Thursday, May 25, 2017 5:29 pm
By Ademola Araoye
Ivorian troops are back in the streets. Three months after a supposedly successful negotiation in January, 2017 of the payment of bonuses to the rank and file of disgruntled Ivorian army personnel and some demobilized soldiers, in mid May, 2017 is witnessing another mutiny over same matter. Approximately 9000 armed Ivorian troops, led from the base in Bouake, have returned into the streets to violently reinstate their demand for the payment of the outstanding war bonuses of 7 million CFA francs(U$10,000). The government had earlier paid 5 million CFA francs ($8400) to each of the rebels to end the January uprising. It is significant that the mutiny is led from Bouake, which is the former headquarters of the Forces Nouvelles. The link of this mutiny to the heartland of the rebellion that brought Alassane Ouattara to power is significant. The confidence of the mutineers and weak handling of the mutiny by the administration is suggestive of the difficult dilemma of the Allassane Ouattara government. It is also indicative of the continued fragility of an Ivorian state that is held together by French intelligence services and forces. The convergence in the political goals of the former rebels and France has since dissipated. Hence, the constant refrain of the rebels that they are indeed prepared for all eventualities is a coded taunting of French forces based in the country protecting President Ouattara to bring it on.
These challenges, variously diversely interpreted, go the heart of the conspiracies that drove the outcome of the Ivorian civil war. More ominously, it reflects complexities that glib threats again of ineffectual and embarrassing intervention from some quarters in Nigeria cannot resolve. To be certain, Nigeria’s last outing in Cote d’Ivoire remains a terrible blight on good strategic thinking and etched in infamy and embarrassing amateurism at the highest levels of state policy making. That policy is easily the single most devastating foreign and security policy error in Nigeria’s entire history. It set Nigeria back by over half a century. Acting on the basis of archaic principles and obvious unsophisticated as well as horrific deficient appreciations of the Ivorian crisis, Nigeria has yet to recover from the shame, ridicule and incredulity of when it last threatened to invade Cote d’Ivoire. The repercussions of the very uninformed and conservative posture are still being felt in our continental engagements. We seriously dented our hard won credentials as a leading progressive African state.
Meanwhile, some have suggested, rather ominously, that these mutinies are linked to political manoeuvring of former allies, Guillaume Soro, President of the National Assembly, and former Secretary General of the rebellion and the Forces Novelles that brought Alhassane Ouattara to power, and the President. It is noted that the timing of the mutiny is closely linked to the revision of the Constitution signed into law in November, 2016. The new terms for succession to the Presidency in the revised constitution approved by President Allassane Ouattara effectively bars the President of the National Assembly, Guillaume Soro from succeeding the President. The new provisions creates a new office of Vice President who is now immediately in line in the event of the incapacitation of the President. That gives the President the power to arrange his succession.
Succession politics has proven to be a delicate affair in Ivorian political life. The death of President Felix Houphouet Boigny in December 1993 engendered a power struggle. The intense struggle among those who defined themselves as the sole and legitimate political scions of the late president to acquire power led to the unraveling of the political settlement underpinning the Boigny’s hegemony over the Ivorian state. The loss of internal cohesion within the political family of Houphouet Boigny snowballed into a national crisis. Accordingly, since the end of the Houphouet Boign era, succession has remained a contentious challenge in Ivorian politics. Paradoxically, President Alhassane Ouatara has always in been in the vortex of succession crisis in Cote d’Ivoire.
It this connection, the plans put in place by President Houphouet Boigny to consolidate the political domination of his ethnic group by instituting a Baoule hegemony after him, through the succession of another Baoule, Henri Konan Bedie, failed. To achieve this, President Houphouet Boigny, changing the Constitution in 1986, had his godson Henri Konan Bedie strategically placed as President of the National Assembly to meet constitutional requirement for succession to the Presidency should the President die or be rendered incapable. In December, 1993, immediately following the death of President Boigny, Henri Konan Bedie, as the President of the National Assembly, won the early challenge mounted by Prime Minister Allassane Ouattara to by-pass the Constitution to succeed the late President. He had also canvassed a conspiratorial triumvirate of himself, Laurent Gbagbo and Phillip Yase, a former President of the National Assembly removed from the leadership of the Legislature by President Houphouet Boigny to make way for his godson Bedie, to rule the country in the interim. The French Ambassador was then instrumental in thwarting Allasane Ouattara’s unconstitutional bid for power. Laurent Gbagbo also pointedly refused to be part of his plan.
The other thesis, more salient, is that of blackmail of the administration by former rebels bent on exacting maximum dividends from their role in bringing Alhassane Ouattara to power. Related to this is the fact that most of the unruly soldiers were rebels integrated into the Ivorian army. The integration was part of the conditions to reintegrate the north of the country under the control of the rebels to end the civil war to the Laurent Gbagbo and the National Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire (FANCI) controlled South. The Pretoria Agreement, brokered by Thabo Mbeki, and the earlier Ouagadougou Peace Accord envisaged the establishment of an integrated command for a national army. The integrated army command would be placed under the command of a co-joint Chief of Staff of the Chiefs of Staff of the Ivorian Armed forces and their counterparts from the rebellion. The integrated force, conscious of the need to reflect the unity and national cohesion and the assurance of the stability of republican institutions, would proceed to restructure and integrate the two armies with a view to forming a new defence and security force founded on values of integrity and republican morality. Towards this end, the two sides decided to proceed with the unification of the two forces through the creation of a structure for operational integration. The reunification of the national territory, including the redeployment of national administration throughout Ivorian territory featured prominently in the Pretoria agreement and Ouagadougou Accord.
The rebels integrated into the National Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire (FANCI) were mainly individuals from the north of the country but were also mostly Burkinabes encouraged by the deposed Burkinabe President, Blaise Compaore, to join the ranks of the Forces Nouvelles. The new Army comprising the FANCI and elements the rebellion was rechristened the Republican Forces of Cote d’Ivoire (FRCI). Yet, the motives of the war recruits were largely mercenary in joining the rebellion. It was also important to fight to give the marginalized Mossi in Cote d’Ivoire their rightful social and political placement in that country. The political objective to advance the presidential ambition of Alhassane Ouattara, a Mossi of Burkinabe antecedents, in Cote d’Ivoire, was appreciated by most Burkinabes, the Burkinabe president and the leadership of the rebellion who share ethnic affinities with Burkinabes. With no real structures to implement the Ouagadougou Peace Accord, demobilization of rebels did not take place in the north. It was these forces, who armed during the election, that compromised the integrity elections especially in the north, in favor of Allassane Ouattara. Behind the determination of France, they constituted the second most important element that brought Ouattara into office.
In the post war demographically and sociologically reconfigured Cote d’Ivoire, Allassane Ouattara must ensure the continued loyalty of the troops that brought him to power. He is acutely aware of the divisions in the military and in larger society not just on the basis of ethnicity, but also on the differences in the unequal dividends that have accrued to different levels of actors among the former rebels. In the final days of the crisis, the rebellion had faced internal dissents as the political leadership of the Forces , including non -commissioned officers, acquired new statuses in the affairs of the country. It was in this confusion that the real leader of the rebellion, Sergeant IB Coulibaly was assassinated by a faction of his own comrades. Secretary General, Guillaume Soro, the face of the rebellion has since become the Head of the Legislature, after serving as Prime Minister in the interim administration that organized the controversial elections that brought Ouatarra to power. Soro is known to be angling for the Presidency. The Ouattara administration understands too well the complexities. If the unruly loyalist troops are removed from the army, the ensuing numerical downgrade of his ethnic base in the military could portend serious danger to his administration. More importantly, the controversial constitutional changes that legitimated him and most his loyalists as Ivorians may be threatened. The stability of the post war dispensation depends largely on the capacity of forces of northern extraction to work to protect it. The extant political settlement in the country is fundamentally weak.
The serious political implications may not be lost on the mutineers. Yet, they are yet to be convinced that an administration that literally gave away $3,000,000,000 contract (U$3 Billion) to French companies, obviously without due process, in the first few months of his presidency, ostensibly to construct the Third bridge over the Lagoon, cannot find money to pay off the loyalist rebels that brought him to power. It is clear the U$ 3 billion was pay off to the French for funding the rebellion. The former rebels also see that their politically exposed comrades in arms have transformed their economic circumstances and lives in general. So why not they? The government’s excuses of a fall in commodity prices, meaning cocoa, have therefore fallen on deaf ears.
Meanwhile the latest indications are that the mutineers have accepted a deal that includes an immediate bonus payment of 5 million CFA francs ($8,400) for the 9000 or so mutineers. A further payment of 2 million CFA francs is contemplated for the end of June. The mutineers are back. This time at the end of May, 2017, they are mostly demobilized rebels. The crack in Ouattara’s army is already spewing forth political rhetoric reminiscent of the civil war days. France has a heck of a job ahead to keep its Ivorian beefsteak in safe hands.
• Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations. Currently a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. He is a regular contributor to TheNEWS magazine