Ma­jor re­form of Ivory Coast’s armed forces needed to stop at­tacks

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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