The Ivory Coast: The Country in Full Extension of Nomadic War?

After bleeding Liberia and Sierra Leone white, armed bands rallied Alassane Ouattara’s troops and have since set the Ivory Coast to fire and sword. Hence the threat of permanent instability, argues Michel Gally, a specialist of the region.

The war in the Ivory Coast was a real war, but it is only one local episode in a “nomadic war” that has been roving around several West-African countries since 1989; indeed the cycle of violence is far from being over.

In 1989 about a hundred warriors led by Charles Taylor and armed by Burkina Faso, crossed the Ivory Coast border to put Liberia to fire and sword. Then came Foday Sankoh’s RUF who conquered Sierra Leone and massacred more than 2,000 people in their successful assault on Freetown, the capital. The very same who, in 2002, started off the Ivory Coast rebellion, taking over two thirds of the country thanks to a coup that all the evidence now extant proves to have benefited Alassane Ouattara.

Those border-blind “nomadic warriors” have made this roaming form of pillaging into a permanent way of life, or even of government. In the Northern parts of the Ivory Coast, a kind of “rebellious dictatorship” has been set up since 2002 where all forms of opposition are barred and gratuitous violence is standard currency while the services normally dispensed by the State have practically disappeared and total economic deregulation allows for all kinds of racketeering. A kind of military feudalization has begun to spread under the rule of the notorious “comzones”, those rebel commanders that reap gigantic profits from their looting.

Sherpa and others like it might well call them to account with respect to their “ill-gotten gains”: it is indeed public knowledge in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso that the luxurious houses in the “Millionnaire district” were built thanks to the pillaging of the northern part of the Ivory Coast; the first among these comzones, Guillaume Soro, also has his place among the rich, being the owner of several flats in Paris, the purchase of which is unlikely to have been entirely financed by his first minister’s salary.

The recent developments seem to guarantee unlimited possibilities of expansion to this northern system of violence and exploitation: the pillaging of whole districts in Abidjan like Angré spread to the university and to the administrative district of the Plateau: cars were forcibly requisitioned, houses were emptied, FPI militants (FPI is former President Gbagbo’s party) racketeered, while the Northern warriors formed the rebel force (re-named the New Force, then no doubt ironically, the Republican Force) are the first to engage in looting, thus transposing the northern system into the conquest of the capital.

The “Liberianization” of the war in the Ivory Coast culminated in the West with the massacre of Duékoué (of more than 800 civilians), publicly denounced by the Red Cross, that took place on the morrow of the town’s conquest by Alassane Ouattara’s army rabble. As had been the case in Ruanda in 2004, ID cards were strewn around the victims’ corpses all over the town: their names and birthplaces identified to the killers the members of the Guéré native ethnic group, who supported Gbagbo and opposed the forcible settlement on their land of Dioula farmers (from the northern part of the Ivory Coast, or from Mali and Burkina Faso). Those horrific war crimes might be amended as genocide.

Reprisals and counter-reprisals are now ceaselessly succeeding one another: in Daloa and Gagnoa, Dioulas who make up half of the urban population, serve as informers and violent surrogates to the Ouattara camp’s army to persecute (well beyond the militant FPI circles) members of three ethnic groups that are reputed to be the former president’s allies, namely the Attiès, Bétés, and Guérés, thousands of whom may already have been victimized.

As was the case during the previous nomadic wars, armed bands from Liberia serve the two camps and indulge in blind atrocities and systematic racketeering on their own initiative; taking into account the current ebb and flow, and even without ruling out the rather optimistic possibility that peace may be restored in the Ivory Coast, groups are likely to roam toward Sierra Leone and especially Liberia.

But what to do about those notorious “dozos” who, like Sierra Leone’s “kamajors” are a native brand of northern neo-hunters in the Ivory Coast, with their idiosyncratic dress and mystique derived from the age-old Madinka [1] ethnic base (and its belief in invisibility and invulnerability)? They specialize above all in mass massacres as those perpetrated in Duékoué and in the bush will treat their enemies like animals and dismember them accordingly…

This nomadic war seems to be expanding and by one of African history’s typically crafty tactics, to be boomeranging against the very criminal behind those various conflicts, namely Burkina Faso’s president Blaise Compaoré. Having pushed Charles Taylor, Foday Sankoh, Guillaume Soror to destabilize their respective countries, he is now facing a military, but also social and political, movement that might sweep him away; and so, with hindsight, the assassination of Thomas Sankara [2] turns out to have been the original trauma that repeated itself in the surrounding countries before eventually striking back home.