Amadou Gon Coulibaly, prime minister of Côte d’Ivoire, passed away suddenly on Wednesday, July 8, in Abidjan, six days after returning to the country following a two-month stay in France. He was taken to hospital after he started to feel ill during a cabinet meeting. He had been battling chronic heart problems for years and had had a heart transplant in 2012, and after his latest check-up in Paris he underwent a procedure to have a stent inserted in a blocked coronary artery.
Coulibaly was a close political ally of incumbent president Alassane Ouattara for thirty years. Before he was appointed prime minister in 2017, he served as secretary-general of the presidency under Ouattara from 2011 to 2017, and before that as agriculture minister from 2002 to 2010.
Patrick Achi, secretary-general of the presidency, issued a statement of condolences on behalf of President Alassane Ouattara, saying, “Côte d’Ivoire is in mourning… I salute my young brother, my son, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who had been my closest ally for thirty years.”
Former president Henri Konan Bédié issued his own statement on behalf of himself and his party, the PDCI-RDA, saying, “His unexpected death today deeply saddens us. A great servant of the state, he remains an example of loyalty and fidelity with respect to his political convictions.”
Côte d’Ivoire is set to hold a presidential election on October 31.
Ouattara had made it clear in the past that he would run for another term should Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo—president during the country’s civil war (2002–2011) and recently acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court—participate in the October election.
Following months of speculation and fears that Ouattara would seek a third term, he announced in March that he would not run. The governing Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP) alliance then designated Coulibaly as its candidate. His death is likely to increase tensions in the country and set off a jockeying for the candidacy within the RHDP alliance.
Bédié, who is eighty-six years old, has stated his intention to run for president. So did former prime minister Guillaume Soro, but in April this year he was convicted in absentia on embezzlement charges and sentenced to twenty years in prison. His lawyers have claimed this was a ruse to prevent him from contesting the election.
Formal campaigning was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and during an April 8 cabinet meeting held via video link President Ouattara hinted at a possible postponement of the election. Coulibaly’s death throws the political situation into more disarray.
Last month, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire jointly conducted Operation Comoé along their borders. They captured thirty-eight suspected terrorists, killed eight, and dismantled training camps. The operation reflects growing concern in these and other West African coastal states about a spillover of violent extremism and the need to prevent attacks from being staged in their territories.
But the spread of attacks isn’t the only problem terrorism brings, and these operations shouldn’t be the only way countries address it. They need to also focus on the factors that allow these groups to function. Extremists are increasingly tapping into a terrorist economy, using Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo as sources or transit zones of funding and logistics.
Motorcycles are valuable to extremists because of their robustness and mobility through difficult terrain
Institute for Security Studies (ISS) research shows that livestock stolen in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger is sold in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana at below-market prices. The profits are ploughed back through the networks of accomplice dealers. Various accounts point to terrorists being among the armed groups funded by this illicit trade. They use the income to buy arms, fuel, motorcycles, and food.
Motorcycles are valuable to extremists because of their robustness and mobility through difficult terrain. They are also easy to maintain, light on fuel, and can carry more than one person for combat and combat support operations.
The terrorist economy affects West Africa’s coastal states.
Many motorcycles found in Niger’s Tillabéry region are trafficked from Nigeria through the Togolese border town of Cinkassé and Burkina Faso’s Boucle du Mouhoun Region. Some are also trafficked from Togo to Burkina Faso, and a few are trafficked further to Niger.
Both Tillabéry and Boucle du Mouhoun are hot spots for violent extremism. Although groups may not be directly involved in trafficking, they gain access to goods through vendors or criminal entrepreneurs who organize their procurement.
Evidence is also emerging of extremists sourcing materials to make explosives from Ghana. Ghanaian officials say fertilizer, a key ingredient for improvised explosive devices, is smuggled in sizable quantities to Burkina Faso. Police frequently arrest smugglers and seize consignments in northern border towns such as Hamile, Kulungugu, and Namori.
In July 2019, Upper West Region minister Dr. Hafiz Bin Salih said Ghana had lost US$12 million to fertilizer smuggling from Ghana to neighboring countries the previous year. Although terrorist groups may not be directly involved in the smuggling, an apparent rise in availability of the material in Burkina Faso means increased access and affordability.
Also, a 2018 counter-terrorism operation in Ouagadougou’s Rayongo neighborhood led to the seizure of an electric cord for making improvised explosive devices which was traced to northern Ghana. This suggests the involvement of trafficking networks from Ghana’s north where artisanal and small-scale mining is a long-standing economic activity.
Interviewees told the ISS that the northern Ghanaian town of Dollar Power has many West African illegal miners, including Ivorian former rebels and Burkinabe nationals, and is known for armed robbery. In eastern Burkina Faso, gold from some mining sites controlled by violent extremist groups is purchased by buyers from Benin and Togo. This may be providing valuable funding to terror groups, although the scale is unclear.
Leaders of coastal states are preoccupied with preventing a southward spread of attacks. This informed the February 2017 meeting of the presidents of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo in Accra. They had called for an extraordinary Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit on terrorism, and launched the Accra Initiative in September that year.
Attacks in southern Burkina Faso, close to the borders with Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo, have deepened concerns among counter-terrorism officials. At an ECOWAS extraordinary session held on September 14, 2019, in Ouagadougou, leaders also decried the spread of terrorism in the region, although there was no specific reference to coastal states.
Extremists use Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo as sources or transit zones for funding and logistics
Burkinabe officials have often alerted their coastal counterparts to suspected extremists crossing into their northern territories to avoid arrest. Such alerts followed the March 2019 Otapuana operation in southern Burkina Faso. In Ghana, extremists hide or rest in the north, counter-terrorism officials told the ISS, a situation that elicits complaints from Burkina Faso about the country’s commitment to countering terrorism.
Coastal states acknowledge the importance of addressing the root causes of violent extremism, including governance and developmental deficits. Extremists could exploit the lack of basic services, such as roads, health and education facilities, and socio-economic opportunities, to penetrate and implant themselves in communities. The 2020–2024 ECOWAS Priority Action Plan outlines steps to tackle these shortcomings.
But capacity to address the vulnerabilities that enable terror groups to source and move funds and logistics remains limited. These vulnerabilities include weak border surveillance and security; porous borders; and strong communal, family, and socio-economic ties. The content of cross-border trade transactions is largely untracked, as border officials do not have sufficient capacity and the necessary technology.
To prevent violent extremism, the various dimensions of the problem must be understood, particularly terrorists’ covert dealings. This will enable officials to strike a much-needed balance between counter-terrorism operations and breaking the funding and logistics supply chains used by violent extremists.
Border officials lack the capacity and technology to track cross-border trade transactions
West Africa’s coastal states must also address the weaknesses that allow these groups to operate. Capacity is needed to track trade consignments between countries, beef up border control and surveillance, enhance intelligence gathering and analysis, and garner the support of people living in border areas. This could help identify extremists who may be exploiting cross-border ties.
The disruption of supply chains could set the stage for more terrorist attacks. Violence could be used to protect hideouts, secure supply routes, or attack border posts that extremists believe are impediments to their supply of materials. This means that, to avoid generating community resentment, strategies aimed at disruption must be balanced with preserving the livelihoods of individuals and communities who rely on cross-border trade.
Sampson Kwarkye is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies’ regional office for West Africa, the Sahel, and the Lake Chad Basin.
This article was originally published by ISS Today.
Human Rights Watch has reported that over 2,500 schools in Burkina Faso have been forced to close in response to escalating numbers of terrorist attacks, holding back around 350,000 primary school-aged children from receiving an education. Since 2017, the country’s Ministry of Education found that at least 222 education workers have been deliberately targeted and made “victims of terrorist attacks”.
The report documented 126 attacks and threats of violence against educators, learners, and schools, more than half of which occurred in 2019 alone. This added security concern compounds the risks posed to Burkinabe children, who are set to return to school in nine days following countrywide closures put in place on March 14.
Armed Islamist groups have targeted schools in opposition to the teaching of French and other forms of Western-based education.
Joint Military Operation
The marked negative impact that terrorism has had on Burkina Faso’s schools reaffirms the importance of a joint military operation with Côte d’Ivoire, dubbed Operation Comoé, which recently reported a successful raid on a jihadist base in the border town of Alidougou in southern Burkina Faso.
A multinational consortium of telecommunications companies—including Facebook, China Mobile International, MTN Global Connect, Telecom Egypt, and Vodafone—announced the construction of a new undersea fiber-optic cable that will connect sixteen African countries, Europe, and the Middle East. Named 2Africa, the 37,000 kilometer-long communications cable is scheduled to go live in 2023 or 2024.
Africans pay some of the highest data rates in the world.
In March, two undersea cables serving Africa experienced breakages that drastically reduced Internet connectivity for days as repairs were made. The addition of 2Africa will help improve Internet access for millions of Africans, and mitigate disruptions should other cables experience failures in the future. Such disruptions are not only frustrating for Africans, who pay some of the highest data rates in the world, but also have a negative impact on the African economy.
A 2017 report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) concluded that intentional Internet shutdowns in twelve countries between 2015 and 2017 cost sub-Saharan Africa more than US$237 million. Unforeseen connectivity disruptions naturally can have far greater negative impact on national and regional economies.
COVID-19 is expected to curtail much of the economic progress made in sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting an average regional GDP shrinkage of 1.6 percent due to a dip in commodity prices. However, five African countries are actually projected to exit the pandemic with positive growth rates, three of which are located in West Africa.
Niger and South Africa are seeing some of the worst GDP growth contractions on the continent.
Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Guinea, Botswana, and the Seychelles are all predicted to see positive growth rates—between 6.8 and 8.7 percent—in 2021, thanks in part to their economies being largely dependent on the agricultural sector. Nations like Nigeria and South Africa, dependent on oil and raw ore exports, respectively, are seeing some of the worst GDP growth contractions on the continent. Other sectors, such as tourism, transport, and commerce, will still feel the oncoming recession induced by the pandemic, piling on additional public debt burdens on these states.
The combination of existing outstanding debts coupled with these grim economic forecasts has resulted in a chorus of African leaders, including African Union special envoy for infrastructure Raila Odinga, to call for full debt relief.
COVID-19 continues to strangle the supply chain of multiple industries, but now it has inconvenienced Côte d’Ivoire in particular by disrupting the trade of cashew nuts and cacao beans. The West African country is a leading global exporter of the “brown gold”, but is now facing the prospect of losing out on crucial revenue as other countries reduce imports of non-essential goods.
The slowdown demonstrates Côte d’Ivoire’s dependence on its primary agricultural exports.
Cashews are basically a lost crop this year: their harvest began in early February and the largest consumers of Ivorian cashews are East and Southeast Asia, countries that were in the throes of the viral outbreak during harvest season and have drastically cut down on demand. The slowdown demonstrates Côte d’Ivoire’s dependence on its primary agricultural exports for its economic success despite government efforts to diversify the economy.
Declining prices for products like coffee and cacao have destabilized Côte d’Ivoire in the past, notably so in the run-up to the Second Ivorian Civil War of 2010–2011. One of the root causes of the five-month conflict was believed to be dissatisfaction among farmers who struggled to provide for themselves by relying on cash crops while also having to face competition from different ethnic groups also trying to break into the agricultural sector.
On Tuesday, April 28, an Ivorian court sentenced exiled former prime minister Guillaume Soro to 20 years in prison after convicting him of embezzlement and money laundering. The trial lasted for only a few hours, with Soro absent and his lawyers boycotting the proceedings, alleging it was all political theater designed to prevent him from running for office in the October 31 presidential election.
Soro had also been accused of plotting an anti-government uprising. He has consistently denied all the charges against him.
The trial has highlighted the continuing repression of political opposition.
Slide toward Authoritarianism
The court verdict raises the specter of Côte d’Ivoire falling into a similar pattern of regression to authoritarian rule that contributed to the civil war breaking out following the 2010 elections, during which at least 3,000 civilians died.
The trial also highlights the continuing repression of political opposition. Hundreds of activists and opposition party members are languishing in prison for expressing their political views or for organizing protests.
Amnesty International has called on African countries to avoid turning prisons, which are often overcrowded, into epicenters of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Ivorian presidency announced on April 8 that President Ouattara had granted a remission of sentence to 1,004 prisoners and pardoned another 1,000. Amnesty International says, however, that this is insufficient, and that human rights defenders, journalists, and activists detained for simply exercising their rights should also be released.
The trial of Guillaume Soro, the former Ivorian prime minister who is accused of plotting an uprising against the government of President Alassane Ouattara and of embezzling public funds, starts today, April 28, in the capital Yamoussoukro. Soro has lived in exile in France since the arrest warrant issued in December prevented him from returning to Côte d’Ivoire from Europe, so the trial is continuing in his absence.
Soro has denied any wrongdoing.
The African Court on Human and People’s Rights (CADHP) has urged the West African nation to suspend the arrest warrant against Soro and release nineteen associates of his who have been detained as political prisoners.
Jeune Afriquereports that the decision to continue with the trial may be an attempt by the Ouattara administration to withdraw Côte d’Ivoire from the CADHP protocol, as its neighbor Benin did not too long ago.
Upcoming Presidential Election
Soro has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers have denounced the trial as an attempt at preventing him from running as a candidate in the presidential election, which is set to be held on October 31, 2020. President Ouattara, who has served as president for two terms and will not run for re-election, is expected to back his current prime minister, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, for president.
On March 5, Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara announced he would not seek a third presidential term in the national elections scheduled for October, easing the concerns of Ivorians and international observers who feared Ouattara’s participation would lead to a repeat of the 2010 election, which resulted in a bloody civil war. Yet, as Jessica Moody writes, this announcement belies other authoritarian actions taken by Ouattara that have been ignored by Western powers and international institutions otherwise pleased with his governance of the West African country, which has one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent.
Why It Matters
In spite of macroeconomic metrics showing a vibrant economy, nearly half of all Ivorians still live in poverty and are food-insecure. Checkpoints have continued to disappear between the north and south of the country, divided as such during the height of the civil war, and travel has resumed more or less without provocation. Yet, the underlying socioeconomic conditions that erupted into the post-electoral violence of 2010 have not disappeared. In 2016, Ouattara held a referendum on a proposed new constitution that went ahead despite only 42 percent participation by Ivorian voters. Among the changes, it gave the president the power to appoint one-third of the ninety-nine seats of the newly created senate, giving the executive greater power over the national legislature.
Then there’s Ouattara’s increasingly aggressive assaults on opposition parties. The most dramatic of which is the arrest warrant issued for Guillaume Soro for an alleged coup attempt. The former president of the national assembly led the Nouvelles Forces rebel group that helped install Ouattara at the end of the civil war. An audio tape was submitted as proof of Soro’s guilt, but the tape dates to 2017, leading skeptics to question why the government waited this long to release it. That Soro had announced plans to run for president suggests a political motive behind the timing of the tape’s release.
Ahead of the elections in October, Ouattara and his ruling Rally of the Republicans party will need to make a sincere commitment to open political dialogue, release political prisoners, and acknowledge opposition grievances regarding the composition of the electoral commission, which is accused of being biased in favor of the ruling party. Short of this, Ouattara’s plan to not run is likely to do little to assuage fears of a deteriorating political situation that could make this year’s election as contested as that fateful one in 2010.