Concerns of the presence of a third-force attempting to destabilise Côte d’Ivoire have emerged after leaders of the May 2017 mutiny claimed they received information on where to find an illicit stash of weapons.
This was the second mutiny by Ivorian troops over pay in 2017. The first occurred between 6 and 8 January 2017 when 400 troops, complaining about pay and living conditions, seized large sections and government buildings in the cities of Abobo, Bouake, Dallas, Daoukro, Toulepleu, Man, Korhogo, Odienne, and the capital, Abidjan. The troop rebellion was eventually ended in a negotiated settlement in which the government of President Alassane Ouattara agreed to better pay and bonuses and not to prosecute the mutineers if they returned to their barracks.
On 9 January 2017, Ouattara removed the heads of the army, police and gendarmerie from their positions, in what was the only major disciplinary action following the rebellion.
However, the Ivorian government was unsure if it could afford the increased wage bill and was believed to be looking for a way to renege with minimal fall out. On 11 May 2017, one Sergeant Fofana appeared on national television claiming to be the spokesperson of the January Mutineers and stated that the soldiers had dropped their demands for the increased pay. However, Fofana’s statements did not appear to have support among the rank and file and on 12 May 2017, another smaller mutiny erupted that saw rebellious soldiers seize control of the army headquarters and the Ministry of Defence in Abidjan, as well as shut down the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro. The mutiny lasted until 16 May 2017 when it ended with another settlement agreement, the details of which have not been disclosed.
The length of the mutiny surprised observers as there were fewer troops than in January and the government was well prepared and quickly dispatched its Special Forces to suppress the mutiny. However, some mutineer leaders claim that that they received a phone call directing them to the home of Souleymane Kamarate Kone, the head of protocol for the country’s Speaker of Parliament Guillaume Soro, where they discovered a stash of weapons that enabled them to hold their ground and drive back loyal government forces. The mutineers declined to reveal the source of the call.
These revelations have led to rumours of a third force operating in Côte d’Ivoire with an interest in undermining the current government. Notably the soldiers in both the January and May mutinies were mostly former Forces Nouvelles de Côte d’Ivoire (FNCI) fighters who supported Ouattara in the 2010/2011 crisis after then President Laurent Gbagbo disputed the election result and refused to relinquish power. The FNCI were among the domestic forces who, with the assistance from the United Nations (UN) mandated French military, removed Gbagbo and installed Ouattara as president. Subsequently, the FNCI was merged with the Ivorian army.
In this context then, it is significant that Soro was a former leader of the FNCI, and is believed to be a major contender to succeed Ouattara in 2020 although no evidence has yet been found to link him directly to the arms stash at his Chief of Protocol’s house.
Speculation is that the alleged caller alerting the mutineers to the arms cache was a high-ranking member of the ruling coalition. This is underscored by the connection to former FNCI troops, as well as Kone. These developments could also be linked to intra-party campaigning to succeed Ouattara, or at least gain the loyalty of the military ahead of the 2020 election ‒ which many observers believe already carries an increasing risk of associated violence.
Given political and security tension after both mutinies, and the increasing political tensions ahead of 2020 elections, further instability and violence is possible in Côte d’Ivoire, including a threat of further military revolts.