Ivory Coast: Conflict Profile
For thirty-three years following its 1960 independence from France, the Ivory Coast was led under a one-party rule by the charismatic and totalitarian leader, Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Though the French had officially handed over power, they retained strong ties with Boigny and ensured the country’s protection against external aggression with the signing of the April 1961 Defence Agreement. For a time, the Ivory Coast flourished and Boigny was hailed as a leader capable of maintaining ethnic unity and political stability in the country. He kept the security sector in check by limiting their size, giving them ample pay, ensuring officers were given senior civilians positions in state-run companies and providing a counter-weight against the army with the paramilitary gendarmerie force.
By the 1970s, the Ivory Coast was the largest producer of cocoa in the world, becoming home to a wealth of diamonds in the North and exporting a number of other primary commodities. A large number of foreign workers, coming from Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Senegal and several other countries, entered the Ivory Coast to help provide cheap labour in these and other industries, while an influx of Lebanese began to thrive in industry and commerce. Many of the immigrants settled in the country with Boigny’s blessing and received citizenship. They continued to do well in favourable economic circumstances, compared to the situation in some of the neighbouring countries who were unable to heal the wounds left by colonialism, instead descending into ethnic and political disorder. The heavy reliance on primary commodities, however, led to a series of serious economic setbacks for the country, as the price of cocoa began to drop dramatically in the 1980s.
The severe economic problems, such as a rise in unemployment, began to manifest in feelings of increased tensions between several groups. A pro-democracy movement soon saw students and other activists taking to the streets in large demonstrations, with Boigny increasingly using force against them in an attempt to hang onto his slipping authoritarian rule. National and international condemnation of the attacks on these pro-democracy fighters forced Boigny to concede to hold multi-party elections in 1990 with Gbagbo as his major opposition challenger. The election saw Boigny gaining 85% of the vote in what was largely labelled as grossly unfair elections processes. The last three years of the Boigny regime, before his death in 1993, led to increasing disorder and more brutal clampdowns from the police and army factions. Following his death, Prime Minister Ouattara and President of the National Assembly Henri Bédie argued over who should succeed Boigny in the Presidency, with both coveting the position. Constitutional decrees suggested that Bédie should take over in such a case, and so Bédie took over the position as President until an election could be held.
The new Bédie government began replacing soldiers with technocrats in coveted positions, leading to a feeling of marginalisation among some senior officers who had previously held high status within the Ivorian regime. The resentment led army chief of staff General Robert Guéï to defy President Bédie’s requests that the army intervene in popular demonstrations against the government, which resulted in his removal from power. Bédie began promoting many Baoule officers to key posts while sidelining army officers who had worked their way through the Boigny regime, effectively dividing the army and creating major tensions among the ranks. Junior officers from the excluded groups allied with some frustrated senior officers, including former General Guéï, and mutinied against Bédie, overthrowing him from his post in 1999. Guéï promised a new election to be held in the following year, initially stating that he would not run himself. Unfortunately, Guéï’s lust for power saw him throwing his hat in the ring, a move that angered many who saw him as plotting the coup for his own purposes.
The new Presidential elections were scheduled to be held on 22 October 2000. The Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI) boycotted the elections in response to the exclusions of Alassane Ouattara and Emile Constant Bombet by Supreme Court decree, leaving out all major opposition to Guéï except Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo was widely cited as the winner with some 59.4% of the vote, though Guéï refused to leave his new-found power, claiming himself as rightful winner. Massive popular protests ensued, and with the help of a primarily Gbagbo loyalist gendarmerie, Gbagbo was brought into power.
The Ivorian government along with many other African countries called on France to intervene to stop the new rebel group, based on their previous defence agreements. The French initially refused, citing that the agreements only applied to external attack, but eventually intervened to slow the rebel advance on Abidjan. By October 2002, as fighting continued, Senegal’s foreign minister attempted to hold tentative talks with the rebel groups who demanded the overthrow of the government and called for new elections to be held. Amidst the fighting, the price of cocoa had fallen to a 16 year low and the humanitarian crisis began to deepen with more than 10,000 people fleeing their homes and many of the international aid agencies voicing concern that the war could soon spread to neighbouring countries. A cycle of violence and retaliation followed, and while several ceasefires were ordered, most were not adhered to. At this point, the rebel groups began to seriously splinter.
In January 2003, the Linas-Marcoussiss peace accords were signed, officially freezing the conflict while issuing the creation of a national unity government that would see nine rebel leaders given seats in cabinet. The accords were not accepted by many groups of people who either viewed the rebels as gaining too many concessions or who still wished to see Gbagbo ousted. Violence continued to flare up all over the country while the disarmament programme and the expulsion of foreign fighters in the north proved exceedingly problematic.
Following the Pretoria agreement in April 2005, the UN mission began implementing part of the mandate for security sector reform, training an initial 600 FN Security Auxiliaries into the national security system, even though the parties had yet to reach an agreement on the number and ranks that would be integrated or an official restructuring program for the FDS. Presidential elections that were originally scheduled for 2005 were repeatedly postponed until October 2010 as the key components were not yet met.
Following the 2007 Ouagadougou Agreement, the responsibility for implementing the accord, including security sector reform, now resided with President Gbagbo and newly-appointed Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, leader of the FN. The security sector reform was narrowed to the reunification of the Ivorian FDS and the FN, with the parties deciding to wait to develop a new security-sector policy and architecture until after the elections, contrary to popular advice of security analysts and experts. A scheduled 29 November 2009 election was again postponed, as electoral registration and identification processes that were officially closed on the 30 June, failed to reach their stated aim. The processes were said to have been ill-conceived and mismanaged, with the International Crisis Group stating that Gbagbo had deliberately hampered their financing and that the operation appeared to be running on a vague improvised basis without a clear timetable.
The first round of elections on October 31, 2010 ran fairly smoothly, with Gbagbo and Ouattara winning the right to challenge each other in the second round, as neither won a majority vote. Despite the talk of reunification of the armed forces, the country entered the second round on 28 November 2010 elections as a country essentially still split in two, with two armies and two completely separate chains of command. Almost immediately following the disputed results, the Integrated Command Centre dissolved and security forces became partisan participants in the crisis.
On 30 November, the speaker of the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) attempted to announce the first batch of election results but was blocked by Damana Adia Pickass, a pro-Gbagbo member of the Commission, who snatched the papers away from him at a press conference, citing that they were not agreed upon unanimously by the Commission. Then, on 2 December, the CEI released provisional results with Ouattara as the winner with 54% of the vote behind the safety of the UN at the Golf Hotel. The Constitutional Council (CC) immediately proclaimed the results as invalid, citing that the CEI had passed its legal timeline to announce the results and that the matter now legally belonged to the CC. The CC proclaimed Gbagbo as the victor with 51.45% of the vote, only after nullifying the results in seven disputed northern territories. On 4 December, Soro resigned from his position as Prime Minister and Gbagbo was sworn in at a ceremony as the new President.
On December 16, 2010, an attempt to peacefully takeover the state media Radio Television Ivoirienne (RTI) was disrupted, as the FDS allegedly opened fire on Ouattara supporters, igniting outrage worldwide and prompting increasing calls for international intervention. On January 23, 2011, Gbagbo-loyalist General Mangou joined Young Patriots militia leader Charles Ble Goude at a recruitment rally in Abidjan, implying to the crowd that the militarized youth group would essentially be a reserve military force, only further exacerbating the crisis.
Gbagbo concentrated his forces and weaponry primarily in Abidjan and Yamoussoukro to prevent a possible attempt by ex-rebels to march on these cities and also to stifle possible massive popular protests in heavily populated areas. International sanctions and blockades attempted to limit Gbagbo’s ability to pay the FDS and civil servants and force him to step down from power, with devastating effects on the population. Despite the sanctions, Gbagbo continued to access revenues from taxing the Abidjan Port and nationalizing the cocoa and coffee industries, as well as from receiving funding from friendly African and international countries, limiting their overall effectiveness. ECOWAS threatened, and then backed off from the idea of a military intervention, later calling on the UN Security Council to reinforce the ONUCI mandate to allow it to use all necessary means to protect people and property. The African Union reiterated the necessity of a political solution, calling on the establishment of a Government of National Unity appointed by Ouattara. On 24 January 2011, Ouattara called on the banning of cocoa and coffee exports from the country in an effort to limit Gbagbo’s access to funds, causing many farmers to take to the streets in protest.
By 31 March, the FRCI had taken the majority of the country and were moving in on Abidjan. The FRCI were alleged to have committed several abuses during the offensive, as were the loyalist forces. The Gbagbo-loyalists managed to launch a counter-attack on Ouattara’s headquarters in the UN-protected Golf Hotel and held off the FRCI throughout the city, creating controversy over the necessity of external forces to intervene. The ONUCI forces, with support from the French Licorne forces began seizing control of the airport in Abidjan on 3 April 2011, and soon escalated their involvement to include joint helicopter attacks that were reported to be targeting heavy weapons and army barracks of the loyalist forces. Battles and aerial bombardment ensued. Gbagbo was captured on 11 April 2011 in his residence by the FRCI following heavy aerial bombardment by the UN and Licorne forces. The loyalist forces were destroyed in the attacks, leaving the largely poorly trained and non-cohesive FRCI in charge of security of the country. In late April, the FRCI began the process of disarming some of the different militias who had helped Ouattara ascend to power, particularly the Invisible Commandos in the Abobo district of Abidjan led by Ibrahim Coulibaly. Coulibaly (popularly known as IB) had been previously alleged to have participated in several coup attempts, and was also suspected of attempting to assassinate FN leader Soro, with whom he had a longstanding tensions. Despite pledging loyalty to Ouattara, IB and the Invisible Commandos are said to have refused to immediately disarm and a battle ensued between the FRCI and the Commandos, resulting in Coulibaly and several of his men being killed.
President Ouattara has vowed to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is regularly publicly speaking of creating peace within the country, but the dismal state of security and Ouattara’s reliance on the former rebels who helped him ascend to power leaves him in an incredibly precarious place and potentially at the mercy of these forces. As of the time of this article, no Ouattara supporters had yet been charged or imprisoned for their part in abuses during the crisis, leaving many to question the impartiality of the justice process and demonstrating the fragility of the current security sector.
Last updated: December 2011