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