Who Are These Revolting Soldiers in the Ivory Coast?
The Ivory Coast tranquillity has been shaken by a revolt of a group of soldiers in the Ivoirian Army shooting up Bouake, Korhogo, Daloa and marching to Abidjan. They are demanding the pay they claim has been promised them and free house which the Ouattara Government agreed to provide them for fighting against the legitimate Ivory Coast Army commanded by the elected President of the country, Laurent Gbagbo, when Ouattara, the French and the UN made their successful coup in 2011.
These ‘soldiers’ who joined the rebellion after 2011 were no better or different from the rabble of unemployed carpenters, farmers, peasants, garbage men, thieves, pickpockets and sociophobes who joined the rebellion against the Gbagbo government in their first attempt to oust him in 2002. It is important to understand just who these rebel soldiers were.
Initially, as Gbagbo was leaving on a trip Europe, the Ivoirian Army dismissed from the service around 650 irregular troops which had been brought into the Ivorian Army by the military dictator, Guei, whom Gbagbo had replaced in an election. These were untrained thugs and miscreants that Guei had invited into the army with no training and no discipline to beef up his numbers. In September 2002, when the rebellion began, there were about 650 rebels who had fled to Bouake in the north. These were Guei appointees who had been purged from the Army. They had little equipment and ammunition, as they had expected a conflict of no more than five days. President Gbagbo was in Rome, meeting the Pope and the rebels felt sure that the coup could take place quickly with the President out of the country.
As the coup began in the second largest town, Bouake, the loyalist troops under Lida Kouassi responded. They were able to surround the rebels, trapping them in the city, and killing about 320 of them. They were positioned for a final onslaught on the remaining 300 rebels but were suddenly stopped by the French commander of the body of French troops stationed in the Ivory Coast. He demanded a delay of 48 hours to evacuate the French nationals and some US personnel (mainly students) in the town. The loyalist army demanded to be allowed to attack Bouake to put down the rebels but the French insisted on the delay. As soon as there was a delay, the French dropped parachutists into Bouake who took up positions alongside the rebels. This made it impossible for the loyalist troops to attack without killing a lot of Frenchmen at the same time.
During those 48 hours, the French military command chartered three Antonov-12 aircraft which were picked up in Franceville in Gabon. These Ukrainian-registered aircraft were filled with military supplies stocked by the French in Central Africa. Two of the planes started their journey in Durban where Ukrainian equipment and military personnel were loaded on board. The chartered planes flew to Nimba County, Liberia (on the Ivory Coast border) and then on to the rebel areas in Ivory Coast (Bouake and Korhogo) where they were handed to the rebels. Busloads of Burkinabe regular troops were transported from Burkina Faso to Korhogo dressed in civilian clothes where they were equipped with the military supplies brought in by the French from Central Africa and the Ukraine.
All of a sudden there were 2,500 fully armed soldiers on the rebel side as mercenaries from Liberia and Sierra Leone were also brought in by the same planes as well. They were equipped with Kalashnikovs and other bloc equipment which was never part of the Ivory Coast arsenal. France supplied sophisticated communications equipment as well. These new rebel soldiers were mainly the African mercenaries from the civil wars in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The French promised them loot and pay so they formed themselves into bands which roamed the north of the country and created political parties.
There were three rebel groups which appeared in Ivory Coast: The Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement (MPCI) - which was the first to take up arms against the government; The Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP); and The Ivorian Popular Movement of the Great West (MPIGO). Of these the MPCI had a political base within the Ivory Coast formed from Guei supporters and the large immigrant communities of Burkinabes, Malians and Guineans who had come to Ivory Coast as economic migrants. The other two groups were ad hoc groups of Liberians, defeated Sierra Leonean rebels and Guinean dissidents offered shelter and support by Charles Taylor of Liberia. Ukrainian pilots and mercenaries from these wars and the wars in the Congos and Angola appeared regularly. A substantial proportion of the rebels spoke English with each other rather than French.
The Burkina Faso government, with French and Libyan support were the armourers and suppliers of the rebels in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. In exchange for diamonds and gold the President, Blaise Campaore, rented training bases in his country, served as a weapons store for rebel groups and hosted the aircraft of Victor Bout and other weapons suppliers to fly in and out of his nation with no impediment. When Charles Taylor took over Liberia the two became an indispensable team supporting African unrest and rebellion. The weapons came via Libya and a substantial portion of the funds from France. After a period of sustained fighting a temporary cease-fire was agreed. The French then imposed a cease-fire which left the rebels in control of a large portion of the West and North of the country. The country was divided with the legitimate government in the South and the rebels in the North. The French set up a border between the two halves of the country to protect the rebels and enshrine them in power.
French troops were in control of the divided area “zone of control” and French troops kept the two sides apart. They called this Operation Licorne (Unicorn)
In that climate of civil disorder, the French invited all the warring parties, to a peace-making session in France, from 15 to 23 January 2003 at Linas-Marcoussis, in France. Attending the meeting were representatives of the legitimate Ivory Coast Government as well as the rebel factions and the other major Ivory Coast political parties who were not in the government. At that meeting the political opponents of the Gbagbo Government and the rebel military forces agreed to create a government of reconciliation which would include them. The elected Gbagbo government had to take representatives of the rebel bands into its government. They took Cabinet posts and the French appointed a Prime Minister to ‘help’ run the country.
These new Cabinet ministers demanded large salaries, cars and jobs in their ministries for their friends and families. No notion of competence or training was used in the selection of the new Cabinet ministers; only that they were chosen by the rebel bands. In fact, few actually showed up to work. The civil administration of the country was incoherent and conflicted as the national interest took second place to the demands of rival Cabinet ministers. The FPI (Gbagbo’s ruling party) was effectively stymied by internal dissent from a Prime Minister who refused to obey the wishes of the President and a Cabinet which refused to obey any rule other than the Law of the Jungle.
This was an outrageous policy by France but they soon got the support of the United Nations behind them. The UN sent troops to the Ivory Coast and helped defray the costs of keeping UN soldiers (almost all of whom came from Muslim countries) to ‘protect’ the rebels of the North who were also entirely Muslim. The U.S. ended up paying almost forty per cent of the UN costs in the Ivory Coast for more than fifteen years.
Between the agreement at Linas-Marcoussis there were flare-ups between the rebels and the FANCI (the Ivoirian Army) and among the several rebel bands. The imposition of a rebel government in the North meant that all the civil servants (teachers, policemen, administrators, lawyers, doctors, etc.) fled the North for the South. The schools and universities closed. Banks were robbed (some by French soldiers) and the postal system died. No one paid rent; no one paid taxes; and no one paid customs duties. Each rebel band was led by a ‘warlord’ who took over his territory as a feudal prince. They smuggled coffee, cocoa, diamonds, gold and timber to French traders in Burkina Faso and Togo and kept their funds in Paris and Ouagadougou.
In the Ivory Coast electricity is supplied from the South, Communications are based in the South. Water is supplied from the South. Trains and buses are based in the South. During the whole period of division of the country the Gbagbo government was prevented from turning off the electricity, water, rail and phones to the North because they were controlled by French monopolies in the South.
Successive efforts to hold elections in the country failed because there was no electoral roll and the disarmament agreements which were ordered by the UN never happened. Periodically there were confrontations where the French decided to obliterate the Ivoirian Air Force, destroying all the planes; the French attacks on unarmed but protesting Ivoirians outside the Hotel Ivoire where French tanks and machine guns slaughtered 65 young people and wounded 221 others; and constant plotting by the French to oust Gbagbo by bringing in additional mercenaries to be led by French officers like Pouchet and DuBott (French specialists on civil disorder).
There was also an effort by the United Nations to integrate the rebels with the regular army. This was an impossible task. The rebels demanded that they keep their rank and pay in the united army and demanded to be paid their wages for the period in which they were in rebellion. They demanded to keep the ranks they had assigned to themselves. They demanded to retain their own chain of command and armour. This was clearly a non-starter with the loyalist army command and troops. They said they would explore integrating some units, but only after they disarmed. The rebels refused to disarm and participated in seven attempted military coups against the Ivory Coast state between 2004 and 2009, led by French officers sent directly from France for this purpose.
A good example of this was recorded in captured tapes of a meeting to plan such a coup. There was a meeting held on Sunday October 10, 2004, in the village hall of the town hall of Korhogo from 0930 to 1245. Present at this meeting were the Presidents of Burkina Faso and Mali (Blaise Compaore and Amadou Toumani Toure). Also present was the head of the Rebel Forces and President of the RDR, Allassane Dramane Ouattara (‘ADO). The French were represented by Phillipe Pouchet (as Chirac’s spokesman) as well as Adama Toungara, the mayor of Abobo; Issouf Sylla, the mayor of Adjamé; Issa Diakite, Kandia Camara, George Koffi and Mouru Ouattara.
After the introductions Pouchet took the floor and stated ““ADO (Ouattara) your son and brother will be President of the Republic of Côte d`Ivoire before the elections of 2005… All France and Jacques Chirac support ADO to lead him to taking power in five months; i.e. in March. We have recruited mercenaries who are currently in training in Mali and in Burkina Faso. In March we will lead ADO to power with the assistance of the mercenaries who are in training with Burkinabé officers and Malians. Our objective it is to put ADO in power”
The next meeting of importance was held on the 20th of February from 100 to 1420 in Sikasso, in Mali and was recorded. Present at the meeting were President Blaise Campaore, President Amadou Toure; Philippe Pouchet, representative of Chirac; Col. Cyrille DuBott, representing the French Army stationed in Gabon; WATTAO (the warlord); the Imam Idriss Koudouss; several mayors (including Toungara) and military commanders of the ‘Blue Brigade’. Pouchet reported that Col. DuBott would accompany Pouchet to Abidjan to stay at the Tiama Hotel for four days. There he would plan the details of the coup and co-ordinate the mercenaries in their attack on the capital. “The town of Abidjan will be taken during the night of the 22nd of March and the takeover should be completed by the afternoon of the 23rd. The plan is for the mercenaries to stage an ‘invasion;’ and the French peacekeepers will intervene on their side, claiming that an attack on foreigners was being made by Gbagbo’s loyalist forces. In the run up to this there would be several provocations and incidents which would convince the world that Gbagbo’s forces were getting restless.”
All these planned coups were foiled by the Ivoirians but there was unrest throughout the country as the rebel soldiers were fully armed and undisciplined. The meddling and murderous actions of France’s Force Licorne have been documented by its own leaders. A recent book by Lieutenant-Colonel Georges Peillon, (The Great Silence) writing about the French support of the Ivory Coast rebels leaves no question about the French interference with democracy and their covert support of the rebels whom he describes in scathing tones. He wrote “The problem of the northern zone was that there was no functioning administrative organization. There were armed bands, called the New Forces, which had plundered all that represented the administration. One could find in the market of Bouaké french fries being sold, wrapped in birth certificates.” The head of the New Forces was Guillaume Kigbafori Soro, but in name only, as the warlords periodically attempted to kill him. He was just re-elected as President of the National Assembly.
On the fiftieth anniversary of its independence, the politicians of the Ivory Coast announced that the oft-postponed national elections would take place on October 31, 2010. Unfortunately, for the large bulk of the Ivoirian population this election would be a cruel joke. Elections are meant to resolve problems; to clarify the political power issues; to charge political victors and parties with the responsibilities for the programs they campaigned for during the election. In this election, the parties did not have programs; half the country was occupied by a piratical rabble of failed soldiers; no disarmament of the rebels had effectively taken place; no legitimacy was ascribed to the voting rolls or the electoral process; the occupying French forces and their UN supporters dominated the security of the country; and the aged and fading political party leaders wallowed in the mud of indecision. It was a shambles. Although Gbagbo had a lead in the ballot there was a need for a runoff between Gbagbo and Ouattara. The runoff ballot was held amidst major fraud in polling places in the North, intimidation of voters by rebel soldiers, and incompetent mathematics in evaluating the results.
As the results came in from around the country it was clear to the poll observers that Gbagbo maintained a lead over Ouattara. Despite this, near the end of the counting of the ballots the Ouattara team announced that Ouattara was the winner. His victory was announced at Ouattara’s campaign headquarters by his campaign manager. This had no legal effect or legitimacy but the international community began to trumpet Ouattara’s purported victory. The actual ballots cast were collected by the Electoral Commission and delivered to the Constitutional Court; the legal body established to pronounce on the validity of an election under the Constitution. The Constitutional Court ruled that Gbagbo had won and should stay in office.
At that point the French, the U.N. and their hangers-on (the European Union and Hillary Clinton) demanded that Gbagbo should withdraw from office despite his victory. They made an effort to persuade the ECOWAS (Union of West African States) to use violence against the civilian population in the Ivory Coast. The French were determined, as ever, to persuade others to fight their battles for them if bullying on their own wouldn't work. The Ghanaians, South Africans, Zimbabweans and others demanded that the Constitutional Court verdict be followed, but the Federation of Mendicants, Beggars, Buffoons and Imbeciles which made up the vast African dependencies of Françafrique, won the day in ECOWAS who demanded Gbagbo withdraw.
This stand-off prevailed for a month or so with Ouattara and his men holed up in the Hotel Golf in Abidjan, protected by the French Army and the UN peacekeepers. Violence began to break out in the countryside, in the West, where rabid bands of rebels joined up with the Dozos (traditional hunter-gatherers) in a program of mass slaughter and genocide. Thousands were killed, injured, raped and driven from their homes as the Northerners, supported by the French and UN troops were let loose on civilian villages. Fighting broke out as well in Abidjan. This is where the additional rebel troops were engaged and brought into the army. The warlords and the New Forces needed more men to attack Gbagbo and his army. The UN didn’t want the ‘peacekeepers’ to engage in open battle with Gbagbo’s army. They and the French hired any kind of murderer, rapist, bandit and indigent that they could find to attack Gbagbo’s army. They promised them money, a house, a rank in the New Forces if they would attack their fellow Ivoirians to oust Gbagbo. His they did with a vengeance.
The UN hired three Mi-24 helicopter gunships from the Ukraine. They were acquired by the United Nations peacekeepers and were stored in Bouake, in the North. This was the rebel’s headquarters. These helicopters were used almost exclusively against the civilian population of the Ivory Coast, standing off about two miles from their targets and shooting indiscriminately at their targets; killing and wounding thousands. French helicopters and tanks joined them in this barrage of civilian areas, killing many more. After a fierce resistance, the UN and French helicopters dropped heavy ordinance at the Presidential residence. French Special Forces entered the President’s home and captured the leadership gathered there. The French soldiers then turned their prisoners over to the Ouattara forces. Many of those captured were molested, beaten and abused on the spot. Others were taken away to be tortured by the rebels. The killing in the city lasted almost two months. During their occupation of Abidjan these rebels accosted their fellow citizens in Dioula or Mandinke (the languages of the North) and if they didn’t respond they were beaten, their property stolen and they were often shot.
As might be expected, the winning Ouattara New Forces had no real intention of paying these killers what they promised nor building them houses. They assumed, like the Dozos, that they would loot, steal, rape and plunder without restraint and that would be their reward. By now, however, they have used up their loot and plunder and are demanding more money and the houses they were promised. It is not going to happen. Ouattara will ‘take their demands into account’ but has no intention of paying them, building them houses, or giving the back pay for the time they were in rebellion.
While this is unfortunate for the Ivory Coast it is also a serious problem for all of West Africa. The thought of a wild, undisciplined mob of armed rebels roaming around the Ivory Coast is very frightening after the events of March 2016 when Al-Qaeda opened fire on the resort of Grand Bassam in the Ivory Coast. Al-Qaeda's North Africa branch claimed responsibility after six gunmen opened fire on civilians at an Ivory Coast beach resort, killing at least 16 people. Bloody bodies were sprawled on the beach and witnesses described horrific scenes as a lazy Sunday afternoon was shattered the attack. Fifteen civilians and two special forces soldiers were killed before the six assailants were gunned down in the resort.
The disaffected rebels who shot their way into the public consciousness last week are going to be disappointed by Ouattara’s response. They have nowhere else to go to maintain their incomes or lifestyle. Joining Al-Qaeda in the region becomes an attractive alternative to the largely Moslem rebel soldiers; it is a fertile ground for a Boko Haram formation in the Ivory Coast. A good start was made for them in Grand Bassam. Who knows what is next?
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Dr. Gary K. Busch and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana.