Mutineers Have Been Bought Off Again in Ivory Coast
As strikes go, this one was resolved remarkably quickly and with an unusually one-sided result. The reason, quite simply, is that these strikers had guns. Just days after some 8,400 mutinous soldiers marched out of their barracks in Ivory Coast, shooting in the air and blockading roads, the government had caved in, paying each of them 5m CFA francs ($8,400) and promising to give them another 2m before the end of June. But not before one person had been killed by stray gunfire.
This was the second mutiny by soldiers in the country this year. In January disgruntled troops, many of them former rebels who had fought in a civil war in 2011, took to the streets claiming they had been underpaid ever since the end of that conflict. The president, Alassane Ouattara, who was helped into power by the rebels in 2011 after his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, tried to steal an election, quickly acceded to their demands. The first mutiny ended with an immediate payment of 5m CFA francs and a promise of 7m more. “If [the government] respects us, they won’t hear from us,” one mutineer, a lean, muscular 34-year-old, told your correspondent in Bouaké between the two uprisings. “We are victims.”
Yet it was a dispute over the promised bounty that sparked the latest mutiny. On May 11th a spokesman for the mutineers said on state television that they were no longer demanding the rest of the money. Yet he did not speak for his fellows, who quickly took up arms again and blocked roads including one to Bouaké, the country’s second-largest city. This time Mr Ouattara, a former economist at the IMF, dispatched loyal army units to end the mutiny by force. But after a brief stand-off he decided once again to pay the rebels instead.
Yet the government can ill-afford the total bill of 101bn CFA. On May 10th it announced a 54bn CFA budget cut in response to a fall in the price of cocoa, which accounts for more than 40% of exports. And the first uprising has already sparked demands from others. Ivory Coast’s 200,000 civil servants walked out for three weeks in January, claiming they were owed 196bn CFA in unpaid wages, an issue which has yet to be resolved. Several thousand former rebels who were demobilised in 2011 have said they want their share too; many still have weapons.
The mutiny takes the shine off Ivory Coast’s recent successes. After years of economic stagnation and two civil wars (the first started in 2002), the economy had been rebounding, with growth of about 8% a year. Inflation has been subdued, helped by the stability of the CFA, which is pegged to the euro and backed by the French treasury. Foreign investors have flocked to the country. Heineken recently built a €150m ($167m) brewery in what its enthusiastic local boss, Alexander Koch, says was a record 13 months. “The middle class is a reality,” says Laureen Kouassi-Olsson of Amethis, a private equity firm. “Five years ago consumption relied on expats.”
The economic boom has been driven by infrastructure investment that has largely been concentrated in the commercial capital, Abidjan. Little wealth has trickled down. Between 2008 and 2015 the proportion of the population who are poor fell by just 2.6 percentage points, to 46.3%.
Mr Ouattara, who is due to stand down in 2020, had promised to cut poverty in half before then. His failure to make such rapid progress is already raising questions over his succession. The opposition party of the deposed president is divided. A moderate faction wants to contest the elections; hardliners want to boycott them until Mr Gbagbo is released by the International Criminal Court, where he is standing trial on charges relating to violence after the elections in 2010. Among the contenders from the ruling coalition are the current prime minister, Amadou Coulibaly, a Ouattara ally, and the president of the National Assembly, Guillaume Soro, who led the rebels during the civil war.
If Ivory Coast has a peaceful succession it could regain the status it had in the 1970s as an economic powerhouse. But to do so it will have to strengthen state institutions and bring former rebels under control. It will not cut poverty or cement its democracy if it keeps getting held hostage by men with guns.