Côte d’Ivoire: State Security Versus Security Sector Reform

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Eighteen months after the end of the post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, the interim report of the United Nations Panel of Experts–alleging that pro-Gbagbo exiles established in neighboring Ghana are working to destabilize the current Ivorian government–confirms what had become clear after a series of attacks over the past couple months: the grace period for President Ouattara is over.

These attacks included cross-border ones from both neighboring Ghana and Liberia and were mostly targeted at the Forces Republicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), but also at civilians and the UN peacekeeping mission (UNOCI), which lost 7 military from Niger on June 8, just before the last Security Council briefing on Côte d’Ivoire. More than ever, the security sector in Côte d’Ivoire remains a source of conflict and a key to peace. But in the current context, the raison d'État risks sending a much-needed security sector reform down the wrong path.

Key Conclusions:

  • The string of attacks over the summer may have been a wake-up call for the need to move both the security sector reform (SSR) and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) processes forward. The interministerial working group for security sector reform (GT-RSS) completed a National SSR Strategy–including DDR elements–and will now launch consultations with beneficiaries and stakeholders towards its validation.
  • There is, however, a risk that the government will use concerns over possible attempts against state security to limit this exercise to a simple dissemination of the strategy rather than using it as an opportunity for building trust both within the FRCI and between the FRCI and the population. 
  • The temptation will also be to reactivate parallel chains of command that existed in the ex-rebel Forces Nouvelles (FN) to deal with the current threats. This would send the wrong message in terms of politicization of the FRCI, and would make any effective SSR all the more difficult to achieve in the future. 
  • The recent attacks that have largely been blamed on Gbagbo-loyalists should not discount the fact that many of the challenges and resistances to the upcoming SSR and DDR processes will come from within the FRCI and associated groups, as it will inevitably create “losers” on all sides. 
  • There is also risk of further encouraging the government down the path of victor’s justice, with the recent launch of trials of pro-Gbagbo military suspected of having committed crimes during the post-electoral crisis, while none of the ex-rebel FN have yet been prosecuted.

Analysis:

The conclusions of the (leaked) interim report of the UN Panel of Experts were largely discussed in the Ivorian press this week. The report’s main conclusions are that loyalists of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo (currently awaiting trial by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity) in exile in neighboring Ghana are working to destabilize the current Ivorian government, including by recruiting and training mercenaries in Ghana and Liberia, but also possibly attempting to exploit the Mali instability to establish further bases of operations and recruit there from both Islamist groups and the military junta.

President Ouattara, as the elected president of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) since February 2012–the same organization that failed to dislodge Gbagbo after December 2011–has been pushing for the UN Security Council to support an ECOWAS-led military intervention in Mali. But due to the current internal issues the country is facing, Côte d’Ivoire and its FRCI would likely not take part in such a regional intervention in Mali, if it were to take place. And indeed, while it may be tempting to send troops from the oversized FRCI on a mission abroad, the priority should be for the Ivorian government to move the stalled security sector reform (SSR) process forward as a key tool for preventing the resurgence of conflict in the future. Some will recall that in the late 1990s, Ivorian military that had taken part in the UN mission in Central African Republic (MINURCA) were behind the December 1999 coup, led by General Guei, against then President Bédié's regime. General Guei was killed in another unsuccessful military coup–against Gbagbo this time–in September 2002, which was the starting point of the decade-long crisis that ended last year. 

President-elect Ouattara made two key decisions towards the end of the December 2011 post-election crisis. First, by appointing ex-rebel FN leader Guillaume Soro as his prime minister and minister of defense, he gave himself an army to march on Abidjan and dislodge Gbagbo. Second, by creating the FRCI (by a decree of March 17, 2011), he symbolically unified ex-rebel Forces Nouvelles and those members of the former national Defense and Security Forces (DSF) that would have remained neutral or sided with him during the crisis.

This and the military outcome of the post-electoral crisis meant that President Ouattara would owe a lot to those ex-rebels who ultimately brought him to power. This was reflected in the senior FRCI appointments made since. It has, however, also led the government to delay important but difficult decisions to prosecute some ex-rebel FN members integrated into the new FRCI, despite strong suspicions of serious crimes against some of them. In spite of President Ouattara’s early public speeches on the need for forgiveness and reconciliation–calling on Ivorians who remained in exile to return to the country–he has been criticized for continuing “down its current path of victor’s justice.”

Although the launch of genuine security sector reform has been delayed repeatedly since the end of the post-electoral crisis, there have been some encouraging signs in the past month. The recent string of attacks over the summer may have been a wakeup call for the need to move forward both the SSR and DDR processes alongside. The fact that President Ouattara took over the ministry of defense (from Soro) indicated some political will and a sense of urgency. In early August, the interministerial working group for security sector reform (GT-RSS) completed the first phase of its work, which consisted in the elaboration of a National SSR Strategy–including DDR elements–which was endorsed by the National Security Council. A DDR oversight body was also established and a census of security forces launched–a key starting point, especially given that estimates vary widely. Between now and the end of the year, consultations with beneficiaries and stakeholders will take place throughout the country on this new National SSR Strategy towards its validation. This in itself will, however, not guarantee the establishment of a security sector accountable to and trusted by the people.

Indeed, in the current context, the risk is that the government will use concerns over possible attempts against state security to limit this exercise to a simple dissemination of the strategy rather than an opportunity for consultations that could feed into the broader national reconciliation process. During the decade-long conflict, both sides (former DSF in the south and ex-rebel FN in the north) lost the trust of the broader population-due to abuses, including human rights violations, corruption, and association with militias and paramilitary youth groups. The temptation will also be to reactivate parallel chains of command that existed in the ex-rebel FN–to certain ComZones–to deal with the current threats. This would send the wrong message in terms of politicization of the FRCI, and would make any effective SSR–an accountable FRCI with professional and unified command, under civilian control–all the more difficult to achieve in the future. Finally, the recent series of attacks that have been blamed on Gbagbo-loyalists should not discount the fact that many of the challenges and resistances to the upcoming SSR/DDR process will come from within the FRCI and associated groups, as it will inevitably create “losers” on all sides.

An effective SSR could be a key tool for preventing the resurgence of conflict in the future. But only on the condition that there is reconciliation, both within the FRCI and between  the uniformed personnel and a population that can trust them. SSR should result from and contribute to national reconciliation efforts. But again, the recent wave of attacks risk further encouraging the government down the path of victor’s justice. The trial of the former head of republic guards Brunot Dogbo Blé began on October 2 (he also figures alongside other pro-Gbagbo officers in another trial, of those accused of the assassination of General Guei on the day of the failed coup against Gbagbo in September 2002). This is the first of around 40 trials to come of pro-Gbagbo military suspected of having committed crimes during the post-electoral crisis. Meanwhile, none of the ex-rebel FN–including former ComZones–also responsible for grave crimes have yet been prosecuted.

Arthur Boutellis is a Research Fellow at the International Peace Institute.

About the photo: Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara with  ex-Forces Nouvelles leaders.



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