Cote d'Ivoire's presidents in army charm contestBy HONORE KOUA in Abidjan | Saturday, January 8 2011 at 12:34
"If we have two governments it means that we would get two salaries,” my civil servant friend told me recently. I replied that if he was a soldier instead of a teacher he could continue dreaming.
In fact since the post-electoral crisis started in Cote d’Ivoire we have seen opposition leader Alassane Ouattara trying to seduce the regular armed forces which are still in love with incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo.
Ouattara’s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro since his inaugural declaration early December has been repeatedly calling on the security and defence forces to pledge allegiance to the new president. Ouattara took over from his premier in the last week of December.
Apart from their open appeals, in their speeches or in the media both opposition leaders have congratulated the armed forces for not taking part in the attacks against Ivorians during a December 16 march meant to take over the influential state television.
Ouattara and Soro accused the Republican guard backed by Angolan and Liberian mercenaries and allegedly recruited by Gbagbo of carrying out the violence. Later Ouattara added to his list of killers a special police unit called CECOS.
Some opposition supporters should have been shocked when their leader congratulated their “tormenters” just a few hours after at least 18 of them were killed and hundreds injured in the December 16 march. Many witnesses and even videos showed anti-riot police beating demonstrators.
It is not easy for all opposition partisans to understand that their chiefs are involved in a charm contest and they are doing their best to seduce the armed men. Ouattara who has the support of almost all the world’s countries, also has some Western ambassadors in Abidjan on his side to help him in this fight.
In a television report Gendarmerie chief, General Kassaraté Tiapé called on his men not to listen to “foreigners” who are trying to contact them.
After a one-month seduction campaign that has apparently been unsuccessful, the opposition is not giving up. On Thursday Ouattara gave the press information and circulated in the pro-opposition newspapers that alleged that he got 63 per cent of the barracks vote.
Ouattara said “several soldiers, several gendarmes, several senior police officers” contacted his camp to tell them that they are “surrounded by killers” and they support him but their families are in danger.
“So it is because of the terror, because of the fear that Laurent Gbagbo still has some support,” he continued. He warned that at some point fear will leave those people and his rival “will be surprised”.
After Ouattara named parallel administration chiefs he has not yet appointed anyone for the security and defence forces except the defence minister, Soro, who is his premier.
Sources say as negotiations are still underway as the internationally recognised president doesn’t want to hurt the men he is courting with a bad choice.
Thus the opposition leader is not afraid of the challenge even if he knows how far behind he is from his competitor.
Through his ten years as Cote d’Ivoire’s president, Gbagbo has increased gifts and promises to security and defence men. It is almost natural as he owes his seat not only to his political skills but also to the armed forces. In fact in 2000 he was the only major opposition candidate to run for the elections after the two others (Ouattara and former president Henri Konan Bédié) were prevented to compete by the military junta in power.
When the chief of the group, General Robert Guéi, also candidate, proclaimed himself winner of the poll, Gbagbo and his partisans ousted the junta thanks to the support of some soldiers who refused to shoot at the crowd. Since then, the new president has been very generous with his lover.
The most visible demonstration of love is the unique ascension of the country’s current Army Chief of Staff Philippe Mangou. The former Army spokesman in September 2002 when the war broke out climbed steps from Lieutenant Colonel grade to Major General in August 2010.
It is the top Ivorian army grade and the 59 years-old senior officer got the record of the fastest ascension in the history of Cote d’Ivoire’s armed forces. The two previous Major Generals of the country were appointed in the 70’s.
The Gendarme force chief General Kassaraté Tiapé was named Major General last August along with General Philippe Mangou. Eighteen other senior officers were also promoted on August 3, two months before the October elections.
A newspaper called the ceremony the “grade festival”. It was not the first time the charmer Gbagbo expressed his love to the men, he has been regularly brought to upper-grade hundreds officers including this year some commanders of the rebels who seized northern part of the country after 2002 war.
The other seduction weapon Gbagbo has been the war allowance paid to all the armed forces from soldiers to senior officers. The bonus was paid from 2002 to 2007 even though rebels and regular forces said in a joint statement in 2004 that the war was over.
The state was paying each month 3 billion CFA Francs (about 5 million Euros) for these allowances and Cote d’Ivoire still owes from one to two years to the troops. The late payment created some turmoil in 2008 and 2009.
Those might be the main reasons why defence and security forces are still backing Gbagbo but some of them believe in his ideology or feel close to him because of their tribal link. In those latest categories we would have most of the 4000 soldiers recruited in 2002 to fight the rebels.
As we see Ouattara has a lot to do to seduce the second main military force of West Africa after Nigeria. In fact if he misses this step of winning the hearts of these men it would give birth to new rebels few months or years later.
This contest is definitely the key of the crisis as Gbagbo is still so confident because of the support of the army.
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