January -The Roaring 20s Brings Thunder to Côte d'Ivoire

Echoes of 2002 were deafening on Monday. Dec 23, 2019, when Ivory Coast issued an arrest warrant for Guillaume Soro.

Adjourned many times, the return from a six-month world tour of early campaigning and fundraising was supposed to be a show of strength for his newly formed party "Generations et Peuples Solidaires (GPS), after the brutal breakaway from the Rassemblement des Houphouetistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix "RHDP" ruling party. Then, the rumours mill of Abidjan ran viral about law enforcement out to get the former Prime Minister.

The steady stream of supporters on the way to the airport turned its attention to Soro's residence in Marcory, surrounded early by police squads, some in blaclavas. The former "Forces Nouvelles"front man, aboard a private jet, quickly received word of the wind of danger coming his way. He was forced to land in neighbouring Ghana, accused of "Attempted Coup d'Etat" according to State Prosecutor Richard Adou. It was later reported that Guillaume Soro was allowed to fly to Spain where the next day, a hastily arranged press briefing was to reveal one of the secrets of the 2002 civil unrest in Ivory Coast.

Mrs Affousiata Bamba Lamine, a long-time ally of Mr Soro and Bona Fide Attorney for the "Forces Nouvelles", blithely told the world that President Alassane Dramane Ouattara was the mastermind behind the "Attempted Coup d'Etat" against President Laurent Gbagbo.     

Saluting army deserter, 2002 rebel frontman and current Bouaké prefect Tuo Fozié . Photo/Censors.

To fully begin to grasp what is at stakes in the Ivory Coast on the eve of a new decade already dubbed the roaring 20s, one must roll back the years to September 19, 2002.

Gun toting bearded men simultaneously shot to kill in Bouaké and Abidjan. The "ZinZin" and the "Bahefoue" as they were then called, claimed it was a mutiny due to unpaid salaries and bonuses.  When the fightings subsided, Among the many collateral damages were, Interior minister Boga Doudou lying in a pool of blood in the middle of his ransacked residence whilst former President General Guei's corpse riddled with bullets was found in a ditch near the leafy neighbourhood ofCocody; his wife, Doudou Rose and their entire staff perished in a carnage at his residence.

On that morning of September 19, 2002, a thick cloud mass covered the south of the country. The sky was heavy. Confusion reigned in the ranks of the army. It was not long before they launched their counter-offensive. It turned out to be shadow boxing? In Abidjan, it seemed the assailants were soldiers of the Ivorian army who learned that they would soon be excluded. One thing was certain: Côte d'Ivoire was sinking into a period of unrest and uncertainty as never before.

In Abidjan, the battle soon turned in favour of loyalists. The army hunted down insurgents whilst staying on alert in case the second wave of attacks broke out. Meanwhile, these first attempts of loyalist counter-offensive in Bouaké and Korhogo failed. The following night, Alassane Ouattara and his wife narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by taking refuge in the German embassy.

On the second day of the putsch, Abidjan remained under government control. The mutineers managed to take possession of the country's second-largest city: Bouaké and further North Korhogo. The unity of the country was seriously compromised. Mystery still surrounded these assailants who used, in the words of President Laurent Gbagbo on a trip to Rome, "heavy weapons, mostly new weapons that our army does not have, so we cannot say that it is our army rebelling. Weapons used, are from foreign armies or bought from foreign governments".

On September 24th, Notre Voie, a daily newspaper close to the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) accused Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaore of being responsible for this coup de force. The origin, motivations, financing and arming of the rebels were still very unclear. But the information was already circulating about the training of rebels at the Po military base in Burkina Faso; a fact that would fuel arguments to the thesis of Burkinabé interference.

The "North-South" split of the country slowly ran into motion. The rebels announced their first demands through their leader Guillaume Soro after an early disastrous attempt in a third grade French by one Tuo Fozié, an army deserter. They demanded the departure of Laurent Gbagbo, reforms of Ivorian code of nationality, and above all, the end to "Ivoirité"; a concept meant to unify a culturally diverse country, misused for false pretences.

France, the former colonial power entered the fray by launching Operation Licorne on 22 September to secure the status quo between North and South, and later imposed the Marcoussis Agreements of  January 23, 2003. However, the latter proved fragile because of the animosity between the two waring factions parties, espacially Gbagbo, who claimed to have been forced to sign it.

The Ivorian crisis sank into an unprecedented imbroglio in which the French army was being taken to task by both rebels and loyalists. The bombing of the French camp in Bouaké and the unprovoked shooting of Ivorian protesters at the Hotel Ivoire by French snipers will be episodes that will forcefully illustrate the bogging down of Operation Licorne.

It was only on 4 March 2007, when the Ouagadougou Agreements were signed, that the beginning of a peaceful settlement of the conflict finally took shape. A few months later, on 30 July 2007, in the presence of Gbagbo, Soro and several African Heads of State (Yayi Boni, Blaise Campaoré, Faure Gnassingbé, Thabo Mbeki...), the peace flame ceremony organised in the Bouaké stadium, for a time, sealed national peace, which would be put to the test again by the post-electoral crisis of 2010-2011

On Thursday December 26th, 2019, the Ivorian judiciary clarified its accusations against candidate for the 2020 presidential election. Guillaume Soro was preparing a civil and military insurrection to seize power. These accusations were swept aside by his defence.

The former Speaker of the National Assembly (2012-2019) who became an opponent, was preparing a two-part plot: first a communication operation abroad to discredit the Ivorian regime, then a civil and military insurrection, said the prosecutor Richard Adou at a press conference broadcast live on public television.

These accusations are based in particular on a recording made by the Ivorian intelligence services, according to the prosecutor. It features M. Soro and another man. He did not specify where, when or how it was made, hiding behind the secrecy of the investigation.

According to Mr. Adou, weapons were also discovered during searches, but the dates and places of which he did not specify. We have exceeded 15 arrests of accomplices," said the prosecutor, who accuses them, like Soro, now under an international arrest warrant, of conspiracy against state authority, a crime punishable by life imprisonment.

Among them, five pro-Soro MPs were arrested despite their immunity , under a flagrante delicto procedure, according to the prosecutor. Investigations are only just beginning, he said, pointing to the possible involvement of military personnel in the conspiracy.

Mr. Soro is also accused of embezzlement of public funds and money laundering for attempting to claim a property bought for 1.5 billion CFA francs (2.3 million euros) from state funds when he was prime minister in 2007. These facts were discovered very recently, according to the prosecutor.

An "ill-conceived espionage operation".

Soro's defence has outright rejected all these spurious accusations, castigating an ill-conceived spying operation by Abidjan, according to a statement by lawyer Affoussiata Bamba-Lamine posted on her Facebook page on Thursday. Bamba-Lamine does not dispute the authenticity of the audio recording, but says it dates back to 2017 and is incomplete. In a previous statement on Wednesday evening, she denounced a political mudslinging: this whole enterprise aims to remove Guillaume Soro from the race for the presidency of the Republic in 2020. Tuesday, the former National Assembly Speaker had already denounced on Twitter the decision of the Ivorian government in September 2019, to remove him from the presidential race, because of a poll that established his lead in voting intentions. Until this affair, Mr. Soro, 47, was seen as a serious challenger for the presidency by political analysts, who say he is popular, especially among young people.

In what looks very much like a political message, President Ouattara met on Monday evening with former "comzones" WarLords, all former   Soro soldiers in the rebellion, according to several sources on the ground. Ten years after the 2010-2011 post-election crisis that left 3,000 people dead, the next presidential election promises to be tense. The 2018 municipal and regional elections had already been marked by much violence and fraud.

In this vitrol laced political environment, a defining question comes to mind. How can one openly violate proceedings that claim to be judicial against a person who benefits by virtue of his qualities as former President of an Institution, former Prime Minister, former Minister and member of Parliament from at least four systems of constitutional or legal protection? As a former President of an Institution and former Prime Minister, articles 28 and 29 of the law on the status of former President of the Republic, former President or Head of Institution and former member of the Government, provide that Soro Guillaume may only be prosecuted or arrested with the special authorization of the National Assembly, which is seized by the Public Prosecutor at the Supreme Court, even in cases of flagrant offence.

As a former member of the Government, he can only be prosecuted with the prior authorization of the Supreme Court even in cases of flagrant offence. As a parliamentarian, he can only be prosecuted or arrested after his parliamentary immunity has been lifted except in cases of flagrant offence. In this case, there is no flagrant offence. Lastly, since the offence of embezzlement had been committed when he was Prime Minister, he fell within the jurisdiction of the Highest Court of Justice, as provided for in the 2000 Constitution and the 2016 Constitution.

Moreover, how can we understand, as a communiqué of the National Assembly dated 20 June 2006 would have us believe, that the matter was referred to it by the Public Prosecutor in a non-compulsory context in relation to ordinary citizens and that the judiciary refrained from doing so when the various statutes of President Soro Guillaume obliged the Prosecutor General of the Supreme Court and the Public Prosecutor to do so. Since the Prosecutor intended to hold a press conference, it would have been appropriate to ask him why he violated the obligations we have just cited by opening proceedings and requesting that an arrest warrant be issued, which he even described as International.

Furthermore, this procedure is not based on any offence, as revealed by the press release from the public prosecutor's office and corroborating information on the facts referred to in the proceedings. The Public Prosecutor informed us that it is based initially on an alleged attempt to undermine public security constituted by a project revealed by an alleged recording that is allegedly about to be put into effect. It is uterly shocking that a mere project constitutes a punishable attempt to commit an offence, whereas article 27 of the Criminal Code provides that even acts which prepare an offence unless they themselves constitute an offence are not punishable.

Therefore, saying that one is going to perpetrate an assassination, for example, is a punishable attempt according to the Public Prosecutor, whereas the Criminal Code provides that saying so and even preparatory acts such as meetings between co-authors are not punishable acts. How can a project that has not begun to be implemented, even in the form of preparatory acts, constitute an attempt and justify the opening of an investigation under the conditions we have described?

We will certainly have to rewrite our law, otherwise, in the meantime, there is no offence. On the other hand, there can be no misappropriation of money when the funds concerned are sovereignty funds and have been used by the recipient. Indeed, the use of sovereignty funds is left to the full discretion of the latter. It may possibly pose an ethical problem but can never constitute an offence because no control is legally possible in this framework for all those who benefit from it, such as the President of the Republic and certain Presidents of Institutions. How can one say that a person has embezzled money of which he is the recipient?

To be a legalist and a Republican is not to obey the manifestly illegal instructions of individuals who have openly decided to break the law in order to apply their will, it is to inscribe their actions and duties of obedience in strict compliance with the law. Failing in this obligation is to render the Nation guilty of high treason and to agree to pay the price in case of a setback for the persons one has chosen to back beyond the laws of the Republic.

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In our November issue, we blew the whistle on how 2020 represented the arena of "doom" for which President Ouattara held the golden key. This January issue of the year 2020 welcomes the decade of the roaring 20s, with the golden key still in his grip, but for how long? 

To quote QUEEN ELIZABETH II in her latest Christmas speech, "Small steps taken in faith and in hope can overcome long-held differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding.”

Ten years after the bloodiest events in it's history, The Ivory Coast has not been able to turn the corner of "positive peace" and true reconciliation, prerequisite ingredient witout which that dream of emergence may just be a mirage.

The Ivory Coast Tribune Magazine wishes Côte d'Ivoire, once a beacon of peace and prosperity, all the blessings it needs before the murky torrents from the sacred lake were reign supreme the old crocodiles of Yamoussoukro .

Published January 01, 2020 @02:13 Am. By Claude B. Djaquis. 

Post-Grad in Linguistics and International Relations.

Consultant  in Conflict Resolution And Peace Building

Editor-In-Chief for The Ivory Coast Tribune Magazine