Mutinies `Humiliated’ Ivory Coast, Parliament Speaker Says

ABIDJAN (Capital Markets in Africa) – A series of mutinies by soldiers in Ivory Coast demanding payments for supporting President Alassane Ouattara humiliated the West African nation, according to National Assembly Speaker Guillaume Soro, who once commanded the troops as a former rebel leader.

“I can only note that we are despised,” Soro, 45, said in an interview Sunday at his residence in Abidjan, the commercial capital. “It’s a humiliation for us — the state, the president, myself and the institutions.”

The mutinies were led by 8,400 ex-rebels who helped bring Ouattara to power in 2011 after a decade-long political crisis. The soldiers, who’ve since been integrated into the national army, paralyzed several cities in the world’s biggest cocoa-producing country, demanding bonuses that they said were promised for backing Ouattara. The troops halted their four-day mutiny, the second protest of the year, on May 16 when the government agreed to complete their payments.

Those troops were part of the rebellion led by Soro that backed Ouattara after then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to acknowledge his defeat in a November 2010 vote. Since then, Ouattara’s administration has largely restored calm, overseen an economy that’s expanded an average of 9 percent a year, and led his ruling coalition to a comfortable win in last year’s parliamentary elections, taking 167 of the 255 seats.

President ‘Shocked’
Soro said he was in constant contact with the president during the mutinies. “He was shocked,” he said. “He wasn’t happy at all.”

The soldiers’ demands weren’t legitimate, Soro said, and the government shouldn’t have agreed to pay them bonuses worth 12 million CFA Francs ($20,457) each after this year’s first army unrest in January. Last month, the government revised its 2017 budget as it faces lower income from cocoa, its main export crop, limiting its ability to pay the troops.

Cocoa has fallen 34 percent in the past 12 months in New York on expectations of bumper harvests in West Africa, including record supplies from Ivory Coast.

The discovery of a cache of weapons by the mutinous soldiers on May 15 in a house allegedly owned by Soro’s head of protocol, Souleymane Kamarate Kone, fuelled suspicions that Soro was backing the mutineers. He declined to comment on the case while the gendarmerie’s investigative brigade continues to question his aide.

Weapons Haul
A United Nations expert panel said in a report last year that Soro acquired about 300 metric tons of weapons and ammunition in 2011 in the wake of the post-election crisis. Soro denied the accusations.

“I’m not a person who can stab in the back,” he said. “I have always demonstrated my loyalty to President Ouattara.”

Soro has been a dominant figure in Ivory Coast’s political landscape for almost 15 years. While critics have called him a ruthless warlord with a burning ambition to run for the presidency in 2020, he commands the loyalty of a large part of the security forces.

A former head of the influential student union at the University of Abidjan, Soro surfaced as a political mastermind of the rebels who seized the north of Ivory Coast following a failed attempt to oust Gbagbo in 2002. After several insurgent commanders were killed in internal leadership disputes, Soro rose to the top.

Soro is seen as one of the main contenders to take over from Ouattara, who constitutionally must step down after two terms in office in 2020. But he’s facing rivalries inside the president’s Rassemblement des Republicains party and ruling coalition. He said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll run for the presidency.

Political Commitment
“When I’m being told I’m impatient, I’m shocked,” he said. “Between Emmanuel Macron, who’s president of France at 39, and myself, who is 45 and not yet president, who is impatient? I started my political and union commitment in 1991.”

Soro has many supporters inside and outside the ruling party and is reaching out to young people on social media, Arthur Banga, a historian at Ivory Coast’s University Felix Houphouet-Boigny, said by phone.

“He’s been working to re-brand himself as a statesman and he’s also trying to make peace with those who don’t forgive him for the rebellion,” Banga said. “He’s building his image to be Ivory Coast’s president.”

The mutinies have shown that despite its relative calm and roaring economy, Ivory Coast remains vulnerable to unrest and Ouattara’s hold over the army is tenuous. Soro, who was both prime minister and defense minister until 2012 when he became parliamentary speaker, said part of the problem is that the former rebels haven’t received enough training and have little to do.

“Even if I had left an ill-disciplined army, things could have been done in the past five years to make it better,” Soro said. “The causes need to be found in the soldiers’ everyday life.”


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