Ivory Coast Vows to Bring Military Unrest Under Control

  • ‘There’s nothing to negotiate,’ defense minister says
  • Gunfire erupts in cities nationwide as soldiers protest deal

A woman walks past Ivorian soldiers patrolling by Ivory Coast's army headquarters in Abidjan, after they fired shots into the air, on May 12, 2017.

Photographer: Issouf Sanogo/AFP via Getty Images

Ivory Coast’s government vowed to rein in soldiers that fired in the air in several cities across the West African nation on Friday to protest measures announced by President Alassane Ouattara a day earlier that are meant to end a pay dispute.

“There are some soldiers who are unhappy with the measures that we’ve decided on,” Defense Minister Alain Donwahi said by phone from the commercial capital, Abidjan. “They have the right to be unhappy but they don’t have to right to do whatever they want. There’s nothing to negotiate.”

Gunfire erupted in Abidjan and at least five other cities following a speech by Ouattara on state TV late Thursday in which he said the government had reached a settlement with troops that organized a mutiny in January. The mutiny was the worst outbreak of violence since Ouattara assumed office in 2011.

Soldiers fired in the air near military headquarters in Abidjan and in Bouake, where the nationwide mutiny started. Residents reported hearing sporadic gunfire in Korhogo and Man, while the French consulate said in an email that Odienne and Guiglo were also affected. Shops and business in Bouake closed while workers in downtown Abidjan left their offices and ran away when the gunfire erupted.

“There’s a problem and we’re dealing with it,” Donwahi said. “We’ll restore order.”

Calm Return

Troops of the Republican Guard and gendarmerie armored vehicles were deployed in the neighborhood near the Abidjan barracks while mutinous soldiers lifted barricades as calm returned in the afternoon. The gunfire also ended in Man and Bouake while sporadic shots were still heard late afternoon in a Korhogo military camp, residents said.

Ivory Coast’s government managed to defuse the January unrest by pledging to pay bonuses worth 12 million CFA francs ($19,740) per soldier. Many have so far obtained 5 million francs. The government was then forced to revise the budget for this year because it’s faced with lower income from cocoa, its main export crop. The mutiny was followed by a two-week strike by civil servants demanding higher pay and arrears, adding to the government’s financial woes.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the disgruntled soldiers said they dropped their demands and struck a deal with the government. In a ceremony that was broadcast on state television from the presidency, the representative whose name was only given as Sergeant Fofana, apologized to Ouattara on behalf of the 8,400 soldiers who led the mutiny.

No Demands

“We soldiers from the army, navy and air force, definitively give up all financial demands,” Fofana said. “We solemnly commit to settle down and put ourselves under the command of the Republic.”

Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, is emerging from a decade-long crisis that ended in a brief civil war in 2011 following an election in which Ouattara emerged as winner. While economic growth has averaged 9 percent since 2012, a slump in cocoa prices caused by a global surplus cost the country nearly 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) in lost export earnings, Ouattara said at the ceremony on Thursday.

Soldiers agreed to the deal with the government because they understood the economic difficulties that the country are facing, Army Chief of Staff Sekou Toure said Friday night on state television.

“Unfortunately some of them distanced themselves from their comrades,” Toure said. “Any soldier engaging in wrongdoing will be subject to severe sanctions.”

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