African business, politics and lifestyle
Ivory Coast: so who is the incumbent now?
In a matter of weeks, Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara have undergone a role reversal which, even by the standards of recent Ivorian history, defies belief.
Before the lightning advance of pro-Ouattara forces on Abidjan last week, Gbagbo was laying siege to his rival in a plush lagoon-side hotel in downtown Abidjan.
Now those same forces are confident they have Gbagbo pinned down in a bunker at his heavily guarded residence just across town in leafy Cocody. (Although at time of writing, Gbagbo’s forces appeared to have retaken areas of central Abidjan)
Crucially, many of the FDS regular army forces once loyal to Gbagbo have rallied to Ouattara’s FRCI. But, as is clear from fighting in Abidjan this week, the newly integrated army is not able to fully assert itself.
So who is in charge?
The answer is that right now, Ivory Coast is flirting with all-out anarchy. But here are three things that might provide a clearer answer in coming days:
– who will pay the next round of army and public sector wages due in a couple of weeks? If Ouattara manages to do so, expect his hand to strengthen. That’s one of the reasons why he appealed to banks on Thursday to help by reopening their branches.
– Who is in control of the cocoa sector (the world’s largest) and its lucrative levies to the public purse? When Ouattara is confident that he is, he will end his de facto trade embargo and explicitly urge exporters to get back to work. Great for public finances; but bear in mind that the cocoa sector has long been firmly pro-Gbagbo.
- third, and toughest of all, security. At the moment, Abidjan is riddled with snipers, pillaging thugs and pro-Gbagbo youths kitted out with Kalashnikovs. In the rest of the country, reports grow of the trail of violence left behind by pro-Ouattara troops.
It could be months before many Ivorians feel safe to walk the streets. Ultimately, no one can credibly claim to be in charge of Ivory Coast if law and order is non-existent. Ouattara has told police and gendarmerie chiefs to crack down on crime, and he will be able to rely on UN and French troops for help – up to a point.
Journalists trying to objectively cover a dispute in which two men have sworn themselves in as president have struggled even to know how to refer to the rivals.
When Gbagbo still had his hands on most of the machinery of state, it seemed fair to call him as the “incumbent” – a term which avoided the legitimacy issue but identified him as having a grip on the levers of power.
But for now at least, there seems to be no “incumbent” at all in Ivory Coast.