Mutiny Threatens The Ivory Coast

Discord and gunshots pierced the air in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, last week as thousands of mutinying soldiers filled public squares, blocked main roads in affluent neighbourhoods, and fired their weapons into the air. These acts of defiance are currently occurring in three of The Ivory Coast’s largest cities: Abidjan, Bouaké, and Daloa. In Abidjan (The Ivory Coast’s capital and largest city), soldiers forced the closing of businesses, schools, and office buildings. The offending soldiers are from a group of 8400 former rebels who joined the army in 2011, after marching on the capital in support of current President Alassane Ouattara, after his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to accept the results of the Ivory Coast’s presidential election.

While these rebels thus played an important role in fostering regime change in The Ivory Coast and have since integrated with the rest of the military, they became troublesome in January, when they initiated a number of similar acts of mutiny, demanding back pay of $15,500 each. The government has since paid each soldier $6500 (an act which satiated their earlier uprising) and has claimed it will pay the remainder of these debts by the end of May. However, the recent actions of these soldiers are seen by many as coming on the heels of growing scepticism that the government will manage to pay its debts. A great deal may rest on the answer to that question. Even if the government did wish to pay these soldiers, the Ivory Coast’s economy, which relies strongly on Cocoa exports, has suffered as a result of declining Cocoa prices and harvests. With government coffers increasingly drained, the soldiers demand tens of millions in additional pay appears poorly timed.

With solvency and stability on the line, the probability of escalation seems high. On Monday, the soldiers rejected a deal proposed by the government that would have seen paid 5 Million of the 7 Million Francs initially promised. Just as the soldiers seem uninterested in compromise, the main branch of The Ivory Coast’s armed forces announced an effort to advance on Bouaké where the mutinying soldiers are based. General Sékou Touré, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, stated that while some soldiers had heeded calls to lay down their weapons, the army would meet the remaining rebels in conflict if necessary.

Ironically, Government Officials now worry that the rebel’s acts of mutiny will sow broader instability, and threaten the Ivory Coast’s fragile economy, thus making financial appeasement even more difficult. Similarly, an escalation in conflict could bring with it a return to the bloodshed experienced all too frequently during The Ivory Coast’s long civil war. So far, stray bullets have killed one bystander near a military base, and on Saturday, soldiers injured six protestors in Bouaké. Unless a compromise is reached, further disruption and violence seems likely.