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Côte d’Ivoire: The Illusion of Stability
Côte d’Ivoire: The Illusion of Stability
Report 193 / Africa

Côte d’Ivoire: Defusing Tensions

President Alassane Ouattara’s coalition is walking a dangerous path toward polarisation by repeating mistakes made by previous governments that could ultimately lead Côte d’Ivoire back to crisis.

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Executive Summary

The volatile security situation and political tensions are threatening Côte d’Ivoire’s recovery. The last few months have seen a series of deadly attacks against a police station, one of the main military bases of the country, several army positions and a power station. Violence also broke out in the west. Although these incidents do not pose a direct threat to stability, they show that, for some segments of the population, the war is not yet over. Some signs are particularly worrying: slow security sector reform, stalled political dialogue, a weak ruling coalition, a return to violent discourses, uncovered coup plots, and an apparent lack of political will to promote national reconciliation. President Alassane Ouattara and his new government should not rely solely on economic recovery and the tightening of security measures to consolidate peace. International attention should remain focused on Côte d’Ivoire’s stabilisation, which is all the more crucial as its neighbour, Mali, has descended into a deep and lasting crisis.

Eighteen months after the end of a post-election conflict which caused over 3,000 deaths and was merely the epilogue of a decade-long political and military crisis, no one could have expected a complete return to normalcy. Côte d’Ivoire has to cope with challenges commonly faced by post-war countries. The security apparatus is struggling to get back in order. Despite some progress, the Ivorian forces remain unstable and divided between former members of the Gbagbo-era Forces de défense et de sécurité (FDS) and former rebels of the Forces armées des forces nouvelles (FAFN). Their attitude, as well as the modalities of their integration within the Forces républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), are an impediment to reconciliation. The former FAFN are still the dominant forces, while the police and gendarmerie remain sidelined.

Over 18,000 traditional hunters deployed across the territory, the so-called Dozos, helped secure the country, thus playing a role for which they have neither legitimacy nor skills. This military and militia apparatus working for the government is not well accepted, especially by supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo, who is being detained at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, in the Netherlands. He could soon be joined by his spouse, Simone Gbagbo, against whom the ICC unsealed an arrest warrant on 22 November. The configuration of the security sector aggravates tensions, particularly in the west, where intercommunal land issues are adding up. Slow reintegration into civilian life of tens of thousands of youths who participated in the conflict increases their frustration and encourages them to keep their weapons as a guarantee of their economic survival.

Dialogue between the government and the opposition – which is a vital component of reconciliation – is stalled and does not go beyond statements of intent. The Front populaire ivoirien (FPI), former President Gbagbo’s party, has chosen isolation by withdrawing from the electoral process and imposing unrealistic conditions to its effective return in the political game. The FPI’s moderate wing has not been able to distance itself from the exiled hardliners who nourish hope of regaining military power. Political dialogue and reconciliation prospects are paralysed since the revelation in June, September and October 2012 of coup plots orchestrated from Ghana by former ministers of Gbagbo, his family members and close associates. These plots have convinced hardliners on the other side – including members of the Rassemblement des républicains (RDR), the presidential party, and the Forces nouvelles, the former rebellion – of the need to consolidate their military victory and maintain a repressive stance toward all representatives of the old regime, may they be moderate or not.

Political turmoil is accompanied by a return of hateful and dangerous discourses relayed by a partisan press, loyal to one side or the other. In this climate of polarisation, the government is making decisions that gradually move it away from its campaign promises of better governance and a break with the past, which allowed Ouattara to win the presidential election in November 2010. The judicial system remains biased: not a single FRCI member has been charged, either for crimes committed during the post-election crisis or for those committed since. Arbitrary arrests have been taking place in the pro-Gbagbo media and have been widely carried out by the powerful Direction de la surveillance du territoire (DST) and military police.

In the administration and public companies, some appointments were made on regional or political criteria, in the name of an “adjustment policy” – a form of reverse discrimination – that contradicts promises of improving governance. The Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CDVR) is still struggling to start its work. The establishment of its local committees is difficult. More worrying still, the commission does not seem to be supported by the political power that established it last year with wide media coverage. The government still has not provided it with the necessary financial resources, and the personalised management style of its president, Charles Konan Banny, remains under sharp criticism.

In this context, the ruling coalition has been showing signs of fragility, culminating in the dissolution of the government on 14 November, a decision which exposed the cleavages between the RDR and its main ally, the Parti démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI). The appointment on 21 November of a senior PDCI member, Daniel Kablan Duncan, as prime minister replacing Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio, who is also from that party, should abort the crisis within the coalition and ensure stronger unity. Kablan Duncan, who held the same position from 1994 to 1999 and was the incumbent foreign minister, is a respected member of his party, a personal friend of President Ouattara and, like him, an economist. The clear priority given to the promotion of strong economic growth to reduce unemployment and poverty is welcome, but it cannot be a substitute for political gestures toward national reconciliation.

The political class does not seem to have learned all the lessons from the post-electoral crisis, and is repeating the very attitudes that have led the country to the brink. It is urgent for President Ouattara, the new government and the entire ruling political class to resist the temptation of abusing power, which has already cost many lives in Côte d’Ivoire. It is time for the African organisations and the international community to publicly and firmly denounce the current Ivorian regime’s dysfunctions.

Brussels/Dakar, 26 November 2012

Op-Ed / Africa

Côte d’Ivoire: The Illusion of Stability

Originally published in Daily Maverick

Among the three principal politicians who have struggled for power in Côte d’Ivoire since 1995, President Alassane Ouattara, 73, is the only one still in the game and is most likely to win the presidential election on 25 October. The significance of this election is not so much the electoral outcome – which seems to be a foregone conclusion – as much as the political choices that will result from a renewed Ouattara mandate. Without meaningful political, security and judicial reforms, Côte d’Ivoire could face yet another prolonged period of violence.

Such instability could be triggered by the next presidential election in 2020, which will likely be disputed strongly between a new generation of politicians who have grown up in war and crisis. If health considerations make Ouattara step down earlier, new elections, and unrest, could arrive much sooner.

Political exclusion persists

The president’s first term can be seen in two ways. On one hand, in May 2011 he inherited a deeply divided country, in which five months of armed conflict had killed 3,000 people and wrecked the economy. Ouattara managed to restore economic growth and reform the cocoa-producing sector, in which Côte d’Ivoire leads the world. He also reunited a country that had been divided into two distinct administrative units since the failed September 2002 coup. This is a legacy that candidate Ouattara can, rightfully, boast about.

However, upon closer examination, these successes are not quite as clear-cut as they appear. The deeper roots of conflict have not been adequately addressed. In reality, Ouattara has done very little to dismantle the infernal machinery that led to the crisis in the first place.

One of the first causes of instability is the exclusion of a certain portion of the population from political representation. During the 1995 elections, Ouattara, a northerner, was banned from running. This fostered deep frustrations, divisions and bitterness. It led to a coup in December 1999, orchestrated by a handful of northern officers who felt Ouattara’s exclusion, based on “questionable nationality”, was, in fact, discrimination against all northern Ivorians. In 2000, the exclusion of presidential candidates Ouattara and Henri Konan Bédié led to similar tensions, resulting in the partition of the country two years later.

Unfortunately, political exclusion is a persistent phenomenon in Ivorian politics.

Ouattara convinced Bédié, leader of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PCDI) and former head of state, to drop out of the race to pave the way for his candidacy. The third largest party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), faces deep internal divisions. Its leader, Laurent Gbagbo, was Ouattara’s main rival in 2010 but is now in prison. Its proposed candidate is rejected by both the electoral base and a significant portion of the party leadership. Overall, the seven other competitors have neither the recognition, nor the support, required to pose a serious challenge.

As in 1995 and 2000, therefore only one of the main three parties will present its real candidate for the elections. Many Ivorians thus face a very restricted choice in which none of the candidates truly represents them. Moreover, many are unable to vote, with only 6.3 million registered in a country of 17 million citizens.

Ouattara’s presidency was also characterised by the way many key posts were given to northern Ivorians, leaving many citizens feeling excluded. The heads of the National Assembly, the Independent Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Council all originate from the north, as do the justice minister and the director of the treasury. Likewise, the government’s security positions, such as the chief of staff, interior minister and head of intelligence, come from the north.

Post-election challenges

A renewed Ouattara mandate should take the opportunity to redistribute government positions on a more equitable geographical basis, providing a better balance between the country’s different regions and institutions. It should amend the constitution, which grants far too much power to the president, at the expense of parliament and local institutions. Without access to public finance or office, political opponents may feel the need to resort to non-electoral means to seize power.

One risk is armed violence. This is partly because Ouattara failed to reform the Ivorian military, which is in complete disrepute. Former rebel leaders of the New Forces (FN) still occupy important roles, at the expense of former pro-Gbagbo officers. The chain of command is chaotic, with several units obeying former warlords and resorting to predatory tactics. Should another war break out between competing candidates, a whole section of the military could potentially decide to abandon the government and join another camp.

Easy access to arms also raises the risk of conflicts turning deadly. While a wide-scale disarmament process was officially achieved last summer, Côte d’Ivoire is still replete with weapons. Many of these weapons remain outside state control. Last March, a UN group of experts in charge of monitoring an arms embargo discovered a warehouse in the northern region of Korogho containing 60 tonnes of military material. The warehouse is under the control of Martin Kouakou Fofié, a former warlord facing UN sanctions.

Apart from the threat to peace posed by the existence of such an arsenal, it also raises crucial questions regarding impunity. No FN members have been sentenced for crimes committed between 2002 and 2012. The judicial system remains biased, fostering a widespread sense of injustice among Ivorians and threatening any serious attempt at credible reconciliation.

In a few days or weeks, President Ouattara will likely be granted a new mandate. This will give him another five years to transition properly from stabilisation to normalisation, and he must seize the opportunity. Côte d’Ivoire will only escape from the illusion of stability when the possibility of armed struggle for power is no longer seen as a viable option.

This article was translated into English by Arnaud Bodet