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President Alassane Ouattara likely to win third term amid intensified political tensions, unrest ahead of October 31 presidential elections – Ivory Coast Analysis

Executive Summary

President Alassane Ouattara’s recent decision to run for a controversial third term in the October 31 presidential elections following the death of former Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly has seriously altered the country’s political outlook.

Ouattara’s latest decisions may seriously discredit the Constitution and his democratic credentials, as he is using the recent enactment of the 2016 Constitution to justify bypassing the two-term limit. However, his decision has not elicited international condemnation, which likely stems from the international stakeholders’ prioritizing stability over democratic principles.

Former President Henri Konan Bedie is Ouattara’s primary contender following the disqualification of both former PM Guillaume Soro and former President Laurent Gbagbo due to active indictments. Bedie may benefit from the support of Gbagbo and Soro, though his chances of defeating Ouattara currently appear limited.

Unrest and protests have been witnessed throughout Ivory Coast in the aftermath of Ouattara’s announcement of his intent to run for a third mandate, with at least six killed. With opposition leaders calling for street protests to destabilize Ouattara, unrest is poised to persist, especially in opposition strongholds, ahead of the election.

The potential for opposition sympathizers within the military to mount mutinies remains, though Ouattara’s administration has gradually increased its control over the security apparatus over the past several years. Similarly, militant cells operating in the border area between northern Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso may exploit the political instability to carry out attacks, though the possibility remains low.

Maintain heightened vigilance in the vicinity of gatherings due to the possibility of spontaneous protests and their associated risk of eliciting a harsh security response.

Please be advised

On August 6, President Alassane Ouattara officially announced his candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for October 31.

The announcement followed the death of former Prime Minister and ruling Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) presidential candidate Amadou Gon Coulibaly on July 8, and several weeks of calls from senior RHDP officials requesting his candidacy.

In March, Ouattara initially announced his intent to renounce a third consecutive mandate. Ouattara portrayed his controversial decision to run for a third term as a “sacrifice” for his country as he had already planned his life after the Presidency.

Opposition parties have been criticizing the move as being “unconstitutional”. According to the 2016 Constitution, a president may be re-elected only once. RHDP members and Ouattara have argued that the Constitution is only valid from the time it was enacted in 2016.

Former President Henri Konan Bedie, leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI), officially submitted his presidential candidacy to the Independent Electoral Committee (CEI) on August 27 along with over 43 others, including the leaders of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), former President Laurent Gbagbo and Pascal Affi N’Guessan, as well as the leader of Generations and People in Solidarity (GPS) party, former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro.

Both Soro and Gbagbo are in exile and have been formally disqualified from the race by the CEI due to their active legal conviction within Ivorian courts.

Separately, sources indicate that French President Emmanuel Macron privately asked Ouattara to withdraw his candidacy in a meeting in France on September 4, which Ouattara declined.

Meanwhile, over six individuals were killed and dozens of others injured in protests against Ouattara’s candidacy on August 12-13.  These protests mostly took place in opposition strongholds in Ivory Coast’s outlying regions, notably in Comoe District’s Bonoua and Lacs District’s Daoukro, which is also Bedie’s birthplace.

Additional protests have been recorded across Abidjan, but have been mostly contained by the security forces that have been widely deployed in the city following Ouattara’s announcement.

Assessments & Forecast

President Ouattara’s candidacy likely to damage his credibility, undermine Constitution as well as affect oversight on democratic transitions throughout West Africa

President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term has seriously altered Ivory Coast’s political outlook as well as the president’s legacy as a strong defender of democratic transitions in West Africa. Ouattara likely initially intended to remain involved in politics by having former PM Coulibaly, a close ally, as the president. This would have led the country to its first peaceful political transition in its recent history, where the previous transition in 2010-2011 between Ouattara and former President Laurent Gbagbo led to a peak in the civil war conflict. Coulibaly’s sudden death drastically altered Ouattara’s post-presidency plans and led him to maintain his direct involvement as the head of the country. The lack of perceived strong alternatives within the RHDP combined with the presence of a political veteran, Henri Konan Bedie, in the presidential race likely partly motivated his decision.

To this point, Ouattara likely strongly believes that he is the most qualified leader and the only person capable of continuing to stabilize the country. His presidency since 2011 has been marked by exceptional economic growth, although this has partially slowed over the past few years, as well as many reforms within several sectors. Ouattara has seemingly strengthened and stabilized the military, notably since the onset of mutinies in 2014 and 2017, together with the current Prime Minister and former Defense Minister, Hamed Bakayoko. This overall stability contrasted with the turmoil observed in the period that followed the death of former President Felix Houphouet Boigny marked by a coup in 1999 and civil war in the 2000s under Gbagbo. In this context, Ouattara likely perceives that exiting office would be too much of a risk, with Coulibaly being the only trustworthy alternative in his view.

In order to minimize the fallout from his candidacy, Ouattara likely voluntarily took some time, close to two weeks, to accept the RHDP’s nomination and, thus, appear hesitant, and portrayed the decision as a sacrifice for his country. He referred to the death of Coulibaly as “force majeure” that imposed him to step up for the best interest of the state. Ouattara understood that his decision would stir controversy and tarnish his reputation, which explains his attempt to label the decision as unpremeditated and exceptional.

Nonetheless, Ouattara’s possible third term may have long-term implications on the Ivorian and West African political landscape. The 2016 Constitution was designed to cement Ivory Coast’s democracy, imposing a two-term limit on the president and banning other autocratic practices such as forced political exiles. However, Ouattara has used loopholes to maintain a tight grip on power without, to his view, violating the text. The exile of two of Ouattara’s main political opponents, Laurent Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro, were enabled by convictions in Ivorian courts. Soro’s conviction for embezzlement on April 28 and an earlier arrest warrant for “preparing a military and civil insurrection” to seize power were likely carefully timed as Soro was preparing a promising bid for the presidential election.

FORECAST: As a result, Ouattara’s latest decisions may seriously discredit the Constitution and the path towards entrenched democratic institutions he seemingly attempted to set at the start of his presidency. More importantly, it may have repercussions in neighboring countries, notably within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), where he has held an important role over the past years. ECOWAS’s ability to credibly intervene to settle crises will be damaged as Ivory Coast is likely to continue to hold a significant position within the organization. This takes place as another member, Guinea, faces similar issues with President Alpha Conde attempting to seek a third term in office after having changed the constitution for this purpose. The actions of both Ouattara and Conde may provide incentives for other democratically elected leaders to extend their stay in power.

While Ouattara has been praised by the international community for initially renouncing a third mandate in March, most countries have refrained from vocally criticizing his recent retraction. The US notably stated that they respect the Ivorians’ right to self-determination and that the Constitutional Court must settle the issue. ECOWAS and France have remained discreet and mostly condemned the violence observed over the recent weeks. French President Emmanuel Macron met with Ouattara in France on September 4 without subsequently formally addressing Ouattara’s decision. According to recent reports, Macron may have privately tried to convince Ouattara against running, though it is unlikely that he will publicly condemn the decision. These reactions indirectly portray tolerance for Ouattara’s candidacy. They likely stem from a desire to prioritize stability over democratic principles while attempting to avoid further antagonizing leaders that have been prominent partners over recent years. FORECAST: In light of these reactions, the relations between Ivory Coast and its historic partners, notably France, are set to continue unabated. The international community and ECOWAS are only likely to intervene in case of prolonged unrest, which may trigger an overall crisis.

President Ouattara likely to win third term despite increased challenges posed by enhanced unification within opposition

Following the disqualification of former President Laurent Gbagbo and former PM Guillaume Soro from the presidential race by the CEI, PDCI leader Henri Konan Bedie emerged as the sole major opposition candidate able to run against Ouattara. Bedie is a prominent political figure within Ivory Coast as a former president and close collaborator of the founder of the country, Felix Houphouet Boigny. Both Ouattara and Bedie have claimed Boigny’s heritage while their fight over his succession led to an entrenched political crisis in the 1990s during Bedie’s presidency. The alliance brokered during the 2010 presidential election that formed the RHDP coalition as a common ‘Houphouetist’ front against Gbagbo slowly disintegrated over the years, with the PDCI entirely withdrawing in 2018. Therefore, the upcoming election will witness a confrontation between two leaders with extensive political experience coming from the same political family.

Bedie benefits from an organized, large, and popular political structure via the PDCI. Furthermore, the PDCI struck an alliance with Laurent Gbagbo’s FPI, designed to enable the two opposition parties to campaign together to win the presidency. According to the agreement, the best performing candidate between Gbagbo and Bedie in the elections would join the other in a prospective second round. The potential of the FPI-PDCI alliance was notably witnessed in a meeting that drew ten of thousands of supporters in Abidjan’s Treichville in late 2019. FORECAST: Since Gbagbo is unable to participate in the election, Bedie will likely benefit from Gbagbo’s support from the first round. This would seriously boost Bedie’s chances, possibly enabling him to confront Ouattara in a second round.

Similarly, former PM Guillaume Soro has been disqualified from the electoral race, though he has continuously attempted to appeal the verdict to enable him to run. At this stage, it is highly unlikely that Soro will be able to return from his exile in Paris given the authorities’ well-established unwillingness to withdraw the arrest warrant as well as other criminal convictions against him. In this context, Soro may eventually grant his support to Bedie from the first round. Although Soro has been associated with the agreement between Gbagbo’s FPI and Bedie, he has refrained from granting his direct support to any other candidate as yet, likely in a final attempt to put forward his legitimacy as a candidate. However, Soro may strike a deal with Bedie to have him vacate all charges pronounced against him in case of an electoral victory.

Altogether, 43 individuals have presented their candidacy to the CEI. In addition to Bedie, Soro, and Gbagbo, the other notable candidate is Pascal Affi N’Guessan, currently the president of the FPI, who previously competed in the 2015 elections. Ouattara won the 2015 elections in a landslide, with over 83 percent of the vote while N’Guessan received less than ten percent. During this election, Gbagbo’s party had boycotted and Bedie and Soro were still part of the RHDP coalition with Ouattara. In those circumstances, N’Guessan likely benefited from being the only credible opposition candidate at the time. FORECAST: With other figures like Bedie on the ballot during this election, it is unlikely that N’Guessan will surpass his previous results. Furthermore, the continued divisions within the FPI between his faction and Gbagbo’s supporters will likely further decrease his backers, as Gbagbo’s supporters are likely to favor Bedie’s candidacy.

FORECAST: The Constitutional Court is set to review the 44 candidates over the coming weeks, and many candidates are poised to be disqualified. Although Bedie’s candidacy has not been contested as yet and the PDCI leader does not face any known legal issues within the country, it cannot be entirely ruled that the Constitutional Court will reject his candidacy in light of precedent. This would likely create a situation in which the elections would be entirely boycotted by the opposition. However, this possibility remains distant.

FORECAST: Despite Bedie’s popularity and possible support from other candidates, his chances to defeat Ouattara appear to be rather slim, with his advanced age and arguably poor record during his presidency in the 1990s likely to act against him. In fact, Ouattara’s success in partially reshaping the country will likely appeal to many who voted for the larger RHDP coalition in the 2010 and 2015 elections. Additionally, Ouattara’s tight grip on the country’s electoral structures may play to his advantage, though no accusations of fraud have been verified in the past ballot and independent observers gave Ivory Coast a clean bill of health in 2015. Ultimately, President Ouattara appears to have the highest chances to win the ballot and carry on with a third term.

Unrest to persist, intensify throughout Ivory Coast, notably in opposition strongholds while risks of mutinies, militancy remain

Unrest and protests have been witnessed throughout Ivory Coast in the aftermath of Ouattara’s announcement of his intent to run for a third term. Such protests mostly transpired in opposition strongholds in Ivory Coast’s outlying regions, notably in Comoe District’s Bonoua, Lac District’s Daoukro, and Goh-Djiboua District’s Gagnoua. Bonoua and Daoukro are notably the respective birthplaces of former First Lady Simone Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bedie. The elevated anti-Ouattara sentiment existing in these localities led to intense confrontations with the security forces dispatched to disperse the protesters, with at least six killed. Besides, several Guinean nationals were allegedly targeted due to perceptions of “foreigners” supporting the current President. This is particularly reminiscent of the nationalistic and anti-foreigner stances observed during the civil war in the 2000s, notably due to Ouattara’s alleged Burkinabe descent.

Despite several instances of protest witnessed in several neighborhoods of Abidjan, the heavy deployment of the security forces around Abidjan mostly contained the unrest and prevented further escalation in the economic hub. Protests were mostly witnessed in the vicinity of government institutions, notably the CEI, with Soro and Gbagbo’s protesters denouncing their candidate’s disqualifications.

FORECAST: In light of the opposition’s limited chances of winning the elections via the ballot, calls for protests will likely continue to be used as a way to discredit Ouattara’s presidency and display the popular resistance to a potential third mandate. Hence, anti-Ouattara protests are anticipated to recur throughout Ivory Coast in the weeks leading to the elections on October 31, with unrest particularly likely in opposition strongholds that have already seen turmoil such as Gagnoua, Daoukro, and Bonoua. Additional opposition PDCI strongholds like Bouake, the second-largest city in the country, may witness unrest. Furthermore, Soro’s birthplace in the northern Savanes District, Ferkessedougou, may also witness protests denouncing the GPS leader’s disqualification. Abidjan’s wider area remains a focal point for unrest, with spontaneous as well as organized protests likely in the vicinity of governmental institutions. Security forces are poised to forcibly disperse any unauthorized protests, while Ouattara may extend the ongoing ban on street protests over the COVID-19 pandemic beyond September 15 to avoid large demonstrations.

The recent increased political instability in the country and the arrest warrant launched against Guillaume Soro have brought back fears of potential mutinies that greatly destabilized the country in 2017. Soro and many of his associates were notably accused of treason and attempting a coup. There has long been fear of Soro using his influence within the army as the former leader of the Forces Nouvelles ex-rebel group during the civil war in the 2000s. In the aftermath of the conflict, the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process integrated the ex-rebel Forces Nouvelles and the Defense and Security Forces of Ivory Coast (FDS), loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo, into the Armed Forces of Ivory Coast. As part of the RHDP coalition, Soro was a key component of the DDR process. Although Soro allegedly still has many supporters within the ranks of the army, the ex-rebel leader’s influence has slowly waned over the past years as Ouattara and PM Hamed Bakayoko gained the support of many generals by promoting them.

FORECAST: Given the authorities’ reinforced control over the security apparatus, the potential for a large mutiny that would greatly destabilize the country and the electoral process appears to be limited. However, this cannot be entirely ruled out given precedent. Besides, certain elements or commanders sympathizing with opposition figures may attempt to launch insurgencies, which would create confrontations with other units of the military, notably the Presidential Guard.

Meanwhile, the attack that killed 12 soldiers on Kafolo military base in Savanes District near the Burkina Faso border on June 11 further highlighted the risk of militant spillover into the Ivory Coast. Militant groups established in neighboring Burkina Faso have increasingly been active along the border since late 2019, while local cells have likely been established within the Ivorian territory. Following the Kafolo attack, the military responded immediately by conducting operations against suspected militant hideouts in forested areas in northern Ivory Coast. Although many cells have been reportedly dismantled and the mastermind of the attack has been neutralized, dormant militant cells likely remain present in the region. FORECAST: Therefore, such cells may attempt to exploit the potential instability linked to the elections to conduct further attacks. At this stage, this possibility also remains limited, and this prospect is unlikely to particularly impact the electoral outcome.

Recommendations

Those operating or residing in Ivory Coast are advised to maintain heightened vigilance in the vicinity of gatherings due to the possibility of spontaneous protests and their associated risk of eliciting a harsh security response.

Travel to Abidjan may continue while adhering to stringent security protocols due to high levels of crime, particularly in the Youpougon, Adjame, Abobo, and Koumassi areas.

Avoid all travel to the immediate border area with Burkina Faso due to the possible presence of militants.

Militancy along Burkina Faso’s southern borders increases possibility of spread into Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast – West Africa Special Analysis

Executive Summary

With militancy firmly entrenched across northern and eastern Burkina Faso, militants are incentivized to expand their presence to spread the message of jihad, gain new recruits, and over-stretch counterinsurgency efforts.

The rapid proliferation of militancy across Burkina Faso to its southern borders have created fears of spillover, further heightened by a warning by Burkinabe authorities to Ghana, Togo, and Benin. This porous southern border remains vulnerable due to existing criminal and smuggling routes.

Benin and Togo are particularly at risk of militant attacks due to their border with Burkina Faso’s Est Region, where jihadists are entrenched and highly active. The risks are comparatively lower to Ghana and Ivory Coast due to the relative stability of the border regions in Burkina Faso and Mali.

The likely trajectory will be smaller-scale militant attacks targeting border communities and security forces, as well as enforcing jihadist ideology and way of life on the villages. They are also likely to exploit economic, inter-communal, and inter-religious conflicts to create instability and fuel recruitment.

Togo, Benin, and Ghana have already intensified security measures at the border in response to this elevated threat of militant spillover and can be expected to continue maintaining a reinforced presence in the coming months, with the potential for international assistance.

Current Situation

Mali has seen sustained levels of militancy, as approximately 583 suspected militant attacks recorded in all of 2018 and similar patterns expected with about 365 attacks between January to July 2019.

Both Burkina Faso and western Niger have witnessed an uptick in militancy levels during the same period. To illustrate, 321 attacks were reported in Burkina Faso between January to July 2019, as compared to 194 in the entirety of 2018.

Similarly, 56 attacks were reported in Tillaberi, Tahoua, and Niamey regions of western Niger in between January and July 2019, a significant uptick from the 34 attacks recorded in 2018.

Burkina Faso’s Est Region has displayed pervasive entrenchment of militancy since September 2018, with 98 suspected militant incidents over that time period. In fact, 149 suspected militant incidents have been recorded from July 2018 to July 2019 in Burkinabe regions that lie on the southern border, namely Cascades, Centre-Est, Centre-Ouest, Centre-Sud, Sud-Ouest, and Est Regions.

Reports from April indicate that the intelligence forces of Burkina Faso warned Ghana, Togo, and Benin of the threat of militant infiltration after security forces captured a local militant leader in Est Region and found evidence that he was in contact with suspected militants in the three countries.

Suspected Militant Attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger July 2018 - July 2019

Assessments & Forecast

Advantages of militant encroachment coupled with viable avenues of infiltration make the threat of southward expansion credible

The fears of jihadist attacks in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Benin are not new, with Ghana’s immigration services issuing a memo in 2016 about possible encroachment into Ghana and Togo. However, the rapid proliferation of militancy across Burkina Faso over the past year, coupled with a direct Burkinabe warning in April, has put this threat into a new light. With militancy largely entrenched across northern and eastern Burkina Faso, jihadists are able to widen their attention on consolidating power across their current operational theater and to expand their geographical reach. Expanding territory accomplishes the militants’ primary ideology of spreading the message of jihad while also providing them with new recruits, and serves to over-extend security forces and counter-militancy efforts. Another incentive to open a new front of militancy in a previously untouched country is that it could give the militants heightened attention, further putting countries next to jihadist-entrenched regions at risk.

Given the current militant entrenchment across the Sahel, the countries bordering Burkina Faso’s southern boundary are most at risk, whereas it is less the case to the north and west. Although Algeria was once al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) primary base of operations, the center of gravity has since shifted to Mali. This is further evidenced by the lack of notable jihadist activity in Algeria in recent years. Thus, militants and weapons are more likely to move south from Algeria to Mali rather than vice versa. In Mauritania, following a string of high-profile attacks until 2011, the country has largely deterred large-scale jihadist encroachment through firm state control, conventional counter-militancy efforts, and a tacit permissiveness toward soft radical preachings. Moreover, documents from 2010 indicate that AQIM proposed a truce with the Mauritanian government in exchange for millions of dollars, though its implementation was never confirmed. Altogether, these efforts diminish the likelihood of militant activity expanding to the north or west from Mali.

On the other hand, Burkina Faso’s porous southern border and the fact that all of its southern neighbors are coastal countries makes southward expansion an attractive target. Jihadists in West Africa have been confined to land-locked states until now and, as such, they might be incentivized to expand to coastal states for access to strategic infrastructure. The presence of cross-border smuggling and bandit groups further makes the threat of militant infiltration plausible. The expansion of militancy in Burkina Faso suggests a symbiotic relationship between banditry and jihadism with militants providing bandits with advanced weaponry and hard cash in exchange for access to manpower and logistical support. Given that smuggling and bandit networks straddle the border between Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast, it is possible co-opting these routes will provide the militants with an avenue to infiltrate Ghana and Ivory Coast. Similarly, the entrenched criminality in the forests between Burkina Faso, Togo, and Benin is going to be conducive to militancy expansion since the existing smuggling routes will help the militants bypass border patrol. The advantages of militant encroachment in these countries, and the isolated instances of militancy in Benin and Ivory Coast, make the possibility of militant infiltration into these countries a credible threat.

Risk Level of Cross-Border Militancy in West Africa

Threat of militant infiltration higher in Benin, Togo due to shared borders with Burkina Faso’s Est Region

The proximity of Benin and Togo to Burkina Faso’s militant-entrenched Est Region makes the risk of spillover particularly high. The porous border enables the militants to carry out cross-border operations. FORECAST: This suggests that, as the militants attempt to expand southward from Burkina Faso, they are likely to focus their attention on northern Benin and Togo, particularly on the W-Arly-Pendjari ecological complex in Benin that extends into Burkina Faso and Niger and has long been a hub of smuggling and criminal activities. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara’s (ISGS) abduction of two French tourists from Pendarji National Park in northern Benin on May 3, who were later rescued in northern Burkina Faso by security forces, exemplifies this threat.

Moreover, the risk of infiltration into Benin is somewhat heightened by its current political turmoil. In Burkina Faso, the weakened security apparatus after the fall of former President Blaise Compaore was extremely conducive to the infiltration and proliferation of militancy. The recent political strife in Benin during its legislative elections in April and the overall systematic elimination of opposition parties and leaders since then led to widespread unrest. To an extent, this has compromised the stability of the country and local grievances are heightened. This is liable to disenfranchise citizens from the government in the long-term, making them more susceptible to radicalization. The largely Fulani demographic of northeastern Benin further makes this possibility likely given that the militants are likely to attempt to find common cause and have previously used ethnic identity as a recruitment tactic in Mali and Burkina Faso.

In contrast, the threat to Ghana is comparatively lower than Benin and Togo because it borders regions in Burkina Faso that have not shown pervasive militant entrenchment. However, Centre-Sud Region, which shares a border with Ghana, has recorded two suspected militant attacks in July, bringing the tally of total purported militant attacks in the region to three. These attacks continue to suggest that militants are slowly attempting to expand across all regions of Burkina Faso, including those in the south that are distant from the origins of the threat at the border with Mali, and consequently, Ghana’s borders continue to remain at risk. That said, Ghana’s relative political stability and the history of religious tolerance make militant encroachment in the country more difficult than Togo and Benin.

While the relative stability in southwestern Burkina Faso and southeastern Mali makes the risk of militant spillover into Ivory Coast relatively low, the previous al-Qaeda attacks recorded in the region, as well as the economic importance of both Ghana and Ivory Coast, suggests that it remains a target. In this context, the AQIM attack in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast in 2016 as well the dismantling of a jihadist cell in Mali’s Sikasso Region in December 2018 that allegedly intended to carry out attacks in three West African cities, including Abidjan, indicates that militants have aspirations in Ivory Coast.

High probability of cross-border incursions and small-scale attacks, efforts to impose jihadist ideology

FORECAST: The relative nascency of this threat indicates that while militants might have a presence in these countries, they are unlikely to be entrenched yet. As such, they are unlikely to possess the capability or the logistical network to launch large-scale attacks. Consequently, the precedent set in Burkina Faso indicates a heightened likelihood of smaller-scale attacks against security forces and government infrastructure in border communities to dislodge state presence as militants attempt to entrench themselves in the coming months. That said, while the possibility of large-scale attacks remains relatively lower, it cannot be completely discounted as jihadists might attempt to conduct a high-profile attack to announce their presence.

However, the patterns of the spread of militancy in Burkina Faso suggests that the militants are inclined towards establishing their foothold into an area before undertaking large-scale or attention-grabbing attacks. In fact, militant attacks in Burkina Faso’s Est Region began at least a year before the al-Qaeda front Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM) claimed their first attack therein. The delay in announcing their presence was in all probability a strategic move to allow the militants ample time to establish themselves before drawing attention to their activities and eliciting a security response. FORECAST: Thus, militant activity for the immediate future is likely to be confined to village incursions and small-scale attacks to entrench jihadism in the border regions.

Reports of suspected militants carrying out cross-border incursions in Togo and Benin and asking locals to stop selling alcohol not only emphasize the credibility of the threat of jihadism in these countries but also provide insight into the likely modus operandi the militants are liable to adopt. FORECAST: As such, in line with their proliferation across central Mali and Burkina Faso, the militants are liable to attempt to enforce their way of life in bordering villages as part of their efforts to integrate themselves into the community. JNIM’s primary modus operandi in their expansion of targeting Western symbols and practices suggests that their efforts will include the burning and targeting of schools and bars. They are liable to start preaching in mosques and enforce a ban on alcohol, prostitution, and any other activity perceived to be Western or non-Islamic. These efforts are aimed at persuading and, if that fails, forcing the locals to adhere to the group’s ideological understanding of Islam. These attempts to impose jihadist ideology are particularly dangerous because once the ideology takes root and the locals are radicalized, even complex security operations are often insufficient to dislodge the threat.

FORECAST: Along with destroying Western symbols, militants are also likely to continue targeting the government and infrastructure as well as village leaders and clerics. Eliminating local leadership, both state and communal, serves to destabilize the area and create a leadership vacuum, which in turn facilitates radicalization and militant recruitment. Similarly, the targeting of the state or security services is motivated both by jihadist anti-government ideology and in a bid to weaken state presence and consequently, fray the connections between the state and the people by slowly disenfranchising them.

Heightened likelihood of militants aggravating existing inter-communal, inter-religious conflicts to fuel recruitment, create instability

One of the primary tools exploited by jihadists worldwide is aggravating inter-community strife and either capitalize on a sense of marginalization, or create a perception of it. In Burkina Faso, exploitation by the local religious leaders who were perceived to be enriching themselves at the expense of locals provided Malam Ibrahim Dicko, the founder of the home-grown jihadist group Ansarul Islam, with the means to radicalize his followers. Militants tend to find common cause with one side of the conflict while actively working against and targeting the other side, destabilizing the area further. The Fulani ethnic group are a case in point. Militants first tapped into their feelings of abandonment and then radicalized them. This created the perception of Fulanis filling militant ranks, which caused them to be targeted by other communities and security forces alike, further heightening their perception of marginalization. This has resulted in a vicious cycle of marginalization, radicalization, and persecution in both Mali and Burkina Faso. The resultant insecurity with ethnic self-defense groups perpetrating large-scale attacks that have extremely high casualty counts and prompt violent reprisals is extremely beneficial to the militants’ agenda because it weakens state security apparatus and undermines local confidence in the government.

FORECAST: Following this precedent, militants are liable to exploit local grievances, stemming from economic exclusion and poverty, to foster feelings of disenfranchisement and abandonment. To that end, the areas around Benin’s borders with Burkina Faso are mired in steep poverty and lack basic services like electricity. Militants could possibly attempt to recruit them by providing them with basic necessities while fueling anti-government sentiment. Similarly, the protected status of W-Arly-Pendjari ecological complex has incited conflicts over control of land and caused widespread displacement. The militants were quick to seize upon these grievances, which contributed to pervasive militant entrenchment in Burkina Faso’s Est Region. It is likely that, as militants aim to expand into Benin, they will capitalize on these feelings to facilitate infiltration by providing the disenfranchised with an alternative.

FORECAST: Militants are also liable to foster inter-religious strife to their advantage. To illustrate, the recent spate of attacks targeting Christians in Burkina Faso and Niger have already created fear within Ghana’s Christian majority. Ghana has always had peaceful inter-religious relations but the Christians’ concerns that their churches are at risk has the potential to create tensions between the religious communities, which the militants might attempt to exploit. It is possible that this turn in the militants’ strategy to target Christians was motivated in a bid to further cause divisions within communities. Should they continue to target Christians, the resultant threat perception in these countries has the potential to result in actual marginalization of Muslims. Lastly, similar to their encroachment across Burkina Faso and Mali, militants will likely attempt to exacerbate existing inter-communal conflicts between rival ethnic groups.

Location of Attacks targeting Christians and Churches in Burkina Faso & Western niger in 2019

Security operations at the border to be intensified with heightened potential for cross-border cooperation

Following Burkinabe intelligence’s warning, Benin launched “Operation Djidjoho” and deployed 1,000 soldiers along its northeastern borders in April to identify and neutralize infiltrators. Togolese authorities also carried out intensive counter-militancy operations and reportedly apprehended about 20 suspected jihadists, said to be fleeing from Burkina Faso. FORECAST: Despite these intensified security measures at their borders, existing smuggling routes, the dense landscape around some of these borders, and the poor demarcation, will make it difficult to completely deter cross-border militant incursions. Moreover, given that the borders in much of these areas were imposed on top of communities, people have family on both sides and in both countries, and so it would be difficult for security forces to completely close off the border. Regardless of these limitations, the intensified border deployments are expected to continue. Should further instances of militancy be reported in these West African countries, elevating the perception of the threat of militant spillover, security measures are likely to be fortified with additional troop deployment and stricter checkpoints at the border. In the event of confirmed imminence of large-scale militant encroachment in any of these countries, the authorities may close their borders with Burkina Faso.

FORECAST: There is increased potential for international cooperation as they figure out how to adequately combat the jihadist threat. That the threat of militancy comes from Burkina Faso’s borders suggests that the countries will likely collaborate with the Burkinabe authorities to contain the threat. Additionally, as the severity of the threat increases, international actors can be expected to take an interest in the situation, particularly in Ghana and Ivory Coast, and potentially lend their military expertise in the form of on-ground training or logistical and intelligence support. To that end, international forces that maintain a presence in the Sahel, such as the French Barkhane forces, might expand their theater of operations into these countries to deter the jihadist threat. However, until militancy spillover is confirmed, international presence in these countries remains a distant possibility. That said, the recent expansion of French forces into northern Burkina Faso could possibly be a precursor to intensified French operations across Burkina Faso. Should that happen, given the potential threat of spillover, the forces might focus their attention on border-adjacent regions to contain the militancy.

FORECAST: Apart from the government and the security forces, the local population in these countries are also likely to heighten their vigilance. Alarmed by the recent targeting of churches and Christians by militants in Burkina Faso and Niger, the Christian populations in Benin, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast are liable to enact stringent preventive measures. To that point, a major church in Accra, Ghana banned backpacks as part of its new security directives, while churches in Ghana’s Upper East Region bordering Burkina Faso are reportedly evaluating security proposals such as the installation of body scanners at entrances as a safeguard against possible militant attacks.

However, given that this is new ground for both security services and civil society, they are likely to struggle to come up with an adequate response to combat this potential threat. As such, there is potential for these preventative measures to border on overzealousness and instead fuel feelings of marginalization and abandonment. That said, it is possible that the preemptive measures adopted could possibly deter large-scale militant encroachment. Despite overt signs of radicality, the Burkinabe government took no preventive measures against Malam Dicko, the founder of Ansarul Islam, or to stop the cross-border movement from Mali when the jihadist threat was at its peak there. This likely made the spread of militancy much easier because the foundations were already set. However, these countries have taken the threat of militancy seriously. As such, by taking proactive measures to deter the spread of militancy into their own territory, these countries are already in a better position to combat this threat than Burkina Faso was.

Recommendations

We advise against all travel to the border region between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, given the extreme risks of militancy, ethnic conflict, and violent crime.

Avoid all travel to northern and central Mali, including Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao, Mopti, and northern Segou region, given the threat from militant and rebel groups operating in the area, as well as ongoing ethnic tensions and intercommunal violence.

Avoid all travel to northern and eastern Burkina Faso, particularly Sahel, Est, Centre-Est, Nord, Centre-Nord, and Boucle du Mouhoun regions due to the ongoing threat of militancy and violent crime. Avoid nonessential travel to outlying areas of the southern and western regions due to the increased risk of attacks.

We advise against all travel to Niger’s Tillaberi and Tahoua Regions in the west along the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso, with the exception of Niamey, due to the ongoing risk of militancy.

Avoid nonessential travel to the W National Park area in Benin on the tri-border region with Niger and Burkina Faso due to the presence of criminals and militants.

 

This report was written by Aarushi Tibrewala, MAX Security’s Senior Analyst for West Africa & reviewed by  Rachel Jacob, MAX Security’s Regional Director of Intelligence, Sub-Saharan Africa

Ivory Coast Mutiny & Instability Analysis

Situation – Ivory Coast Mutiny and Instability:

Since January 6, Ivory Coast has been facing a wave of unrest and instability from mutinous soldiers from the various security force elements. The initial spark began on January 6, when former “Forces Nouvelle” rebels, integrated into the armed forces following the conclusion of the Ivory Coast Civil War in 2011, essentially took control of Bouake, Ivory Coast’s second largest city. The former rebels were demanding bonus payments that they allege has been owed to them as part of the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process. Within hours, the mutiny spread to other area of the country, including in Abidjan, Daloa, and Yamoussoukro.

Ivory Coast Mutiny & Instability Analysis | MAX SecurityIvory Coast Mutiny & Instability Analysis | MAX Security

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Almost immediately, President Ouattara dispatched Minister of Defense Alain-Richard Donwahi to hold negotiations with the soldiers, who were represented by their former leader and current Lieutenant-Colonel Issiaka “Wattao” Ouattara (no relation to the President). While an agreement was reached, a faction of the soldiers reportedly were not content, and effectively held the government’s delegation captive at the home of Bouake’s sub-prefect, until a date for payment of the bonuses was agreed upon. The date was eventually set for January 13.

The agreement, however, led to other issues. For one, on January 13 – the date of the payment – civilians in Bouake protested against the mutineers, leading the latter to fire warning shots to disperse them. Among others, the civilians were protesting the arrival on January 13 of 100 heavily armed mutineers to the city, who were there to partake in additional negotiations with the government. During the evening hours of January 13, communications services were cut throughout Bouake, while soldiers took control of entry and exit points to the city.

Marking the beginning of a possible trend, on January 17, soldiers in the capital, Yamoussoukro, began firing shots at the Zambakro military camp, as well as in Abidjan, and Bouake, claiming that they are entitled to similar reimbursements as the original mutineers. The soldiers in Yamoussoukro, began looting shops and seizing vehicles and weapons from their base. Republic Guards fired upon the mutineers, killing two. The soldiers, who were demanding a more comprehensive deal incorporating the entirety of Ivorian security forces, eventually agreed to stop their actions during the evening hours of January 17, likely to engage in discussions with the government.

That said, during the morning hours of January 18, gendarmes discontent with the arrears given to disgruntled soldiers participating in a mutiny in Bouake blocked access to certain parts of the Autonomous Port of Abidjan in the vicinity of the fishing port located in the Treichville commune. Additional sources suggest that gendarmes also raided the headquarters of Abidjan Transport Company (SOTRA) during the morning hours of January 18, demanding the evacuation of the personnel inside the building. Meanwhile, reports indicate that gunfire were reported in the vicinity of Bouake prison, also during the morning hours of January 18. Further reports suggest that prison guards started to surround the prison, demanding arrears payments. The following day, reports indicate that gunfire was heard at the Akouedo base, located in the Cocody suburban commune of Abidjan.

Assessment & Forecast:

The Ivory Coast mutiny has continued to unfold as payments of considerable arrears to a limited number of ex-Forces Nouvelles rebels within the military has triggered additional waves of protests throughout the Ivorian security forces at large, as witnessed in the aforementioned developments, and unrest witnessed in Yamoussoukro and Abidjan starting on January 17. Said protests and demands for pay are likely to have been engendered by resentment over the deal brokered with the ex-Forces Nouvelles troupes and/or a desire to exploit the Ivorian government’s apparently willingness to acquiesce to such demands.

While the Akouedo mutineers are suspected to be soldiers of the late Defense and Security Forces (FDS) assembled in 2011 with the Forces Nouvelles rebels to form the current Ivorian military, the discontent of the security forces appears widespread and not restricted to particular groups. As such, additional unrest triggered by elements of the security forces, beyond former members of the Forces Nouvelles, are anticipated over the coming days. Whilst the government may agree to come to terms with discontent individuals, ending particular instances of unrest, such resolutions are liable to be temporary

Finally, we assess that the current Ivory Coast mutiny within the security services carries some potential to result in an uptick in criminal behavior, as lawless elements attempt to exploit the ongoing unrest in order perpetrate illicit actions nationwide, particularly given disquiet witnessed within the gendarmerie. In particular, Ivory Coast’s outlying areas are already subject to a relatively high risk of criminality, with criminal gangs having successfully entrenched themselves as a result of limited security infrastructure. It is therefore plausible that a further decline in security force presence or activity will be leveraged by these existing actors.

Recommendations:

Those operating or residing in the country are advised to be vigilant of the Ivory Coast mutiny, and are advised to avoid the vicinity of government and security force installations over the coming days, as well as any large gatherings, given the current volatility and potential for violence at these sites.

 

 

Ivory Coast & Liberia: Security concerns increasing as rising instability along shared border region emphasized by UNMIL troop deployment [May 26, 2014]

Armed assailants, reportedly crossing into the Ivorian town of Fetai from Liberia in the early morning hours of May 13, set homes on fire and robbed locals of their valuables. Guillaume Soro, the President of Ivory Coast’s National Assembly, announced that military forces were able to repel any further actions by the assailants, increasing their deployment in the area, with clashes between both parties resulting in thirteen deaths. Moreover, the military announced it had successfully pushed the assailants past the border and back onto Liberian soil. Soldiers of the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (ONUCI) have additionally deployed to the area, in an effort to support the Ivorian forces.
  • Reports additionally indicate that armed individuals, believed to have carried out similar attacks in the past, remain present in the border region’s forested areas within the Ivory Coast, occasionally harassing and physically attacking local farmers.
  • On March 18, soldiers belonging to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) officially left Liberia’s Gbarpolu County and redeployed to Grand Gedeh, along the border with the Ivory Coast, in an effort to support the present Liberian/UNMIL security force in the wake of increasing violence in the area.
  • On February 22, an estimated twenty armed assailants, suspected by the Ivorian government to be Liberian bandits, attacked residents in the village of Fetai and Grabo, located in the Ivory Coast. Clashes with security forces ensued, resulting in the death of four Ivorian soldiers and one assailant.
  • Despite Ivorian claims that the attackers were Liberian militiamen in the February 22 incident,Liberian Defense Minister Brownie Samukai disputed the reports and challenged the Ivorian government to produce evidence that the attacks were carried out by assailants originating in Liberia. Only recently has the Ivorian government retracted its claims, announcing that the assailants were not Liberian.
  • Meanwhile, on February 24, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf accused Ivorian forces of exploiting border attacks in order to enter Liberia to arrest and forcibly repatriate Ivorian refugees. This, according to Sirleaf, is likely the reason for the attacks which she has deemed to have been carried out by Ivorian refugees within Liberia.

Continue reading Ivory Coast & Liberia: Security concerns increasing as rising instability along shared border region emphasized by UNMIL troop deployment [May 26, 2014]