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November 28, 2012

Ivory Coast Has New Cabinet, Security Challenges Remain

by Robbie Corey-Boulet

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara flexed his political muscles last week when he reshuffled his Cabinet, but analysts say the president's influence over the security sector of the government remains limited.  

President Ouattara’s decision to dissolve the Cabinet on November 14 took many Ivorians by surprise.  The official explanation was that the president had grown frustrated with allied coalition parties during a dispute over changes to the country’s marriage law.

But analysts said this dispute was merely a pretext.

The original Cabinet was named in the aftermath of a six-month post-election conflict.  That crisis erupted after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Ouattara in a November 2010 election.

Some appointees were seen as compromises that Ouattara had to make to consolidate support in what remains a fragile political climate.

Analysts say the president's new Cabinet is a streamlined version of the first one.

Ouattara shifted some ministers into new posts and put others in control of multiple ministries. The minister of interior and the acting minister of defense remain the same.

New Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan also serves as finance minister.  Duncan, like Ouattara, is an economist and is seen as a friend of the president.

Duncan is not from the president's political party.  He is from the PDCI party, the same one as the former prime minister.  His appointment preserves what some analysts say had become a shaky ruling coalition.

Samir Gadio, an emerging markets strategist at Standard Bank Plc., says the president is asserting his authority.

"It's not as if we had a major shift in the composition of the Cabinet," he said. "You have to look at that as some sort of reshaping of the government rather than a significant shift away from what we had previously.  To me, he’s made his point, which is that he is in charge and he will impose the policy directions that he feels necessary going forward."

Analysts say on the policy front, Ouattara has made significant headway in rebuilding the economy, but he can't afford to stop there.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report this week that stalled reforms to what it called a "highly disorganized" security sector and a lack of reconciliation with Gbagbo allies remain major threats.

The new national army, called the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast, has taken the lead on security matters since the conflict ended 18 months ago.

The army is composed mainly of former members of the New Forces rebel group, which controlled northern Ivory Coast from 2002 to 2010 and staged the 2011 offensive that ousted former president Gbagbo and brought Ouattara to power.

Human rights groups have accused those soldiers of widespread rights abuses.

Rinaldo Depagne, senior West Africa analyst for ICG, says the army has sidelined police and the gendarmes who are largely seen to be pro-Gbagbo.  He says Ouattara has limited control over the security sector.

"It’s difficult for him not to give back something.  And it’s very difficult for him to not have total control of a large chunk of the army coming from the former rebellion," said Depagne. "He has to give them some kind of freedom - not to do what they want, but to be in charge of things that normally they shouldn’t be in charge of."

The International Crisis Group says President Ouattara faces "fierce resistance" from Gbagbo allies, many of whom are in exile in Liberia and Ghana.

Ouattara’s government has blamed them for a wave of recent attacks on military positions in Ivory Coast.

Depagne said it is difficult to see how President Ouattara can put an immediate stop to this.  He said Ghana’s government needs to do more.

"The situation between the two countries is a little bit dangerous.  Ghana should do more and should not accept people plotting or preparing military plans to destabilize Cote d’Ivoire.  Ghana should not accept this on its soil," said Depagne.

The ICG report urges President Ouattara’s government to open up dialogue with moderate Gbagbo supporters to promote reconciliation and increase cooperation between various factions in the security sector.  It says otherwise, the government risks repeating mistakes of past governments that could spin the country back into crisis.