With Laurent Gbago successfully captured by Alassane Outtara’s forces, Côte d’Ivoire should now take the next step towards a sustainable and republican society and enter a period of demilitarisation. Yet, the political promotion of the ex-rebels leads to questions about their capacity to ensure security in the country. Is it possible that genuine republicanism can arise in the aftermath of Outtara’s violent triumph?
Outtara’s choice of using force to overthrow Gbago, who refused to give up power despite his electoral defeat, remains highly controversial. It makes it more difficult to justify the legitimacy Outtara won during the elections in November last year. It also promotes the former rebels who were rebranded ““Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire” (RFCI) just before committing atrocities against the security forces that were still loyal to the Laurent Gbago. These recent moves by the president and the RFCI question the intentions of the new government, the future of the forms of governance they have established in the north of the country and the process of demobilization of the force’s low-level combatants.
Although a great part of the population up north in Côte d’Ivoire feel like second-class citizens after the discriminatory ideology of “Ivoirité” developed under Bédié and Gbagbo, Outtara’s northern troops should not be classified as ‘traditional warriors’ in search of ethnic revenge. In fact, Outtara’s forces that are currently operating in the country are very different from the hurriedly gathered troops that fought against Gbago after the failed coup in 2002. In the aftermath of the elections last year, new inexperienced soldiers could have been recruited in Abijan just before Gbago’s downfall. And most of Outtara’s forces are professional soldiers from the intergration programs stemming from the 2007 Ouagadougou peace accords. The RFCI was also taking in troops who were leaving Gbago when it was obvious that he would be defeated. However, the ‘Republican’ quality of this new and uncommon combination of security forces still needs to be tested.
The RFCI’s ability to secure the country’s territory and prevent atrocities is to be challenged as the NGO Human Rights Watch claimed that soldiers from Outtara’s forces were involved in the massacres of Duekoue.
There are concerns about the capacity of the RFCI to secure the country’s territory and prevent atrocities. The RFCI’s accomplishments so far are hardly commendable. The minimum, consisting in capturing Gbagbo alive and avoiding the bloodbath prophesized by his followers, has been achieved. But, according to the international NGO Human Rights Watch, some members of the RFCI were involved in the massacres in Duekoue.
There are also concerns about the future of the ‘comzones’, the rebel officers who ordered the troops which dislodged Gbago. They have been in charge of the northern territories for nearly ten years. As they have an ability to mobilise military and are close to informal economic and political networks that supports the systems of control that is dominant in the north, they play a vital part in the post-Gbago era.
People have high expectations to the comzones who also depend on the opportunity cost of surrendering the advantages they derive from their northern fiefdoms. The popular legitimacy of the newly nominated préfets and the fulfilment of Ouattara’s promises of decentralization will be keys to allowing political and economic shift and the dismantling of comzones’ influence in the north.
Another challenge could be the demobilization of thousands of combatants from the different sides. The majority of Outtara’s forces want compensation while Gbago’s troops may only surrender on certain conditions. Reintegration programs will support soldiers going back to civil life, but still the bad influence civil war and gun violence has had people’s lives will have to be properly addressed.
The opportunity to restore Republican behaviour among Ivorian security forces is narrow. The authorities’ determination to promote progressive change will be the best indicator for Ivoirians to believe that the violence is over.