SitRep: Ivory Coast Mutiny
Ivory Coast Soldiers Holding Government to Ransome
Soldiers launch mutinies in three Ivory Coast cities. West African nation’s defence minister says the mutineers are demanding salary increases and payment of bonuses.
Al Jazeera reported on 6 January 2017 that Ivorian soldiers had mutinied in three cities across the country. The trouble began in Bouake, the country’s second-largest city and former rebel stronghold, before spreading to two other major urban centres of Daloa and Korhogo.
Mutiny Starts in Bouake
Nicolas Haque, reporting from Dakar in Senegal for Al Jazeera, said:
These are former soldiers that were part of an ECOWAS force trying to maintain peace in Liberia. Then they returned back to Ivory Coast where there was also a civil war and played a role to maintain peace and order in the country. Now they are saying they weren’t paid for their services. In Bouake during the civil war we saw heavy bombardment from government authorities. We saw mass graves. There are a lot of young men with arms there.
Mutiny Spreads to Abidjan
Heavy firing was reported continuing into 7 January, with mutineers still in control of Bouake and unrest spreading to Abidjan and other cities. Despite what appeared to be successful negotiations with the government, soldiers opened fire on a building in Bouake where the Ivorian defence minister Alain-Richard Donwahi was staying.
Journalist Ange Aboa was inside the building at the time and said that soldiers opened fire with assault rifles and RPGs. The siege was reported to have ended on 8 January and Donwahi was allowed to leave unharmed.
Ivory Coast President Agrees to Demands
The President of Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara, appeared on television to agree to the mutineers demands. After peace was restored, Ivorian prime minister Daniel Kablan Duncan resigned and dissolved the government, a move that had been expected, but delayed by the two-day mutiny. Ouattara then dismissed several high-ranking officials: chief of the army, General Soumaila Bakayoko; superior commander of the National Gendarmerie, Gervais Kouakou Kouassi; and the director-general of the National Police, Bredou M’Bia.
One source was reported as saying that the soldiers had originally demanded a pay increase of $16,000, about 100 times more than the average Ivorian earns per month. The final amount agreed was said to be approx. $8,000 each, to be paid as a one-off bonus. It is not certain whether the government will be able to afford this amount.
On 17 January, Reuters reported that at least two soldiers had been killed in a further outbreak of violence. Ange Aboa said that the men were shot in the capital Yamoussoukro, hours after the government had started paying the promised bonuses. Unconfirmed reports said that a further 6 men were killed in Bouake.
Aboa also said that the deal involved bonus payments of 12 million CFA francs ($19,595) each to approximately 8,400 soldiers, beginning with an installment of 5 million. The shootings occurred as other soldiers demanded to be included in the deal.
Soldiers in Abidjan and other cities were involved in fresh protests on 23 January. Men described as ‘retired soldiers’ blockaded one of the major highways into Abidjan as civilians also came out in protest. Firemen blocked roads and secondary-school teachers went on strike, demanding better pay. It is also believed that the soldiers are demanding to be included in the bonus-payment deal with the mutineers.
Background to the Ivory Coast Mutiny
Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) is a country of 322,463km2 located in West Africa. Ivory Coast’s political capital is Yamoussoukro, and its economic centre and largest city is the port city of Abidjan. Ivory Coast became a protectorate of France in 1843/1844 and was later made a French colony in 1893. Ivory Coast became independent in 1960, maintaining close ties to the West, especially France.
The official language is French, with around 78 languages spoken. The main religions are Christianity (44%), Islam (37.5%) and indigenous religions (10%).
In 2014 the population of Ivory Coast was estimated at just under 24 million. Life expectancy is 41 for males and 47 for females (2004). About 25% live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day. The HIV/AIDS rate is 19th-highest in the world (2012), with 3.20% of adults aged 15–49 years being infected.
The production of coffee and cocoa contributing to a booming economy in the 1960s and 1970s, but into the 1980s, Ivory Coast went through an economic crisis causing political and social turmoil. Today, Ivory Coast remains the world’s largest exporter of cocoa beans (25% of exports), but is also an oil producer (crude petroleum represents 11% of exports).
Ivory Coast has been rent by a coup d’état in 1999, also caused by a pay dispute, and two religious civil wars in 2002-2007 and 2010-2011. Beyond the large-scale conflicts, Ivory Coast has witnessed armed confrontation for decades. Calling it ‘tactical communication’, researcher Dr Maggie Dwyer charted 9 mutinies from 1990 to 2008[pdf] and the country has seen continuing trouble since the last civil war officially ended in 2011. In 2014, striking soldiers, also complaining about non-payment, brought the country to a standstill. In March 2016, Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for an attack at the beach resort of Grand Bassam that left at least 16 people dead, including 4 Europeans.
Estimations of Ivory Coast’s armed forces, known officially as the Forces Republicaines de Cote d’Ivoire (FRCI), vary considerably. Bloomberg reported a strength of 40,000 men, Al Jazeera’s latest estimate puts the size of the army at 22,000 men, although other sources put the figure at 9,500.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies assessed that in 2012 the Ivorian army had 10 Soviet-era T-55 tanks (potentially unserviceable), 5 French AMX-13 light tanks, 34 reconnaissance vehicles, 10 Soviet BMP-1/2 armoured infantry fighting vehicles, 41 wheeled APCs, and over 36 artillery pieces.
In 2012, the Ivory Coast Airforce consisted of one Soviet Mil Mi-24 helicopter gunship and three French SA330L Puma transports (potentially unserviceable). A minimal coastal patrol capability was reported for the Ivory Coast Navy.
Soldiers’ demands over money are likely to be a recurrent problem. The capacity for the government to appease the mutineers will be stretched as more soldiers make demands; however, underlying the recent unrest is a clear demarcation between the mutineers, many of them former Forces nouvelles rebels operating out of their stronghold of Bouake, and the current leadership under the ageing Ouattara (now 75) – the Muslim north versus the Christian south religio-ethnic divide instrumental in the previous two conflicts. At present, the situation has seen the rebels only holding the country to ransom, but conditions remain volatile enough to spark a return to civil war, especially as tensions are likely to increase in the run-up to the 2020 presidential elections. The possibility of further terrorist attacks should not be ruled out.
Ivory Coast Mutiny Updates
16 February 2017: Ivory Coast Special Forces Mutiny in Adiaké
16 February 2017: Ivory Coast Arrests Fake News Journalists
Photo: FAFN rebels walking past a French Foreign Legion armoured vehicle in Ivory Coast (Jonathan Alpeyrie 2008).