Armed raids on military and police bases, a border post and other key installations in Côte d'Ivoire since August are deepening insecurity in a country struggling to forge a unified armed force to help restore stability after 2010-2011 electoral unrest.
On the night of 14 October, armed men attacked a power station in the commercial capital Abidjan. Another gang hit a town in the east of the city where they tried to break into a police and paramilitary forces’ base.
In August, gunmen raided military posts and police stations in separate incidents in Abidjan. On 20 September, three people were killed when armed assailants attacked two police stations and a paramilitary forces’ post in Port-Bouët to the south of Abidjan. Hours later gunmen attacked the Noé border post with Ghana, some 170km east of the city.
The government of President Alassane Ouattara came to power after months of vicious battles between his forces and those loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who was ousted from the presidency after his refusal to accept defeat by Ouattara in the November 2010 elections.
Reforming the army, deeply divided by the conflict, is a key priority for Ouattara’s government, but there has been little progress since he took power in April 2011. The authorities blame exiled Gbagbo loyalists for the spate of attacks, an accusation the supporters of the former president deny, but many Gbagbo sympathizers have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the raids.
“The government makes nice speeches, but political divisions are so great that they are affecting the institutions. The FRCI [Ouattara’s forces] are so politicized. The authorities must make sure that their restructuring conforms to international standards and that they work for the country and not for a party or an individual,” Muhammad Iqbal Asi, commander of the UN forces in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), told IRIN.
Need for disarmament
UNOCI estimates there are 60,000-80,000 former fighters who should be disarmed, but Côte d'Ivoire’s Defence Minister Paul Koffi Koffi says the number is much lower at 30,000. It is also estimated that 1-3 million arms are in circulation in the West African country.
“It’s the same thing every year. They do a census (of ex-fighters) but nothing comes out of it. I can die of hunger if I wait for the authorities to do anything for me,” said Youssouf Koné, explaining that he took up arms during the post-election violence, but has since returned to his taxi business.
“Personally I don’t associate the FRCI with the national army, but think of them as a pro-Ouattara militia that neither represents the country nor the people,” said Aboubacar Coulibaly, a resident of Abidjan’s Yopougon District which was a Gbagbo stronghold during the conflict.
The government in August set up a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration body which started work in Bouaké, Côte d'Ivoire’s second biggest city in the central region. Previous disarmaments have had little success.
The country’s reformed army is supposed to be incorporating fighters who backed Ouattara, members of the national army under Gbagbo and men who took up arms for the fight in Abidjan, the scene of the worst clashes during the months-long conflict.
Not all fighters can join the national force and those left out could be a threat to security if they are not properly reintegrated into the society, Mamadou Koulibaly, a former national assembly speaker who now heads a political party, said in comments carried by a local paper.
“Today, Côte d'Ivoire has no army, but is gripped by several armed groups fighting each other and taking the people hostage,” Koulibaly said.
Rodrigue Koné of the Centre for Action and Peace Research, a Côte d'Ivoire research group, said ethnic animosity was also a major problem within the army. “The army’s internal weakness is defined by personal and ethnic rivalries. Even within the FRCI, there are divisions and infighting among the personalities young recruits identify with.”
More FRCI patrols
Since the resurgence of violence, the government has ramped up security surveillance. In Yopougon, for instance, armed patrols are on many of the neighbourhood’s intersections.
“FRCI were previously in the barracks, but now they are everywhere,” said Jean-Claude Tako who lives in Yopougon where residents now return to their homes early to avoid a brush with the forces.
René Legré Hokou, head of the Ivoirian Human Rights League, told IRIN that in the aftermath of the attacks in August FRCI troops conducted violent searches and stole from civilians.
“Suspected Gbagbo supporters are being abducted and taken to unknown places and later released after paying 100,000 or 200,000 CFA (US$200 or $400) in ransom.”