A mutiny in Ivory Coast

Barrack o’ drama

WAR, said Carl von Clausewitz, is politics by other means. In Ivory Coast, the country at the heart of Francophone West Africa, so too is mutiny. On January 6th soldiers seized Bouaké, the second-largest city in the country. Over the weekend they briefly kidnapped the country’s defence minister and shooting was heard in Abidjan, the commercial capital.

Purportedly, the dispute was about soldiers’ pay. On January 8th, having been promised generous bonuses, the soldiers returned to their barracks. Alassane Ouattara, the president, sacked the army and police chiefs. However, many Ivorians found the timing of the mutiny suspicious. It came a few days before Mr Ouattara dissolved his government in anticipation of implementing a new constitution.

In economic terms, Ivory Coast has in recent years been one of Africa’s star performers. Between 2012 and 2015 its GDP grew at an average rate of 8.5% per year. Abidjan’s crumbling 1970s brutalist skyline has been transformed by a wave of foreign projects. New offices, malls, a Heineken brewery and various factories have sprouted. This is largely thanks to the policies of Mr Ouattara, an American-educated economist who came to power in 2011. He has prioritised infrastructure investment and attracting money into the country.

Yet while Mr Ouattara’s economic record is commendable, his political one is less so. Most of the soldiers leaving their barracks were former rebels, integrated into the national army after the end of the short war which brought Mr Ouattara to power. Their demands, apparently including a call for $8,000 each (five times annual GDP per head), date back to promises allegedly made during that conflict, which started when Laurent Gbagbo, the previous president, refused to leave office after losing an election in 2010. For most of the decade before then, Ivory Coast was embroiled in a longer civil war and divided into two parts: a rebel-held, mostly Muslim north, and the government-held more Christian coast. Much of the country’s recent rapid growth has involved catching up after that lost decade of strife.

Soldiers are not the only people to feel aggrieved: teachers and civil servants have also gone on strike recently, notes Mamadou Diallo, a consultant in Abidjan. Plenty of Ivorians feel left out of the economic boom, he says. The army, which also mutinied in 2014, remains an unruly alternative source of power in a country with weak institutions. Many Ivorians suspect that the mutineers were actually incited into action by politicians who want to make sure that they are included in the new government that Mr Ouattara was expected to announce as The Economist went to press. This is part of a process of implementing a new constitution, which passed in a referendum in October.

Ivory Coast’s recent relative stability should not be taken for granted. So far, foreign investors have remained calm. An al-Qaeda attack that killed 19 people in March last year at Grand Bassam, a pretty resort town that was once the French colonial capital, did little to ruffle them. A return to full-blown war is extremely unlikely. But if investors suspect it is even possible, they may close their wallets.

Source: economist.