ISCI is a cross-disciplinary research centre working to further our understanding of state crime: organisational deviance violating human rights

Introducing State Crime in Ivory Coast

Upon independence from France in 1960, Ivory Coast adopted a distinctly ‘French’ approach to its constitution and legal system and embraced a strongly centralised leadership model – very much suiting the ruling style of the first president Houphouët-Boigny and his successors. As head of the only legal political party; Houphouët-Boigny ruled with a repressive, kleptocratic government for 30 years before his regime began to unravel. In 1983, the capital of Ivory Coast was moved to the then small village of Yamoussoukro, which was Houphouët-Boigny’s home village. This was a bold statement of a self-important leader who would rule the country for 33 years, from independence in 1960 to his death in 1993, the longest serving leader in Africa. Houphouët-Boigny ruled by terror and was prone to claiming false plots against him in order to imprison and torture anyone that he felt was not totally loyal to him. He also presided over the bloody repression of two revolts.

In 1990, Houphouët-Boigny’s government legalised opposition parties. They also attempted to cut public service salaries but this was met with public uproar, challenging Houphouët-Boigny’s rule. This was the first sign of cracks in the government’s regime, and was precipitated by the economic situation.

After Houphouët-Boigny’s death in 1993, Henri Konan Bédié (leader of the National Assembly) took over to serve the remainder of his term (as prescribed under the constitution). In the 1995 presidential elections, boycotted by opposition parties amid allegations of voter registration irregularities, Bédié won 96% of the vote. The opposition parties did, however, participate in legislative elections later in 1995, which were again hampered by similar irregularities, and the PDCI retained control of the National Assembly which in 1998 issued constitutional amendments that further increased and centralised the power enshrined in the office of president.

From 1960 to 1999 the PDCI held both the presidency and a majority of seats in the National Assembly. On Christmas Eve 1999, Ivory Coast experienced its first (‘bloodless’) military coup ousting President Bédié. The coup is blamed, generally, on government corruption and incompetence. Retired Brigadier General Guéï formed a subsequent government and a new constitution was ratified in 2000. Presidential elections in October 2000 sparked violence and accusations of irregularities. The Supreme Court (as handpicked by Guéï) excluded the PDCI and one of two main opposition political parties, the Rally for Republicans (RDR), and western election monitors were subsequently withdrawn. Despite gaining fewer votes, Guéï declared himself the winner. Supporters of presidential candidate Laurent Gbagbo, of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) took to the streets – joined by police and army – forcing Guéï to flee. The Supreme Court then declared Gbagbo president, with 53% of the vote. The RDR then began to protest as their candidate, Alassane Ouattara, had not been allowed to run for office. The new government suppressed the protest; hundreds were killed in the ensuing violence until Ouattara recognised Gbagbo as president and called for peace.

National Assembly elections in December 2000 were again dogged by violence and electoral irregularities, with most seats won by the FPI (about 40%) and PDCI (35%). Boycotted and violently disrupted by the RDR, turnout was about 33%.

Both elections in 2000 attracted allegations of severe human rights abuses at the hands of the government and a mass grave at Yopougon, western Abidjan, remains shrouded in mystery.

In January 2001, there was another coup attempt that proved to be a relatively minor incident and successful local elections were held peacefully a couple of months later.

The RDR won a comfortable majority, ahead of the PDCI and FPI. In 2002, Ivory Coast had its first provincial elections, which again attracted accusations of electoral irregularities and in August, President Gbagbo formed a ‘unity’ government which included the RDR.

In September 2002 exiled members of the military launched another coup attempt, which was said to include foreign fighters and support from the governments of Burkina Faso and Liberia. This attempted coup evolved into a fully-fledged rebellion, splitting the country in two. The New Forces (NF) took control of the northernmost 60% of the country, while the government retained control of the populous southern territory. During the coup, General Guéï was killed and the government razed shantytowns, displacing about 12,000 people. In October 2002, the government and NF signed a ceasefire to be monitored by French military forces. However, in late November of that year, a new front developed in the conflict in western Ivory Coast. In January 2003, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deployed 1,500 troops to assist the 4,000 strong French force in patrolling the ‘zone of confidence’, a kind of buffer/demilitarised zone that divided the country in two along an east-west axis.

In January 2003, the UN-monitored Linas-Marcoussis Accord was proposed by France and agreed – paving the way for power sharing between the government and the NF. The February 2004 United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1528 approved the UN operation in Ivory Coast (ONUCI) which involved the deployment of 6,000 troops, joining the French ‘Operation Unicorn’ force of 4,000. Deadlines and goals set by the 2004 Accra III Agreement – designed to implement Linas-Marcoussis – were not met by the parties and a deadlock had been reached. This was broken in November 2004  by the government when they launched bombing attacks on the north, including a raid on a French military installation – killing nine French soldiers. The French responded soon afterwards by destroying the entire Ivorian air force and taking over Abidjan in a reaction which served as a reminder of the presence of the former colonial powers in the city. In November 2004, the UNSC agreed an arms embargo on Ivory Coast (UNSC resolution 1572).

The 2005 Pretoria Agreements, brokered by South African president Thabo Mbeki, formally brought peace and put the Linas-Marcoussis Accord back on track. In October 2005, UNSC resolution 1633 extended the Linas-Marcoussis peace process for an additional 12 months and called for elections by the end of October 2006. In December 2005, the Afican Union (AU) designated Charles Konan Banny (governor of the West African Central Bank) as prime minister. In 2006, realising that elections couldn’t take place in time to reach the agreements deadline, the UNSC passed resolution 1721 extending the mandates of Gbagbo and Banny until October 2007.

In March 2007 Gbagbo and former NF leader Guillaume Soro signed the Ouagadougou Political Agreement in Burkina Faso. The agreement saw Soro become prime minister, mandated elections and the dismantling of the zone of confidence. By the end of 2008, about 90% of civil administration had returned to the north and some courts were back up, running and issuing birth certificates that were needed for voting in upcoming elections. Elections had been scheduled for November 2007 but were postponed to June 2008 and did not actually take place until the end of 2010.

The elections were contested, and Ivory Coast had ‘two’ declared presidents for some time – the situation was eventually defused and former president Laurent Gbagbo is currently on trail at the International Criminal Court (ICC) accused of with four counts of crimes against humanity – murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and ‘other inhuman acts’, allegedly committed between 16 December 2010 and 12 April 2011.

Entering politics is seen as a means to criminal ends: “by capturing power, political figures gain control of a lucrative clandestine economic network” (ICG 2004: 4).