C ôte d'Ivoire has suffered countless mutinies since Félix Houphouët-Boigny - who ruled for 33 years after independence, often with an iron fist - died in 1993. During the latest uprising, which started on January 6, troops rose up in nine towns, including the commercial capital Abidjan. Soldiers took control of Bouaké, the country’s second-largest city, where they detained Alain Donwahi, the defence minister, for two hours.
Media reports and a statement from President Alassane Ouattara said the soldiers were rebelling over pay and working conditions. Talks ended in peaceful reconciliation after two days. But, as The Economist noted, many Ivorians found the timing suspicious. Was there more to events than met the eye?
After years of conflict the Ivorian military remains an army divided. Nick Branson, senior researcher at the Africa Research Institute, told The World Weekly that it's likely the Bouaké mutinies were instigated by former soldiers of the Forces Nouvelles (FN) rebel army.
Before their integration into the national army, the FN was headed by Guillaume Soro, who led a revolt against former President Laurent Gbagbo in the early 2000s. Since then he has served in a number of key roles, including as prime minister. Right now, he is president of the National Assembly.
The mutiny erupted on the day that elections for the presidency of the National Assembly were set to take place. Mr. Branson thinks this was no coincidence. The assembly president has traditionally been the “constitutional dauphin (or legal successor)” to the president. But the rules were changed with the adoption of a new constitution in October 2016.
Now, in the event of the president’s incapacitation it would be the vice president, not Mr. Soro, who would succeed him. This could allow President Ouattara - who has not committed to staying until the end of his mandate in 2020 - to arrange his own succession, bypassing Mr. Soro.
The rebellion from Mr. Soro’s allies can therefore be read as a show of force. By displaying their might on the streets of Côte d'Ivoire they were reminding the political establishment that they remain a force to be reckoned with even if their grip on political levers is slipping.