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Two years after French-led forces brought Allassane Ouattara to power, he is not yet in control of the country. Rebels run a parallel taxation system and looting of the country’s resources is in top gear

There is a saying in West Africa which describes the current power of Alassane Ouattara over the people of the Ivory Coast – ‘Quand un singe monte très haut dans un arbre on finit par voir son cul.’ (When a monkey climbs high up a tree he ends up showing the world his ass.)

Ouattara has notionally been in charge of the country ever since the French Army and the UN’s rented Ukrainian helicopter pilots attacked the Presidential Palace and removed the legitimately-elected President Gbagbo. This ‘victory’ was supposed to lead to a democratic transition in which the people of Ivory Coast would forget that Ouattara had lost the election and would be forced to believe that the rebel bands of thugs, foreign mercenaries, Dozos and killers who had murdered thousands of Ivory Coast civilians had mysteriously become law-abiding democrats. What actually happened is that the decade-long misrule of the northern half of Ivory Coast by rebel forces operating as the Forces Nouvelles was expanded to cover the conquered South.

Ouattara is not in charge of the country despite his title. He lives in fear of assassination by those who put him in power. He travels incessantly, usually out of the country, because he is afraid of being killed. Guillaume Kigbafori Soro, the notional head of the Forces Nouvelles, who was appointed as Prime Minister by President Gbagbo, under duress after the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement, is now President of the National Assembly since March 2012. He is equally afraid of being killed and hides behind a cordon of bodyguards wherever he goes. He recalls the assassination attempt on him in 2007 when they shot his plane taxiing on the runway in Bouake, killing four people and wounding ten. He blamed the attempt on rival forces in the Forces Nouvelles. The fact that he was a Christian did not endear him to the largely Muslim rebellion leadership.

What was clear during the rebellion in 2002 was that the rebel forces were largely Muslim northerners fighting along with fellow Muslims from Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. President Blaise Campaore was the ringleader of the rebellion and worked closely with Mamadou Tandja of Niger and Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali. These three were the contact points between the French sponsors of the rebellion and Ouattara who was known as the Godfather of the Rebellion. The foreign mercenaries from Sierra Leone and Liberia fought for pay and loot but had little political influence on the rebellion. The division of the country between North and South, a border patrolled by French troops and later UN peacekeepers, allowed the north to be divided into ‘com zones’ led by local warlords who were self-appointed and largely untouchable.

With the division of the country all the civil servants, educators, doctors and the other members of the professional class fled from the North. The poor farmers who were left there paid no taxes, no rents, no customs fees, and for no services to the central government. They paid these to the warlords in their areas. The rich crops of cocoa, cotton, hardwoods which were normally exported from the North to the world’s market were smuggled to Burkina Faso, Togo and Mali to French intermediaries. No taxes were paid to the central government based in the South; no revenues were paid to the legitimate owners of the crops. The diamond mines, the gold mines and minor metals were taken over by important warlords who exported their smuggled goods through Burkina Faso where Campaore shared in the profits. There were no customs controls and no accounting of the lost revenues. In return the minor warlords were allowed to bring in motor scooters for sale on which they paid no duty.

This became well-established as a system of ‘parallel taxation’. Côte d'Ivoire may have one president but it has two ‘treasuries’. The first is the official Treasury; the other is funded from the continued collection of road tolls, rents, fees and other taxes by former rebels. During the rebellion local government was abolished and only the rebels collected ‘taxes’. This has not changed even with Ouattara in power. In August 2011 the International Crisis Group issued a study[i"> which stated ‘The FN former rebels, who helped Ouattara take power by force in Abidjan, play a disproportionate role in the FRCI. Soldiers from Prime Minister Sore’s movement dominate Abidjan and the west, in addition to the north of the country they controlled for the last eight years. They are badly trained, disorderly and commanded by warlords not in a good position to establish rule of law. If the government cannot prevail over FN area commanders quickly and re-establish order before the legislative elections, the president’s standing will be irreparably damaged.’

The ICG recognised that there was no justice to be had under such a system and impunity was the watchword. It recommended that, ‘The entire civil justice system needs to get back on its feet if impunity is to be ended. The north of the country has had no courts for eight years. In areas that remained under governmental control, judges were often appointed on the basis of ethnic and political criteria. It was easy to bribe the courts to make appropriate judgements’. [ii">

The situation in Ivory Coast worsened in 2012 and early 2013. The United Nations sent down a Group of Experts to examine the situation in the country. Their damning findings were published in a report to the Secretary-General in April 2013. [iii"> The report speaks of the degenerating situation. Warlord military commanders in Ivory Coast are making hundreds of millions of dollars by plundering the country's exports of cocoa and other resources, according to a report by these UN experts.

Forces Nouvelles militia leaders who took the side of President Alassane Ouattara in his showdown with Laurent Gbagbo in 2011 are part of a ‘military-economic network’ taking advantage of ‘rampant’ smuggling and parallel tax networks, according to the Experts. The former rebel leaders have been integrated into the national army ‘without the commanders having abandoned their warlord-style predatory economic activities, which they have now extended to the entire Ivorian territory’. Highlights of the report show that

(a) Although Ivory Coast is the world's leading cocoa producer, it lost about 153,000 tons out of the 1.47 million tons produced in the 2011-2012 season to smugglers, according to government figures quoted by the Experts. The lost cocoa was valued at about $400 million and much of it went through Ghana, the experts said.

(b) A third of the country's 450,000 tons of cashew nuts, worth about $130 million, was lost to the smugglers. Ivory Coast is the world's second biggest producer of the nuts.

(c) Côte d’Ivoire is the fourth largest cotton grain producer in West Africa after Burkina Faso, Benin and Mali. In the 2011/12 season, cotton exports stood at 130,000 tons. Estimates indicate that, in the same period, 2,000 tons were smuggled out of the country, representing a loss of $1 million to the economy and $100,000 in fiscal revenue.

(d) In Côte d’Ivoire, the timber industry is traditionally one of the most affected by the permanent predatory and smuggling activities that generate revenue and may also be illicitly used for the purchase of arms. The Group received evidence and reliable testimonies about the constant illegal exploitation and trafficking of teak that is currently exacerbated by former Forces Nouvelles combatants working for illegal timber-exploiting companies in Bouaké as a result of their knowledge of the forests. For example, from February to December 2012, there were seven seizures of timber, amounting to more than 478.6 m.

(e) Smuggling and illegal networks are relevant to both exports and imports. The country’s economy has also been affected by the influx of foreign commodities and the government has therefore been unable to obtain import taxes on a series of products, including sugar (which registered an unsold stock of 60,000 tons during the 2011/12 season), thousands of tons of fertilizers and pesticides and a large variety of manufactured food products.

(f) Côte d’Ivoire is particularly underdeveloped in terms of gold mining, taking into consideration its greenstone belt gold-bearing geology. What can also be concluded from this is that artisanal and small-scale gold mining is likely to rise in tandem with industrial mining. According to figures obtained from the Ministry, exports of gold produced at the country’s large-scale industrial gold mines in 2012 were in excess of $600 million at current world prices. Interestingly, these official figures also list an amount of 213 kg, worth approximately $12 million, as exported by ‘others’. In this case, ‘others’ refers to the holders of the 30 gold buying and exporting licences issued by the ministry, which represents an increase of more than 3,000 per cent on gold exports in 2011 by non-large-scale industrial gold mining licence holders, who officially exported 6.6 kg of gold. As these licensees do not buy from established mining companies, the Group concludes that this gold is purchased from the now hundreds of artisanal gold mines scattered throughout the country. Estimates of the true value of artisanal mining output could easily see this figure multiplied fivefold. Interestingly, while artisanal and small-scale gold mining is not illegal in Côte d’Ivoire, that is, there is provision under current law to obtain artisanal mining licences, the Ministry has not been issuing such licences. From this, the Group concludes that the buying/exporting licence holders have been purchasing illegally mined gold and permitted to export legally.

The Expert Group skipped over the massive quantities of diamonds smuggled out every year by the warlords. In Burkina Faso, under the aegis of Blaise Campaore, Ivory Coast top warlords were introduced to the buyers from Hezbollah and Al Qaida. Ivory Coast has diamond mines. Illicit diamond mining in the northern part of Ivory Coast still continues and provides a healthy stream of diamonds to Al Qaida, especially Al Qaida in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

There are four big mines - Bobi, Diarabala, Seguela and Tortiya. The US sent a CIA team in to discover what was happening in 2012. They attempted to trace the origin of around 300,000 carats produced in the Ivory Coast in 2011 and which generated earnings of roughly USD 25 million. The business is mainly controlled by two warlords, Issiaka Ouattara AKA ‘Wattao’ and Herve Toure AKA “Vetcho.” The diamonds are smuggled out mainly through Mali and Guinea before ending up on the international market in Tel Aviv.

The Expert Group did highlight the ‘parallel treasury’ issue. It wrote that there was a military-economic network entrenched in the Ivorian Administration. This network has adopted taxation methods similar to those used by the former central treasury of the Forces Nouvelles, ‘La Centrale’, but has shifted and is currently operational in a more discreet form. A parallel taxation system has thus been put in place for various types of business activities, including agriculture (cocoa, cotton and cashew nuts), trade, artisanal mining, transport and commerce. The network has appointed former students from the central city of Bouaké in all major cities of the country to manage the revenue that it obtains.

The report named Martin Kouakou Fofie, who has been on a UN sanctions list since 2006, Ouattara Issiaka, Herve Toure, Kone Zakaria and Cherif Ousmane as all being in ‘strategic command posts’ with significant amounts of weapons.

Of what, then, is Ouattara president? He is powerless in the face of his allies who brought him to power. The French are happy to co-operate with the warlords as they have been doing so for over a decade. French companies assist in the transport and marketing of these smuggled goods as they pass through Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Togo. Ouattara has no power; he has no control of the economics or the politics of the country and is totally isolated from contact with the warlord-operated FRCI, the Gendarmerie, and what passes for civil administration at the local level.

This is a government founded upon racketeering, smuggling and the arbitrary use of power by unelected thugs who operate with impunity. It is more than ironic to think that the UN would send down a Group of Experts to delineate the failings of the UN in its ill-advised and illegal war against Gbagbo and the people of the Ivory Coast. While the actions and the complicity of the French in promoting and sustaining such a system should surprise no one, one might have hoped for better from the UN.


[i"> ICG, “ A Critical Period for Ensuring Stability in Cote D’Ivoire”, Africa Report N°176 – 1 August 2011

[ii"> ibid

[iii"> Final report of the Group of Experts on Côte d’Ivoire pursuant to paragraph 16 of Security Council resolution 2045 (2012) 17 April 2013.


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