Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A lot has changed, much remains the same

I am back (again) in Abidjan, but this time for dissertation fieldwork! It has been five years since I first came to Côte d'Ivoire, and the country has seen many changes in the interim. Here are a few highlights.

Infrastructure and growth

New highways! Ground broken for a cross-Abidjan metro system! Burger King! I discussed new infrastructure projects when I was here in 2015, but even more have been completed since and more put on the docket. Between 2011-2015, Côte d'Ivoire has experienced an economic growth rate of 9%, a huge feat for a post-conflict country. However, there are doubts about how sustainable this rate can be: even this year, price drops on cocoa have affected the growth forecast (and has led to widespread protest by cocoa farmers in the southwest). Further, the everyday citizen does not seem to have felt the effects of this growth rate: Afrobarometer round 7 (2017) results indicate that the self-reported unemployment rate has increased from 73% to 76%. Ivorian friends say they have seen the roads being built, but for them this does not translate to jobs and relief of economic insecurity for their families.


In 2012, when I arrived for the Fulbright, every few weeks or so there were attacks on police stations and barracks, with unknown assailants taking weapons and sometimes resulting in causalities. Police and military barricades were the norm as one traversed the city. In 2013, things started to look better – the President got rid of all of the barricades and the attacks became fewer and farther between. Fast forward to today: after two 2017 mutinies by former rebels now integrated into the army, security forces are much more on alert. There were two prison breaks in the past month. A few days before my arrival, a police depot was attacked in Abobo, a commune of Abidjan. The government accuses pro-Gbagbo individuals of fostering this insecurity. The mutineers are still rattling their sabers (literally), attempting to take over the mayor's residence in Bouaké on October 2, demanding back payments to the tune of $33,000 each.

Further, on October 10th, an aide of Guillaume Soro, former rebel leader, current president of the National Assembly, was arrested and accused of hiding weapons in his home that helped the mutiny. Abidjan friends and colleagues expressed concern that this arrest would lead to violent confrontations between Soro supporters and the government, but so far things have been calm.

To top it off, security is also high due to recent terrorist attacks in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. In 2016, Côte d'Ivoire was the site of an AQIM attack, only months after similar attacks in Mali and Burkina. Metal detectors and bag checks are the norm at shopping centers and hotels, with particular attention paid to locations frequented by foreigners.

In short, despite the economic growth and the semblance of stability, there are still many issues preventing the restoration of rule of law in the country.


Former president Gbagbo is still at the ICC facing charges of crimes against humanity. His trial started on January 28, 2016, a little under five years after his arrest. In late September, General Mangou, who served under Gbagbo during the crisis, dealt a striking blow to the defense's case: indeed, Gbagbo had established a parallel command structure, based on personal ties and dependent on relationships with Blé Goudé (also on trial at the ICC) and Gbagbo's wife, Simone (charged but acquitted of crimes against humanity), with the goal of "maintaining control of power at any cost."  Gbagbo supporters do not seem fazed by this revelation: calling Mangou a liar, a traitor, and a double agent because he swore his allegiance to the Ouattara camp the day after Gbagbo was captured in 2011.

Political competition

A once promising coalition, the RHDP (which joined together the PDCI and the RDR) is crumbling. The RHDP is effectively why Ouattara was elected in 2010; former president Bédié of the PDCI threw in his hat for Ouattara in the second round of voting, pushing Ouattara's vote share over the needed 50%. And yet, the coalition was always on shaky ground: 2012 legislation to change the head of household laws in the country to be more inclusive was met with strong opposition from the PDCI camp, despite RDR's support – this led to a shake-up in the cabinet where Ouattara effectively ousted disloyal PDCI folks. In the 2016 legislative elections, former PDCI candidates who had run and even been elected under the RHDP banner were not renominated, choosing instead to run as independents (and sometimes winning) against hand-selected, loyal RHDP candidates. There is also discontent regarding the successor to Ouattara in the 2020 presidential elections: those RDR loyalists want an RDR face to represent the party, while PDCI folks feel that their commitment to the coalition should be rewarded with their own candidate, and it is now their time to shine.

The opposition remains fragmented, with the FPI (Gbagbo's party) only holding three seats in the national assembly. Time will tell whether this party will disappear as many former ruling parties so often do in Africa.