I. Coast soldiers end mutiny after deal

January 8, 2017 5:36 pm
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A delegation of mutinous Ivorian soldiers stand behind Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi (C) as he speaks to journalists in Bouake, on January 7, 2017 © AFP / SIA KAMBOU

, Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire, Jan 8 – Ivory Coast soldiers on Sunday ended a two-day mutiny in the second city Bouake and other key areas after reaching a deal on their demands for pay rises, housing and faster promotion.

“There has been no firing since Saturday night,” a local journalist in Bouake said. “Traffic has resumed this morning and the shops have reopened.”

One of the leaders of the mutiny in the world’s top cocoa producer said he was “happy with the turn of events” after soldiers returned to their barracks.

“All we are asking is for the president to be attentive to the living conditions of soldiers,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Unrest in Ivory Coast © AFP / Alain BOMMENEL, Sophie RAMIS

The west African country was rocked by two days of unrest after soldiers seized control of Bouake’s streets early Friday, firing rocket-launchers and terrifying residents, in a mutiny that spread to other cities including the economic capital Abidjan.

In Abidjan — a bustling seaport that is home to the presidency and parliament — national television reported that shots had been fired at the Akouedo barracks in the east of the city on Saturday.

The soldiers had detained Defence Minister Alain Richard Donwahi for two hours on Saturday in a tense standoff over their demands, firing Kalashnikovs and heavy weapons around the home of a senior local official where Donwahi was meeting with the soldiers’ representatives.

Soldiers stand guard at a road black in the Plateau business district of Abidjan on January 7, 2017, as shots were heard inside a nearby military camp according to local media © AFP / ISSOUF SANOGO

On Sunday, Abidjan’s central Plateau area where several government offices and leading businesses are located, was calm.

“Life is back to normal,” a resident said.

The same was true for the northern city of Korhogo and Man in the west. A Man resident, who identified himself as Jean, said: “The soldiers have returned to their barracks.”

– ‘Many problems to resolve’ –

President Alassane Ouattara announced on Saturday evening that an agreement had been reached.

In a brief televised address he said it took into account “the demands relating to bonuses and improving the living conditions of soldiers”.

Lieutenant-colonel Issiaka Ouattara (C), also known as Wattao, flanked by soldiers, arrives at the deputy prefect’s residence in Bouake for talks with the deputy prefect and Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi on January 7, 2017 © AFP / Sia KAMBOU

“Having given my agreement, I ask all soldiers to go back to their barracks to allow decisions to be carried out calmly,” he added, without giving details of the accord.

Donwahi, who returned to Abidjan on Saturday night, said all bonus arrears would be paid.

“We are aware that there are many problems to resolve… I can assure you that we will keep our commitments but they too should keep theirs,” he said.

– Politically motivated? –

Bouake, which is home to 1.5 million people, was the capital of a rebellion which erupted in 2002 in a failed attempt to oust then president Laurent Gbagbo.

Twelve years later, a similar dispute over pay by rebels-turned-soldiers erupted in Bouake which spread to Abidjan and briefly brought the country to a standstill.

People wait on January 7, 2017, fifteen kilometres from Bouake where soldiers protesting their pay seized control of Ivory Coast’s second city © AFP / Sia KAMBOU

The government had then agreed to a deal that provided amnesty for the mutineers and a financial settlement.

A Bouake resident said on Sunday he had had enough.

“We no longer want this situation in Bouake,” said Adama Coulibaly, a teacher. “We are tired of these actions of the soldiers. I can’t wait for President Ouattara to find a definitive solution to their problems.”

Added computer scientist Seraphin Kouadio: “We no longer want the sound of boots in Bouake.”

Some analysts said the mutiny could be a pressure tactic on Ouattara and politically motivated.

Issiaka Ouattara (C), spokesperson of mutinous soldiers speaks to journalists after he negotiated with Ivory Coast’s defence minister (unseen) on January 7, 2017 in Bouake © AFP / Sia KAMBOU

“One of the things to ascertain is whether there has been a political manipulation. We are waiting for the nomination of the vice president and the prime minister… are the former rebel leaders behind this?” one said.

“At present everybody is thinking about Guillaume Soro,” the expert said, referring to one of the leaders of the 2002 rebellion which sliced the former French colony into the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south and triggered years of unrest.

Rebel forces had then backed Ouattara, the current president who took office in April 2011 after a bloody post-electoral showdown with Gbagbo that left 3,000 people dead.

But some soldiers denied that they had been manipulated, arguing that it was “a family matter”.

“You can equip the army but if the men are not motivated it won’t serve any purpose,” said one, adding that Ouattara was the troops’ “spiritual father”.

A retired soldier said the problem was that senior officers earned disproportionately high salaries.

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