Trouble in the barracks

Bit of a sad day for Ivory Coast watchers yesterday with protests by soldiers throughout the country because of unpaid bonuses. The whole Ivorian crisis in 1999 started this way, so there’s a natural fear from déjà vu. Of course the country isn’t in the state of turmoil and stagnation it was in during the late 1990s, but still this is worrisome even if it’s unlikely to lead to protracted instability.

Firstly, it shows the remarkable incivility of the armed forces. The truth is that any country emerging from a protracted civil war is likely to have issues for many years with the armed forces. Four years on from the presidential elections, the disarmament process is yet to finish, and the armed forces are way beyond the numbers that would normally be needed, including a good number of powerful ex-rebels. The government made immediate concessions to diffuse the situation – we’ll see if this puts water on the fire or shows the army just how powerful a hand they hold.

The fact that the protests seem to have been widespread suggest that there was a real issue here, so there is clearly a felt grievance in the army. But it really seemed to come out of the blue. Other crises down the years have felt like they were ‘on the way’ – but even the most hostile anti-Ouattara papers had their gaze elsewhere, repeatedly claiming that events in The Hague were making the regime tremble, when in fact the trouble was closer to home. It serves to show that while the Ivorian elite dream that the country is now about fashion shows and start-ups, there’s also other stories in other places that are perhaps less attractive. Still, while the grievance seems widely felt in the military, it doesn’t seem related to wider unease; poverty is still worryingly persistent, but most people feel things are moving in the right direction, as far as I can tell.

Anyway, an important football match today so hopefully that can all help us take our minds of these things.

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