In November 2014, Cote d’Ivoire was struck by protests which highlighted the fragile nature of the country’s armed forces. The protestors, who were former rebels now serving in the army, demanded that the government pay back wages and overdue benefits. The soldiers erected barricades and blocked streets outside army barracks across a number of cities, including the commercial capital Abidjan. Although the protests were eventually resolved peacefully, after the government agreed to meet the soldiers’ demands, the incident raises concerns over the command structure within the army. Due to Cote d’Ivoire’s army being made up of an amalgam of rebel forces following the country’s civil war it lacks a clear chain of command. Commentators have argued that a number of different chains of command exist within the armed forces and that there is little control over these from the civilian government. This has created a dangerous situation as soldiers from different rebel groups have varying grievances and it is likely that they have been emboldened by the protests in November.
As the election approaches soldiers may take the opportunity to air these grievances through protests similar to those seen in November in the knowledge that the president would be under pressure to resolve the disputes as quickly as possible so as to not damage his re-election campaign. If this situation arises, the likelihood of violence will increase dramatically due to the protestors being former rebels. Facing such a threat the government would probably try to placate the soldiers through meeting their demands so as to avoid civil conflict. However, this could have an impact on the civilian population as, if soldiers’ financial demands are met, the government may look to offset it through cuts in public spending. This could potentially give rise to civilian protests and social unrest, which was also seen in November 2014 following the government’s ban of plastic bags used to carry water. The protesters argued that the policy would lead to job losses and restrict the public’s access to clean drinking water. Thus, Cote d’Ivoire’s election in 2015 is likely to be a focal point of protests for both soldiers and civilians and could potentially be marred by large-scale social unrest.
[The above is an extract from a comprehensive report on the political outlook for Africa in 2015 which will be distributed to clients in the New Year]