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How Republican are Alassane Ouattara’s “Republican Forces”?

Posted by Moussa Fofana and Yvan Guichaoua

 

Laurent Gbagbo’s stubborn efforts to cling to power despite his electoral defeat have pushed his rival Alassane Ouattara to use force to gain effective presidency of Côte d’Ivoire. This choice is politically costly. It partially alters the legitimacy Ouattara won through the ballot box. It also raises the profiles of those who ousted Gbagbo through the gun: the former rebels, who were opportunistically rebranded “Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire” (RFCI) just before the assault against the security forces which remained loyal to the ex-president.

The political promotion of the ex-rebels triggers a series of questions respectively pertaining to their capacity to ensure security in the country, to the intentions of their chiefs, to the future of the forms of governance they have established in the north and to the process of demobilization of their low-level combatants.

It is worth stressing that the bulk of Ouattara’s troops do not generally correspond to the portrait of ‘traditional warriors’ from the north seeking ethnic revenge – this idea is more ideological than empirically grounded. The few serious sociological investigations available show the wide array of drivers of enlistment in the ex-rebel forces. Some may be opportunistic and personal. Others have to do with the deep moral outrage caused by the institutionalization of the discriminatory ideology of “Ivoirité” under Bédié and Gbagbo which made many Northerners feel like second-class citizens.

Furthermore, new untrained recruits might have been mobilized in Abidjan immediately before the fall of Gbagbo but most of the pro-Ouattara fighters were professional soldiers or enrolled in a process of professionalization as part of the integration programs stemming from the 2007 Ouagadougou peace accords. The army that fought for Ouattara in 2011 bears little resemblance to the hastily mobilized forces that fought Gbagbo’s troops in the aftermath of the failed coup in 2002. Ouattara’s RFCI were also rapidly reinforced by regular army soldiers abandoning Gbagbo as defeat got closer. The ‘Republican’ quality of this new and unusual composite of security forces still needs to be tested, though.

The first test concerns the capacity of the RFCI to secure the country’s territory and prevent atrocities. The RFCI’s accomplishments so far are hardly commendable. The minimum, consisting in capturing Gbagbo alive and avoiding the bloodbath prophesized by his followers, has been achieved. But, according to the international NGO Human Rights Watch, some members of the RFCI were involved in the massacres perpetrated in Duekoue. Similarly, the conquest of Abidjan was accompanied by bloody reprisals for the attacks perpetrated by the pro-Gbagbo militias after the elections in November.

A second major security concern relates to the future of the ‘comzones’, which is the name given to rebel officers who have been ruling the northern territories for almost a decade and who commanded the troops which ultimately dislodged Gbagbo. The comzones are important for at least two reasons: because of their ability to mobilise militarily and because of their hold on informal economic and political networks which buttress the forms of governance dominant in the north. Therefore, the comzones’ expectations in the post-Gbagbo era are not only related to their contribution to Ouattara’s rise to power; they also depend on the opportunity cost of relinquishing the advantages they derive from their northern fiefdoms. The popular legitimacy of the newly nominated préfets and the fulfilment of Ouattara’s promises of decentralization will be key assets permitting political and economic transition and the dismantling of comzones’ influence in the north.

On a personal level, the comzones’ ambitions vary. Some have already expressed their intention to quit the army. Others hope to move up the military hierarchy. The man holding the key role in the shaping of the comzones’ future is Guillaume Soro, Ouattara’s current Prime Minister, whose trajectory so far has been questionable. Crimes that were perpetrated by the ‘New Forces’ under his command expose him to international prosecution and the recent killing of his old rival Ibrahim Coulibaly in Abidjan shows that interpersonal vendettas among ex-rebels are not over. Soro is due to leave office as part of an electoral deal between Ouattara and his circumstantial ally Henri Konan Bédié. Soro’s resignation will be a welcome signal that power now belongs to civil authorities.

A third yardstick in Ivorian security politics concerns the demobilization of thousands of combatants from all sides. Most pro-Ouattara combatants expect some kind of compensation for what they perceive as a sacrifice for the cause while pro-Gbagbo militias may still trade their surrender. Reintegration programs plan to offer mostly economic reward to those returning to civilian life, and fresh flows of funding should satisfy the most pressing demands. In the longer term however, the dangerous effects on people’s lives of years of socialization through the gun will have to be addressed.

The window of opportunity to restore Republican behaviour among reconfigured Ivorian security forces is narrow. The resolve shown by Ivorian authorities to introduce positive changes will be the best indicator for Ivoirians that impunity and arbitrariness inherited from the war are over.

The Art of Clinging to Power: Laurent Gbagbo and the Post-election Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire

Posted by Morten Bøås and Anne Hatløy

 

After a few relatively quiet years in West Africa, the region has once again returned to international headlines due to conflict and political violence. This time it is Côte d’Ivoire, and the turmoil started when the opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara won the presidential election on November 29 last year. This election was supposed to contribute to peace and reconciliation, but it clearly did not. There is no doubt that Ouattara won the election, and Gbagbo must know that he lost it, but he also unfortunately seems to believe that if he just clings to power long enough, sooner or later ECOWAS, the United Nations and the international community at large will rest its case and allow him to remain in power: as the ‘rightful’ president or in the worst case, in Gbagbo’s eyes, forcing on him a national unity government solution of the same type as the one negotiated in the aftermath of the Kenyan post-election violence in 2007.

This would be a bad solution as it will set the democratic agenda in Africa several decades back, and therefore attempting to ‘master the art of clinging to power’ should not be rewarded. What is the point of an election if a losing incumbent president only needs to be as stubborn as possible to be allowed to continue to rule? It is possible that the ‘national unity government’ option was the correct solution in Kenya in 2007, but Côte d’Ivoire is not Kenya and the Kenyan solution should not in any case be seen as the leading principle for how such situations should be solved on the African continent. In that regard, it is gratifying that both the ECOWAS and the AU so far has been quite firm in their support for Ouattara. This stand should be encouraged and supported by all parties in the international community more broadly that want a more democratic African continent. However, it is also obvious that Gbagbo’s strategy is to wait for splits among African countries. He already seems to have some tactical support from Angola, not only in diplomatic terms, but also resource-wise. The South African support for the ECOWAS/AU line is reluctant, and even if Ghana has stated that it will stand by any sanctions imposed by ECOWAS, it has also made it clear that it will not contribute to any ECOWAS-led military intervention against Gbagbo. It is therefore of primary importance that the international community at large gives its unconditional support to the hard line against the Gbagbo regime that Nigeria and its president Goodluck Jonathan has taken. In this regard, important donor countries and foreign investors should make it clear that any attempt to break the international line against Gbagbo will have consequences for the country that undertake such actions. So far, the international community has not communicated this clearly enough to African countries such as Angola, Ghana and South Africa and they should do so.

It should also be noted that the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire also shows that the conduct of multi-party elections is not a prerequisite for peace and reconciliation. Elections alone do not create anything but winners and losers, and in a polarised society such as Côte d’Ivoire elections may be as equally conflict-enhancing as conflict-reducing. This is not an argument against democratic elections per se, but elections in a place such as Côte d’Ivoire should only be one of several measures adopted to ensure peace and reconciliation. Well in advance of such elections, substantial investments must be made to ensure civil society organisations that can reach across well entrenched political cleavages. Investments must be made in the institutionalisation of the political rules of engagement so that they or those that lose forthcoming election knows that such a loss will not dramatically alter their basic political and economic rights. In addition, the international community must have a backup plan when things go wrong. Unfortunately none of this seems to have been the case in Côte d’Ivoire. This is not only embarrassing, but tragic. Events as they unfold on the ground are no surprise. Rather, it was a high probability that exactly what we now see would happen if Gbagbo should lose and Ouattara win and the international community should have been aware of this.

It is therefore important both for the people of Côte d’Ivoire and the African continent that confrontation with the kind of destructive political forces that Gbagbo represents continues, insisting that the actual winner of the election also is allowed to assume power. If we let Gbagbo succeed, we will most likely see this kind of stubborn clinging to power in a number of other places on the continent in the near future, as there are a series of crucial elections forthcoming in Africa this year as well as in 2012.

This is the blog of the MICROCON research programme, featuring the reflections and opinions of MICROCON’s 60-strong team of researchers. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinion of MICROCON as a whole.