Ivory Coast: political tensions and the peacebuilding process

By Daniel Ozoukou

19 December 2016: Political tensions associated with President Ouattara’s regime are putting efforts to build peace and security in the Ivory Coast at risk, says Daniel Ozoukou.

President Alassane Ouattara has been the president of Côte d'Ivoire since 2010. He took office following a controversial election which resulted in violence.  Image credit: Wikipedia

The Ivory Coast has experienced ten years of political and military unrest. The 2010-2011 Ivorian crisis, or electoral dispute, was political in nature. Alassane Ouattara won the fight and established his government with the former head of the Patriotic Movement of Cote d’Ivoire (MPCI), Guillaume Soro. The new president was faced with implementing post-conflict policies that simultaneously addressed the aftermath of the crisis and accommodated former warlords and rebels.

Integrating former rebels

The former rebels are allies of President Ouattara and have been rewarded with top army and public administration positions. For example, they have been given commanding positions in the Ivoirian Republican Forces (FRCI). In the case of Issiaka Outtara, a former rebel leader commonly referred to as ‘Wattao’, he was promoted to deputy commander of the coordination center of operational decisions. Wattao was replaced in 2014 but remains as the deputy commander of the republican guards.

Warlords have been given key positions in the army, threatening the peace process
Similarly, Fofie Kouakou, who has been accused of serious human rights violations in Korhogo, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, despite UN sanctions. And other warlords of the Ivorian patriotic movement (MPCI) and the new forces (FN) have been rewarded with key positions in the army, exacerbating the fragility of the peace process.

But despite their reward of top jobs in the army and public administration, former rebels have used it as an opportunity to extend their predatory activities through cocoa, cotton and cashew smuggling, the control of gold mines and levying illegal taxes on trade transportation.

In 2015 UN investigators revealed illegal exploitation at the unlicensed gold mine of Gamina. Wattao, who has gained strong economic power from engaging in predatory activities, was considered the boss of that gold mine, and buyers sold gold exclusively to him. In 2014, a buyer who challenged Wattao by offering to buy from the miners at a higher price, was assassinated. During the rebellion years, Wattao was also in charge of ‘la central’, a treasury office responsible for collecting revenues, and Wattao is Guillaume Soro’s ‘man of confidence’.

It is clear that Wattao’s involvement in illegal economic activities benefits them both. More generally, the close proximity between former rebels and the Ouattara regime hinders its ability to fundamentally foster justice and hold former rebels accountable for their crimes. Former rebels, regardless of reintegration efforts that saw them promoted to top level army ranks, are therefore hindering essential disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) efforts in the country.

(Dis)armament

Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR)  is a vital corner stone of post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding.

Approximately 100,000 weapons, 400,000 rounds of ammunition and more than 2,000 grenades have been collected
In 2012 President Ouattara launched a DDR programme and collected approximately 100,000 weapons, 400,000 rounds of ammunition and more than 2,000 grenades in three years. In spite of government efforts, the disarmament process was not a complete success, as many ex-combatants missed the call.

The government and its partners are still working on the programme, and hope to collect 3000 additional weapons by the end of 2017. The NGO West African Action Network on Small Arms Ivorian Coast section (WAANSA-IC) and the national commission fighting against the proliferation of small arms are combining efforts with the aim of obstructing the illegal detention of arms. In January 2016, WAANSSA-IC campaigned in the west of the country and collected 150 light weapons and 1650 rounds of ammunition. With financial support from Japan and in partnership with the UNDP they also initiated a project aimed at supporting those who handed over their weapons.

However, the country is now facing the illegal armament of former rebels. In April 2016 UN investigators said Guillaume Soro had “used the 2011 civil war and the aftermath as an opportunity to acquire hundreds of tonnes of weapons, which are now under the control of his loyalists in the army.”

Reuters listed 113,000 heavy machine guns and assault rifles and 2.8 million rounds of small ammunitions acquired as rebel weapons, which “outmatches the firepower of the entire FRCI”, or Ivorian armed forces. And these are clearly complicating DDR and hampering government efforts to build lasting peace and security.

Political instability

With the former rebel administrative and security networks so intertwined, there are further challenges for Ouattara. The parallel administrative and security networks established by the former rebel leader Guillaume Soro has created a crisis of confidence and generated suspicions.

The recent reorganisation of armed units across the country reveals the desire of Ouattara’s regime to overshadow and control Guillaume Soro’s strongmen in the army. This task will be difficult, as rebels are strongly rooted in armed units and have vowed allegiance to their former leader Soro. 

It is clear that the honeymoon period between Ouattara and former rebels is slowly disintegrating. Guillaume Soro is being politically harassed. And with the adoption of the new constitution, the head of parliament will no longer succeed the president in the case of vacancy. This has created political polarisation and tension between former rebels and Ouattara’s regime.

The president’s desire to untie the ‘Gordian knot’ by gradually pushing his former allies away is risky. The invisible military force and the heavy weapons stockpiled by the parliament speaker threatens President Ouattara’s own regime, as well as regional peace and security.

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