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.
Saluting army deserter, 2002 rebel frontman and current Bouaké prefect Tuo Fozié . Photo/Censors.
Gun toting bearded men simultaneously shot to kill in Bouaké and Abidjan. The "ZinZin" and the "Bahefoue" as they were called then, claimed it was mutiny due to unpaid salaries and bonuses. When the fightings subsided, Among the many collateral damages, Interior minister Boga Doudou was lying in a pool of blood in the middle of his ransacked residence. Former President General Guei's corpse riddled with bullets was to be found in a ditch near Cocody. Meanwhile, at his residence, his wife, former First Lady Doudou Rose and their entire staff perished in the onslaught.
On that morning of September 19, 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. But against whom? 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 fight back 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 iunder government control. The mutineers managed to take possession of the country's second-largest city: Bouaké, but also of the capital of Northern Côte d'Ivoire: Korhogo. The unity of the country was seriously compromised. Mystery still surrounded these assailants who used, in the words of President Laurent Gbagbo, then on a trip to Rome, "heavy weapons, mostly new weapons that our army does not have, so we cannot say that it is the army of Côte d'Ivoire that is rebelling. Weapons used, are from foreign armies or bought from foreign governments".
On September 24th, Notre Voie, a daily newspaper close to the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) accused Burkina Faso president 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 one of their leaders, Guillaume Soro after a previous disastrous attempt in a third grade french by one Tuo Fozié, an army deserter: the departure of Laurent Gbagbo, reforms of Ivorian nationality code, but also and above all, the end to "Ivoirité" a concept meant to unify a culturally diverse country, misused for electoral and economic purposes.
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 a few months later imposed the Marcoussis Agreements on 23 January 2003. However, the latter proved fragile because of the animosity between the two Ivorian parties and the attitude of Gbagbo, who claimed to have been forced to sign.
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