divisions in the military.
Ivory Coast has long been regarded as the darling of West Africa by Western countries, which have approved the country’s pro-market reforms and adherence to IMF and World Bank dictates.
Ivory Coast is also often perceived as a beacon of stability in the region, aided by its growth rates of near 9% since 2011.
Although this image was undermined by the country’s war, Ivory Coast’s conflict was notable in West Africa for never reaching the terrifying climax of conflicts in nearby Sierra Leone and Liberia, with far fewer people killed and much less disruption.
The mutinies earlier this year were blamed on former Forces Nouvelles (FN) rebels, who had fought in the 20022011 conflict and helped bring President Alassane Ouattara to power in 2011, ousting former President Laurent Gbagbo.
The FN fighters have since largely been reintegrated into the military. But they allege they have not been paid bonuses owed to them as part of a 2007 peace agreement.
Many troops are also disgruntled that they have not been sufficiently rewarded for their role in putting Ouattara in power.
The government agreed to pay staggered bonuses of 12 million West African CFA (R250 000) to the soldiers. But this decision sparked copy- cat mutinies by parts of the armed forces and protests by demobilised soldiers, who also wanted a piece of the pie.
The mutiny in May, which occurred amid fears the remainder of the payouts would not be made, underscored the threat that the military and its war-era command structures pose to stability in Ivory Coast.
The government appeared to be aware of the threat of the mutiny and closed off military barracks ahead of the unrest.
This move was foiled, how- ever, when the mutineers gained access to an arms cache in Ivory Coast’s second largest city, Bouake, forcing the government to surrender and commit, once again, to paying the bonuses.
Now, however, without major reform of the armed forces and greater efforts to curb the large number of weapons in circulation, the spate of attacks is likely to continue as Ivory Coast heads towards its most contentious political event yet – the 2020 presidential election. – ANA