Ivory Coast in Talks With Soldiers as Army Standoff Continues

  • Mutiny paralyzes some cities, but ports operate as usual
  • Ivory Coast’s Eurobond yields rise, cocoa prices jump

A mutiny over pay in Ivory Coast disrupted activities in several cities for a fourth day as the government said it was still in talks with some soldiers in a bid to end the unrest. The West African nation, which wants to issue a Eurobond next month, saw yields on its existing securities jump.

Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly was holding meetings with the commandment of the security forces, while talks with some soldiers continued, government spokesman Bruno Kone said by phone Monday. “President Alassane Ouattara is following the situation minute by minute,” he said.

Several explosions and sporadic shooting rocked the second-biggest city of Bouake, a transit hub that links Ivory Coast to its landlocked northern neighbors, from about 2:00 a.m., resident Siriki Koné said. In the commercial capital, Abidjan, gunfire began at about 5:40 a.m. near the military barracks at Akouedo, according to Joseph Kouadio, who lives in the area.

A woman walks past Ivorian soldiers patrolling by Ivory Coast’s army headquarters in Abidjan on May 12

ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

“We’re still hearing shooting,” Kouadio said by phone. “My son’s school just sent me an SMS to say: school is closed today because of the security situation.” While most banks and businesses in the city center remained closed, a spokesman for the port said that import and export operations carried on as usual. Soldiers in several other cities fired in the air, prompting residents to stay home and shops to shutter.

The western port of San Pedro, which mainly ships cocoa beans, closed its gates as a safety measure even as operations inside its boundaries continued, the prefect of San Pedro, Ousmane Coulibaly, said by phone.

The renewed unrest in the world’s biggest cocoa producer came a day after the army gave mutinous soldiers an ultimatum to end their revolt, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because he’s not authorized to speak publicly.

Enduring Vulnerability

“A military operation is under way to restore order,” the office of Army Chief of Staff Sekou Toure said in an emailed statement on Sunday. It called on soldiers “to return to the barracks and lay down their arms.” State TV reported that one person was killed over the weekend, without giving further details.

The unrest shows the enduring vulnerability of the country since it emerged from a decade-long conflict that ended in 2011 when Ouattara, 75, came to power. His administration has restored calm, overseen an economy that’s expanded an average of 9 percent a year, and led his ruling coalition to an emphatic win in December’s parliamentary elections, taking 167 of the 255 seats.

Ouattara’s sway over the 40,000-member armed forces is more tenuous, with many soldiers who helped bring him to power now feeling the government has failed to deliver on its pledges to pay bonuses and improve their living conditions.

The government seems to be lacking a “clear vision” in its approach to the situation, according to Arthur Banga, a military historian at the Universite Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan. “The government should decide whether it wants to talk or stand firm. This time things can escalate. I don’t think the government has the financial means to respond to the mutineers’ demands.”

Cocoa prices rose 1.5 percent to $2,045 a ton at the close in London, the highest since April 7. The yield on Ivory Coast’s $750 million bond due July 2024 climbed 12 basis points to 5.94 percent, heading for its first rise in four days. The government plans to raise a $1.25 billion 15-year bond and another of 500 million euros ($547 million) with a six-year maturity next month, according to people familiar with the matter.

Government Compromise

The latest standoff was sparked by Ouattara’s announcement on Thursday that the government had reached a compromise with troops that organized a mutiny over unpaid bonuses in January.

The soldiers, most of them former rebels, were promised 12 million CFA francs ($19,875) in bonuses by the government for backing Ouattara after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept an election defeat in 2010, but they have received less than half of the cash. Last month, the government revised its 2017 budget as it faces lower income from cocoa, its main export crop, limiting its ability to pay soldiers. The country also trimmed its growth forecast for this year to 8.5 percent from 8.9 percent previously.

Some soldiers in Bouake said they wanted Ouattara to keep his word and pay the outstanding bonuses, according to Agence France-Presse.

Some people tried to organize protests on Sunday to show their unhappiness with the military unrest, which has become a common feature in the country since a 1999 coup. In Bouake, soldiers broke up a gathering of young people, injuring four, said Charles Gnaore, a lawmaker for the town from the ruling Rally of the Republicans party.

— With assistance by Paul Wallace

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