Podcast with the Finance Minister

Charles Koffi Diby speaking

Today I  listening to an IMF podcast [in French] with the Ivorian Finance Minister Charles Koffi Diby. Quite interesting – at least for readers sharing my somewhat geeky interest in Ivorian economics and politics.

Diby says:

There is a tendency to fantasise or imagine that there is a lot of money [in the public finances] and that it’s only the privileged who benefit  and that the managing of public finances is something sacred.  We have opened it up. Lets take an example; we make a budget release where we  invite the entire population, all social strata,  the civil society, economic operators, the public sector – everybody – and we present the budget with all its components and ask people to ask questions. And then we publish the entire budget on our website. Every quarter we present a follow up on the budget in the Council of Ministers which is made available online. That is, it becomes available to everybody. I think that also reduces social tensions, because everybody knows what’s in the state coffers and what we do with it.

I like that he stresses transparency, and the budget is really available –  in reasonable detail – at the Ivorian government’s website.  Though, I’d say that the main reason for transparency of the budget is linked to having strong/inclusive institutions and to reduce corruption – not to improve people’s perception.  Well, guess when you are in government you can’t say “we need to be transparent with the budget, because otherwise we’ll steal from it”.

Dooo -ing eeeh bisness

We are accompanying a process  so we can move from the primary agriculture sector to the secondary sector, ie food production. We are working on attracting direct foreign investments by improving the business climate, the security for people and property, and all procedures and especially that we can,   with regards to, doing business, be as good ranked as possible. So, it’s an improvement of our investment code increasing transparency and offering more opportunity. To summarise, it’s about improving the competitiveness of our economy.

Good stuff, and from what I have seen this looks to be more than empty words.  And I love it that scoring high on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index appears to be an outspoken government priority. It’s also an added bonus to hear French-educated Ivorian Ministers struggling with mid-sentence English words:  au niveau de  dooo -ing eeeh bisness etre mieux classe…

Interviewer: What’s your vision for the Ivory Coast in 5 years?

Diby: In 5 years we’ll be a country with positive double digit growth. We have the capacity. The President has outlined it clearerly in the actions we’ll take. The Ivory Coast will surprise the world positively.

Given that Ivory Coast’s population increases with 2% per year, even just a sustained growth in the 5%-8%  range would be great, and double digit growth is possible, but I’m not as confident as Charles Diby that it will happen. Reuters had a pretty upbeat article a couple of days ago where a bank analyst at Standard Chartered expressed the view that high growth is sustainable in the Ivory Coast. By high growth he means 5% – 6% though, not double digits.

For my investment case for the the Ivory Coast – especially for real estate – I think it’s actually enough if governance goes from  disastrously bad (as under Gbagbo) to just plain bad – fundamentals (demography etc) are that good.  My Cocody house had a good rental return and was increasing in value already under Gbagbo  – that is, until the crisis/war happened and the shops next to it were burnt down.

Now it’s looking like governance is going to somewhere in the ok to excellent range. The jury is still out on this one.

Encouraging signs

Preliminary performance check

In the The ball is in your camp President Ouattara! post published the 11 April 2011 I outlined my expectations for the new government. The last point was an improvement for the Ivory Coast in international rankings of governance, produced by the likes of Transparency International, Freedom House and Heritage Foundation.

These rankings are probably the easiest way to gauge how the Ivorian government is doing, but they are a lagging indicator and I don’t think any of them have yet been published for a time period after Gbagbo’s fall.

So to check the Ouattara government performance – principally that they are not too corrupt – one has to look at datapoints here and there from what they have actually done.  So, here are a few encouraging things I’ve seen so far:

  • Infrastructure projects: A surprising amount has actually been achieved, roads have been built and paved, potholes fixed, new bridges built, construction started on a few big projects. And this is a very good indicator. With high corruption it’s difficult to get much done, because everything will cost a lot more, and result in infighting about who gets which bribe. Then there is the not so uncommon case where nothing gets done and all the money ends up in the pockets of the responsible politicians.
Opening ceremony for a bridge in Cocody
  • This is anecdotal evidence, but I’ve heard that a top level employee of a large international organisation, upon arriving to the Ivory Coast, said he’d never seen an African government work this hard.
  • Reduction of staff at the national television RTI and Air Ivoire, both badly run overstaffed companies where hiring had been far from meritocratic.
  • Reduction of checkpoints to officially 33 nationally. There are still illegal checkpoints, but at least in Abidjan the situation is better than in many years.
  • In the budget for 2012 there are more funds put aside for investments than in the last 3 to 4 decades (according to the responsible minister – haven’t checked myself)

In European media, when you hear about the Ivory Coast, beside Gbagbo going to the Hague, it’s usually about the limited bouts of violence that have happened.  I kind of think that stuff like the above is more significant and more important for the future.

Stealing It

Stories like the above are essentially about corruption, or how people with power use it to steal wealth produced by others – which has been a natural state of affairs in human history –  and how/if actions, institutions and structures are put in place to reduce it.

In Paul Graham’s book Hackers and Painters there is a chapter called Stealing It which is quite illuminating about corruption:

In conflicts, those on the winning side would receive the estates confiscated from the losers. In England in the 1060s, when William the Conqueror distributed the estates of the defeated Anglo-Saxon nobles to his followers, the conflict was military. By the 1530s, when Henry VIII distributed the estates of the monasteries to his followers, it was mostly political. But the principle was the same. Indeed, the same principle is at work now in Zimbabwe.

In more organized societies, like China, the ruler and his officials used taxation instead of confiscation. But here too we see the same principle: the way to get rich was not to create wealth, but to serve a ruler powerful enough to appropriate it.

This started to change in Europe with the rise of the middle class. Now we think of the middle class as people who are neither rich nor poor, but originally they were a distinct group. In a feudal society, there are just two classes: a warrior aristocracy, and the serfs who work their estates. The middle class were a new, third group who lived in towns and supported themselves by manufactoring and trade.

Starting in the tenth and eleventh centuries, petty nobles and former serfs banded together in towns that gradually became powerful enough to ignore the local feudal lords. Like serfs, the middle class made a living largely by creating wealth. (In port cities like Genoa and Pisa they also engaged in piracy). But unlike serfs they had an incentive to create a lot of it. Any wealth a serf created belonged to his master. There was not much point in making more than you could hide. Whereas the independence of townsmen allowed them to keep whatever wealth they created.

Once it became possible to get rich by creating wealth society as a whole started to get rich very rapidly. Nearly everything we have was created by the middle class. Indeed, the other two classes have effectively disappeared in industrial societies, and their names have been given to either end of the middle class. (In the original sense of the word, Bill Gates is middle class.)

But it was not till the Industrial Revolution that wealth creation definetly replaced corruption as the best way to get rich. In England, at least, corruption only became unfashionable (and in fact only started to be called “corruption”) when there started to be other, faster ways to get rich.

Seventeenth century England was much like the third world today, in that government office was a recognised route to wealth. The great fortunes of that time were still derived more from what we now call corruption than from commerce. By the nineteenth century that had changed. There continued to be bribes, as thee are still everywhere, but politics had been left to men who were driven more by vanity than by greed.

Letting Entrepreneurs Create Wealth

Hackers and Painters

I’m currently immersed in a book I got for Christmas, Hackers and Painters – Big Ideas from the Computer Age by Paul Graham. It’s in parts absolutely brilliant and, even better, I think I can connect it to the Ivory Coast without too much of a stretch.

From the chapter “How to make Wealth”:

Making wealth is not the only way to get rich. For most of human history it has not even been the most common. Until a few centuries ago, the main sources of wealth were mines, slaves and serfs, land and cattle, and the only ways to acquire these rapidly were by inheritance, marriage, conquest, or confiscation. Naturally wealth had a bad reputation.

Two things changed. The first was the rule of law. For most of the world’s history, if you did somehow accumulate a fortune, the ruler or his henchmen would find a way to steal it. But in medieval Europe something new happened. A new class of merchants and manufacturers began to collect in towns. Together they were able to withstand the feudal lord. So for the first time in history, the bullies stopped stealing the nerds’ lunch money. This was naturally a great incentive, and possibly indeed the main cause of the second big change, industrialization.

A great deal has been written about the causes of the industrial revolution. But surely a necessary, if not sufficient, condition was that people who made fortunes be able to enjoy them in peace. One piece of evidence is what happened to countries that tried to return to the old model, like the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent Britain under the labour governments of the 1960s and early 1970s. Take away the incentive to wealth, and technical innovation grinds to a halt.

Encouraging signs and trends for Africa and the Ivory Coast

Both in pre- and postcolonial times, as an African, if you set up a successful enterprise of any kind, you would be likely to run into the ruler or his henchmen (colonial ruler / homegrown dictator depending on the era) sooner or later.  For a very long time incentives to create wealth in most of Africa have been quite lousy – warriors and politicians regularly squashed entrepreneurs. However, looking at Freedom House scores, the World Bank’s Doing Business survey and other places, it seems that there has been a positive trend since the early 90s that has also resulted in higher growth figures.

In the Ivory Coast, it’s still early days for the Ouattara government, but there are plenty of encouraging signs that the government and the public administration in general, are strengthening the rule of law, and to a lesser extent than before use their power to put wealth created by ordinary Ivorians into their own pockets.

As to risks of things getting worse, I do not think the main problem is Gbagbo’s supporters coming back to power. That would indeed be bad, but I don’t think they can. They don’t have enough support to win a democratic election, even if they were united which they are not.  I think Gbagbo’s figures in the 2010 elections were augmented by his party controlling the state, but even then it wasn’t enough.

As to taking power through a military coup, many exiled Gbagbo supporters certainly would like to, but I don’t think they have the necessary resources or a neighbouring country prepared to offer military support.

Instead my main worry is that Ouattara’s government is behaving itself not because of a strong and independent media (Ivorian media isn’t), not because of strong institutions, civil society, or pressure from the Ivorian people, but because the person of Alassane Ouattara.   Ouattara is turning 70 years soon, and is not going to be there forever.  Hopefully when Ouattara eventually steps down,  institutions and checks and balances have strengthened so that things will work out even if the next guy isn’t as great.  Wealth created by entrepreneurs should contribute to increasing the size of the middle class which in turn is great for strengthening the civil society and democratic institutions. It’s tough being a dictator in a country with a large middle class.

Letting the nerds keep their lunch money

Back to Paul Graham, here’s the follow up on the text above:

Startups are not just something that happened in Silicon Valley in the last couple decades. Since it became possible to get rich by creating wealth, everyone who has done it has used essentially the same recipe: measurement and leverage, where measurement comes from working with a small group, and leverage from developing new techniques. The recipe was the same in Florence in 1200 as it is in Santa Clara today.

Understanding this may help to answer an important question: why Europe grew so powerful. Was it something about the geography of Europe? Was it that Europeans are somehow superior? Was it their religion? The answer (or at least the proximate cause) may be that the Europeans rode on the crest of a powerful new idea: allowing those who made a lot of money keep it.

Once you are allowed to do that, people who want to get rich can do it by generating wealth instead of stealing it. The resulting technological growth translates not only into wealth but into military power. The theory that led to the stealth plane was developed by a Soviet mathematician. But because the Soviet Union didn’t have a computer industry, it remained for them a theory; they didn’t have hardware capable of executing the calculations fast enough to design an actual airplane.

In that respect the Cold War teaches the same lesson as World War II, and for that matter, most wars in recent history. Don’t let a ruling class of warriors and politicians squash the entrepreneurs. The same recipe that makes individuals rich makes countries powerful. Let the nerds keep their lunch money, and you rule the world.

Click to get to a chapter of the book in pdf

Gbagbo at the ICC

Bloody Marvellous

A few days ago Ivory Coast’s former president/dictator Laurent Gbagbo was sent from his house arrest in the northern ivorian city of Korhogo to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

For a very long time – almost a decade – having Gbagbo  tried at the ICC for crimes against humanity seemed a distant and unlikely best-case scenario. Kind of have to pinch myself to be sure that this is really happening. Anyhow, it is – to use a great british expression – bloody marvellous, and it’s going to be interesting to follow the trial.

Non-stop Korhogo - The Hague

This is personal

I’ve never met Gbagbo myself, but I’ve had a less pleasant encounter with elements of his army and a quasi encounter with his death squads, so unlike – well, all other criminal trials – I have some sort of personal connection to this one.

Back in 2003 I went to a remembrance ceremony for the Yopougon massacre in 2000 at the Williamsville cemetary in Abidjan. And yes, I did some crazy stuff back then – I hope I haven’t stopped!  Here’s the story of the Yopougon massacre told by Belgian sociologist Benoit Scheuer:

[…] The result was a general climate of discrimination against people who were not “pure Ivorians”. Half the country was stripped of its moral dignity. Policemen would take the identity cards of citizens who were not “sufficiently Ivorian” and tear them up in front of them, in the middle of the street. Then they would tell them, “So you think you’re an Ivorian? Now try and prove it!”

This verbal and moral onslaught inevitably turned to physical violence. The first act of the tragedy came in October 2000, when the police at Yopougon in the suburbs of Abidjan rounded up 59 ethnic Dioulas. Two of them escaped; the rest were shot dead in cold blood.

The Yopougon massacre was not an isolated incident, a mistake, a moment of collective madness: it was part of a deliberate strategy of terror orchestrated by the state. The murderers could easily have hidden the bodies. But instead, just as the Serbian militias did in ex-Yugoslavia, they left them on display, turning their deaths into theatre. The aim was to instil fear into people. The corpses were meant as a message to all northerners: “You should get out of here, because if you don’t, this is what will happen to you!”

In October 2003 it was a group of about 200 persons, mainly northerners, who gathered at the cemetery where those killed  in the Yopougon massacre rested. The event was a combination of a religious ceremony with both muslim and christian imams/priests present as well as a political statement by Ouattara’s RDR party who had sent quite a few people.

At the start of the ceremony 30 or so soldiers from the regular army loyal to Gbagbo showed up and positioned themselves 150 meters away from us.  Then 20 minutes into the ceremony we heard loud gunshots. It turned out it was the soldiers firing in the air above us as intimidation.  The ceremony kept going as if nothing happened. The ivorians next to me said not to worry, that it  was always like this, but also indicated in which direction to run if the soldiers started to aim lower. Fortunately nothing happened, the ceremony ended, and we all went home. Continue reading “Gbagbo at the ICC”

He actually means it

“Thieves will be arrested”

Not so long ago, when Alassane Ouattara held his first meeting with the new government, he said a few things that stood out. From the Ivorian newspaper Le Patriote (which is an often uncritical mouthpiece of Ouattara’s RDR party, but the same story was taken up in other papers as well)

En effet, pour sa toute première rencontre avec les membres de son gouvernement au grand complet, ADO a adressé une sévère mise en garde à son équipe. Selon des indiscrétions, il a clairement fait savoir aux 36 ministres qu’il ne tolérerait aucun dérapage qui entacherait non seulement sa réputation personnelle, mais celle du groupe. Pour ce faire, il a, sans porter de gants, fait savoir que les détournements de deniers publics qui foisonnaient dans les ministères précédents, doivent prendre fin. Ici et maintenant. Et si d’aventure, un d’entre eux se rendait coupable de vol, ce dernier serait immédiatement mis aux arrêts. Mais tenez-vous bien. Le Président de la République a tenu à faire savoir que cette mise en garde était valable pour tous, y compris pour ‘’des gens qui sont proches de moi’’, aurait-il dit.

Freely translated (with a lot of help from google translate) to:

Indeed, for his first meeting with members of his government in full, ADO [Ouattara] issued a stern warning to his team. According to indiscretions, he made ​​it clear to the 36 ministers he would not tolerate any slippage that would taint not only his personal reputation, but that of the government. To do this, Ouattara, with gloves off, let it be known that the misappropriation of public funds, which was rife in the previous administration, must end. Here and now. And if by chance, a minister would make himself guilty of theft, that minister would be immediately placed under arrest. But brace yourself. The President of the Republic made it clear that this warning was valid for all, including ”people who are close to me” he reportedly said.

Now, with the possible exception of the “people who are close to me” part, Ouattara is far from the first African head of state to say something like this. However, few, if any African heads of state have actually meant it , except maybe for dictators that meant it for their ministers but were perfectly fine with misappropriating public funds for themselves.  The thing with Ouattara is, I actually thinks he means it, including for himself. Looking at his time as prime minister under Houphouet Boigny he was pretty strict with these things – making him unpopular, and it was the same thing at the IMF (although there, the risk of getting unpopular for applying ethical standards is significantly lower than in the Ivorian government of the early 90s), and well, I’d bet that he hasn’t changed.

Now, assuming Ouattara means it, it’s far from certain he will manage to keep it up, as I believe there are many top level politicians in the RHDP alliance who see it as their right to get rich now that they are in power.  But even if Ouattara just gives it a serious try I think it’s pretty darn good, and it will be really interesting to see how it goes.

What if the laws were applied equally?

I think it’s often underestimated how prevalent grand corruption is at higher levels of public  administration in poor countries in Africa and elsewhere, and its effects such as misallocation of resources, weakened rule of law, rise of crony capitalism, reduced meritocracy etc. I mean, many people think it’s bad, but it’s actually often much worse. Some of my datapoints for saying this comes from tagging along a Senegalese minister’s election campaign, reading the great book Our Turn to Eat about corruption in Kenya, and an eye-opening meeting with the Swedish ambassador to Senegal mentioned in the Encounters with Corruption post (but I’ll take it again):

Senegal had since the early to mid 90s been scheduled to receive Volvo buses for its public transport in Dakar as part of Sweden’s development aid efforts.  However, it took over a decade for the buses to actually be delivered.

In 2005, I was at a meeting with the Swedish ambassador to Senegal, and she explained that Senegalese government officials serving both Abdou Diouf’s and Abdoulaye Wade’s governments simply refused to let the deal happen unless it included a kickback for themselves. As Sweden has a pretty strict no-corruption policy, the whole issue stayed in a stalemate lasting for years.  The ambassador said that at the end she had to call a couple of Ministers and literally yell at them over the phone.

My guesstimate is that if you take just the democratic countries on the African mainland, and you apply their own laws honestly and equally to the respective governments, assuming you have full information of financial transactions and dealings of  individual ministers, there would not be very many ministers left that would not have to be arrested. Thinking about it, it would probably be a pretty interesting exercise to apply to developed countries as well – France and Italy spring to mind, as well as heads of municipal owned companies in the city of Göteborg in Sweden (where I grew up).

So anyway, that’s the framework in which Ouattara’s anti-corruption efforts have to be seen. The outcome is not binary (yes, he made it or – no, there is still corruption) but more about how far Ouattara manages, is willing, and politically able to go.

And a final point, I love it that they have started legal processes against Gbagbo regime top dogs for economic crimes. It’s sets a great precedent, although it’s politically a lot easier than doing the same against Ouattara’s own people. Guess this is one of the few good things that came out of Gbagbo’s refusal to leave power. If Gbagbo had accepted defeat, such legal processes would have been seen as harassment of the opposition.

The ball is in your camp President Ouattara!

Congrats President Ouattara – Time to get to work!

Some say it’s pretty clear who the bad guy is in the Ivory Coast, but they are not sure if there is a good guy. Well, now we will see!

So congratulations to President Alassane Ouattara!   I have pretty high hopes on Ouattara being a reasonably “good guy” even considering events in the west of the country.

Come on – don’t disappoint now!

Here’s what I expect from the Ouattara government:

Immediate Post-Conflict Issues:

  • Prevent any lynchings against Gbagbo and his top brass, even though this is what a majority of the RHDP grassroots (and the population of Abobo) seem to want to do. I recently listened to a woman from Abobo on Abidjan.net voice chat who said that Gbagbo and Ble Goude shouldnt be put on trial, and instead she suggested that each woman in Abobo should be allowed to slap them.
  • Put those who have ordered or committed atrocities against civilians on trial – or send them to the Hague.
  • Allow an independent investigation of the massacres in the West and allow no special treatment for pro-Ouattara soldiers.
  • Set up a truth and reconciliation committee, that also deals with crimes committed by ex-rebel forces.
  • Stop and strongly discourage any reprisal attacks against Gbagbo supporters.

Longer Term Issues:

  • Strengthen the rule of law.
  • Make it easier to succeed in business without having friends and connections in the state apparatus.
  • Respect freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and press freedom, and other basic civil liberties and political rights. I don’t want to see any journalists or opposition politicians put in jail because of expressing their opinions or exposing corruption.
  • Make appointments to the state administration based on merit, not ethnicity. And not like Gbagbo nominate incompetent friends and mistresses to important jobs, and create a tribal-controlled state.
  • While I still expect Ouattara’s Ivory Coast to have a high degree of corruption – at least don’t make it a total “our turn to eat” scenario. Keep some sort of accountability at the very top.  I don’t want to see top cadres of the RDR party suddenly becoming extremely wealthy. Or well, they are most likely going to get wealthy, but there is a big difference between having a decent road and a hospital built and taking a cut, or just sending all the money to a bank account in Switzerland and not building a functioning road or hospital at all.
  • Do something to start clearing out land and other property rights, something a la Amartya Sen maybe.  At the moment it’s too much at the whim of the Minister in charge, and subject to a very slow-moving and capricious bureaucracy. Guess the whole strengthening institutions project comes in here, and that’s long and complex stuff, that I expect to at least be started.
  • Make Ivory Coast a country that welcomes foreigners again – especially ECOWAS citizens that were, to put it mildly, badly treated by the Gbagbo regime. And how about dropping visa requirements for people from at least the developed world.  Such visas bring in a bit of money, but are a huge net loss to the Ivory Coast in terms of lost investment, lost tourism and reduced international contacts.
  • I want to see clear improvements for the Ivory Coast on the following international metrics:
  1. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report gauging civil liberties and political rights
  2. World Bank’s Doing Business report measuring business regulations.
  3. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index
  4. Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom
  5. Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index

Ethnic killings in the West

I just read a recent Human Rights Watch report covering abuses by Ouattara’s republican forces in the West during their advance. And well, it’s really bad, much worse than I thought.  It’s seems to be systematic killings and abuses against civilians of the Guere ethnic group committed by not a few bad apples, but by a large number of the republican forces.

This is not going to stop me from celebrating the fall of Gbagbo which hopefully should happen soon, but it makes it impossible to wholeheartedly celebrate Ouattara taking power.   Soro visited the West  around the time these massacres happened and according to Human Rights Watch his visit did not appear to reduce the abuses.  So, now it becomes important that a thorough investigation is made, and that pro-Ouattara soldiers don’t have impunity just because they are winning the war.

Here’s an excerpt:

In village after village investigated by Human Rights Watch, Republican Forces combatants killed, raped, and pillaged the predominantly Guéré population. The Guéré are originally from western Côte d’Ivoire and largely supported Gbagbo in last year’s election. A 47-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch that she looked on as two fighters killed her father, husband, and 10-year-old son around the family’s cocoa farm near Doké. A 32-year-old man described pro-Ouattara forces entering Diboké and opening fire on civilians as they ran out to see which side’s forces had entered, killing at least three people right in front of him. In at least 10 villages around Toulepleu and Bloléquin, villagers said they hid in the bush and watched as the Republican Forces set fire to houses and buildings used to store crops and seeds, slaughtered animals, and stole everything of value.

Shooting like donkeys

What’s up at the bunker?

Today’s quote comes from French magazine Le Point interviewing a French military officer:

“Si on me confie cette mission, les premières choses que je coupe à Gbagbo, c’est l’eau et l’électricité. Sans climatiseur, sans énergie, et sans eau, si sa résidence n’a pas de source autonome, lui et son dernier carré seront très mal…” Mais l’ex-chef d’État dispose sans doute de gros stocks d’armes et de munitions ? “Peu importe ! Ils tirent tous comme des ânes, avec des consommations énormes. Tout a une fin !”

Freely translated to:

[“If I was given this mission, the first things I would do would be to cut Gbagbo’s water and electricity. Without AC, without energy, without water, if his residence doesn’t have an autonomous source, he and his last supporters will be in trouble…” But the former head of state seems to have large stocks of arms and munitions?   It doesn’t matter!  They shoot like donkeys, with enormous consumption of ammo. Everything  has an end!”]

Latest news is that French helicopters are attacking the area around Gbagbo’s bunker again, after the French residence was (according to the embassy) received mortar shells by Gbagb forces.   Sounds like another bad move by Gbagbo, but I guess he can’t stand life going back to normal in Abidjan with him in the bunker, so he has to do something.

And the latest from Yop

In other news I talked to a friend in Yopougon who said the water and electricity was back today after six days without it.  He stayed put the entire crisis, despite being of dioula ethnicity and having his front door marked twice.  He also said that there are plenty of pro-Gbagbo militias around but that his neighbourhood is controlled by Ouattara’s forces.

So that was really great to hear actually, now suddenly it feels very real that Ouattara’s forces are in Abidjan and that things are changing.

The Franc is mightier than the Kalashnikov

Gbagbo’s remaining forces in Abidjan

In Abidjan there are plenty of disorganised pro-Gbagbo militia armed with kalashnikovs, that seem to do more pillaging than fighting Ouattara’s forces. They are quite nasty, but I’m not excessively worried about them; with no Gbagbo arming and supporting them, Ouattara’s forces should, given some time, be able to stop their activities.

On the other hand, I was beginning to worry about all the seemingly well armed and well organised pro-Gbagbo forces controlling ground outside the encircled bunker/residence area where Gbagbo is holed up.  As long as these forces are active, there won’t be peace, and economic activity will not pick up easily.

Then it struck me that those fighting for Ouattara in the Republican Forces are getting paid (except volunteers), whereas those fighting for Gbagbo are not. And Ouattara’s PM Guillaume Soro just made a call to all members of Gbagbo’s army to join the Republican Forces.  That’s pretty strong economic incentives.

Central Bank vs Army     1 – 0

Before Ouattara’s offensive, I heard reports of Gbagbo’s Young Patriots militia fighting Gbagbo’s regular army over control of roadblocks which they say provided 100,000 CFA Franc per day in bribes/toll.  So that’s an indication of the power of economic incentives.

Actually economic might vs military might is a bit of a theme of this whole conflict.  Gbagbo’s goons could and did take over buildings of financial institutions and threatened bank employees to go to work, but never managed to get the financial system to work. And it looks like Gbagbo’s near-complete demise is much linked to him running out of money.

A Dictator’s miscalculation?

Still I don’t understand why Gbagbo didn’t take some of his most loyal forces from Abidjan and sent them to the frontline.  If they could stop Ouattara’s advance in Abidjan, I reckon they could have stopped it in Toulepleu as well.

Is this a typical dictator’s error due to overconfidence and being surrounded by yes-men, or did Gbagbo have a good reason or valid impediment not to mount a stronger resistance outside Abidjan? I don’t know.

What has come to light now is that UN’s weapons embargo seems to have been quite ineffective. Gbagbo was much better equipped in armament than what was thought, and Ouattara’s forces had a hard time countering Gbagbo’s heavier weapons (before they were destroyed by UN helicopters).


UPDATE: Today’s must reads are Venance Konan’s Op-ed in New York Times and Reuter’s Tim Cocks personal experience from staying in a hotel in Abidjan attacked by Gabgbo forces.


Is the bottom nådd?

Ok, the worst could be over.  Leaving Gbagbo in the bunker and moving on is maybe not such a bad idea.  The key now will be to get rid of all armed gangs and remaining pro-Gbagbo forces and militia in the rest of Abidjan.  Then it’s back to business!

My preciouss!

I never liked the idea of letting Gbagbo go into some sort golden exile abroad. The man is like Gollum, even in exile he would never stop claiming to be the President, and keep plotting a return.  A negotiated exile would be a bit the same mistake as the end of World War I, Gbagbo and his supporters would claim that he was never beaten, that it was just a French conspiracy and possibly even keep an anti-Ouattara insurgency going.

They also have the funny faces thing in common

Now hopefully with time, people will get on with their lives and stop worrying about Gbagbo in his cave in the Misty Mountains… err I mean his bunker, and then when he eventually comes out he can be put on trial.

Nightmare getting worse instead of ending

When writing the last post I expected combats in Abidjan to be relatively quick and leading to the fall of Gbagbo, given what had happened in the other cities, and the strengthened UN mandate.

However, what’s happening now in Abidjan  is not good at all.  There seems to be a spiral of violence where not only pro-Gbagbo forces commit human rights abuses and pillaging, but also pro-Ouattara forces plus, I guess, gangs not affiliated with either side. And it seems the violence could last for a while which is devastating.

Via Chris Blattman I found a great essay called Fragments of War written by humanitarian aid worker Mark Cannavera that shows Mark’s emotions about the tragedy of the ongoing violence. Excerpt:

When my friends see armed men on the street in Abidjan, there is no way to tell who they, orwhat they are fighting for, if anything. Is it fighting? Just hooliganism? If they cannot tell eachother part, if they cannot divvy and cordon off their identities, or their ideologies, how do theyknow who to shoot? Is it all discriminate? Isn’t war always indiscriminate? Indiscriminate killing– my, that is a stupid phrase.

Some “pro-Northern” fighters arrived at my Northern friend’s temporary house yesterday. He escaped from his encounter with them with only a head wound, knocked upside the head with a Kalash. Why?

Too many questions.

Regarding pro-Ouattara forces behaving badly – I get that the ex-rebel forces can be hard to control, and that young people from a poor background with a Kalashnikov in a situation where there is chaos and little accountability are likely to do nasty things.

But I expect leadership in the pro-Ouattara camp to do all they can to rein in their forces and be very clear about what is not acceptable, and stress that individual soldiers will be held accountable.

I have not heard very much along these lines yet, so that’s a bit of a disappointment.

UPDATE: Now Ouattara’s PM Soro has talked about the massacre in Douekoue saying exactly what I was hoping for, so that’s good. Hope it’s not just words.  More in Le Figaro [in French]

The End of a Nightmare

A Thug

I have heard the following said about Stalin:  “There are many ways to describe this man, but the word evil actually fits.”

For Gbagbo I’m more thinking along the line of thug or criminal gang leader.  Gbagbo is a history professor and a well educated man, who long was seen as the democratic oppostion to Houphhouet Boigny.  However, since he came to power,  he has been upholding a facade of being a democrat and playing by the rules, whereas in practice espousing all the worst traits of African dictators on a kind of non-grand scale, more like a gang leader than a Mubutu, Bokassa or Stalin. Gbagbo’s traits:

-Xenophobia – In the promotion of Ivoirite

-Tribalism – Putting people of his own Bete ethnicity in control of security forces and key roles within the public administration, and not quite trusting other ethnic groups. Dictators such as Stalin, Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein created a state of fear even among their closest men, as they could at a whim have persons who had been loyal to them many years assassinated. Gabgbo on the other hand (and I got to give him this) was entirely loyal to his tribe to the point of distancing supporters of other ethic groups such as house speaker Mamadou Coulibaly.

-Corruption and nepotism – Revelations of public funds stashed away abroad by Gbagbo’s inner circle are surfacing, and there are many stories of cushy jobs given to mistresses of Gbagbo and his closest men. Generally, an already bad corruption situation got worse during Gbagbo’s rule.

-Political violence – directed against any opposing voices to his power from journalists to demonstrators to comedians

-Genocidal tendencies – encouraging and assisting loyal militia groups to kill northerners and foreigners from ECOWAS countries

-No real efforts of nation building or vision beyond ensuring he and his inner circle stay in power and live a life in luxury

Scarface ending?

So now that Gbagbo is set to leave power within days or even hours, it feels like the end of a nightmare and soon time to start celebrating before starting to worry about the challenges that lie ahead.

Unfortunately it looks like some of Gbagbo’s militia and armed forces, and maybe even Gbagbo himself have chosen a Scarface ending.  Hopefully it will end soon without too many innocent victims and damage to Abidjan.

—————————————— “Say hello to our little friends”     ———————————Elements of the Republican Forces of the Ivory Coast loyal to Ouattara

The Wild West

A mess in Guiglo

These Liberian mercenaries seem to be a real pain. AFP reports:

Hundreds of Liberian ”mercenaries” have gone on a rampage of rape, murder and looting in the western Ivory Coast region of Guiglo, a virtual lawless zone, the UN refugee agency said today.

Spokesman Jacques Franquin told AFP the mercenaries were an opportunistic “third force” taking advantage of post-election clashes between troops loyal to strongman Laurent Gbagbo and those supporting internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara.

“They are neither pro-Gbagbo nor pro-Ouattara, they are merely profiting from the situation. They loot, they rape, they kill,” said Franquin, of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Abidjan.

“We are very concerned, the population is panicked.” “Guiglo is in a lawless zone, there is no functioning police, everyone does what they want.”

So if I’ve gotten this straight Gbagbo first invites and pays Liberian mercenaries to fight for him, then he runs out of money to pay them, so the Liberians turn on the pro-Gbagbo forces and take over whole cities where they go berserk against the civilian population. Nice work Goobagballs!

Rebel tweets

Alain Lobognon, spokesperson for the pro-Ouattara forces in the north, is tweeting about what’s going on every day (love that by the way), and so far I think he’s been pretty accurate. Today Alain has tweeted the following regarding the city of Guiglo in Gbagbo held territory in the west:

Les FRCI “négocient” le départ des Libériens, qui ont pris Guiglo en otage. #civ2010 Le drame des populations est réel.

[The Repulican Forces of the Ivory Coast (the new name of the ex-rebel forces plus defected soldiers from Gbagbo’s army) are negotiating the departure of the Liberians who have taken Guiglo hostage.  The drama faced by the population is real.]

La présence massive de Libériens à Guiglo est une menace pour la ville. Forcer ou négocier leur départ? Négociation en cours.

[The massive presence of Liberians in Guiglo is a threat to the city. Shall we force or negotiate their departure? Negotiations are taking place.]

Le préfet a fui la ville, les FDS prises également en otages. #civ2010

[The prefect has fled from the city and the FDS (Gbagbo’s forces) are also taken hostage.]

Négociations = couloirs de sortie vers le Liberia… Sans casses. #civ2010

[Negotiations = safe paths to return to Liberia… Without destruction]

Ils réclament leur paie aux FDS. Certains veulent rentrer au Liberia avec les armes.

[They (the Liberians) demand their pay from the FDS. Some want to return to Liberia with their weapons.]

Liberating Guiglo?

So if Alain Lobognon isn’t putting too much spin on things, this seems to be both a propaganda and military debacle for Gbagbo. Guiglo would be the largest city taken so far by the pro-Ouattara forces. It voted for Gbagbo 60% – 40% and is at the center of a cocoa producing region.

Instead of taking the city from Gbagbo forces supported by the local population, pro-Ouattara forces could be liberating it from Liberian mercenaries, which looks a lot better from a “winning hearts and minds” perspective.


Central Western Ivory Coast – Click on map to enlarge

The pro-Ouattara forces advance in the last month has been from south of Danane along the A701 to Toulepleu and then east, again along the A701, towards Guiglo.

Come on world media!

I get that Libya gets more media attention than the Ivory Coast at the moment, but Bahrein??  Come on world media!

When Mark Doyle who has been an Africa correspondent for BBC as long as I can remember tweets: “#Ivorycoast is reminding me of rwanda in 1994. There, I’ve said it. I was in kigali most of the genocide.” I believe it’s time to start taking things seriously.

Other bad signs include:

Thousands of the pro Gbagbo “Young Patriots” youth militia are recruited to the army.  I have heard that not only arent they getting paid, but they have to pay a fee to get enrolled, so it looks like they’ll make up for it by attacking and pillaging the civil population. Reuters reports:

Analysts worry it [the youth milita] is a weapon even Gbagbo can’t control.

As they streamed into the stadium, soldiers tried in vain to stop more getting in, but were overwhelmed, as the crowd pushed down a gate. Efforts to cordon them off with iron bars were half successful. At one point, a frustrated soldier whipped some with a rope like an overseer to push them behind a line.

“Do you want a Kalashnikov?” shouted a voice amplified by loudspeakers. “Yes! Yes!” shouted the crowd.

Chanting slogans like “We will kill them now” and “The rebels will die”, Gbagbo prospective recruits gathered at a stadium(Reuters)

On France24 I read:

In an official statement on Friday, Gbagbo urged “greater responsibility and collaboration” between citizens and the FDS [the armed forces] so that “suspicious presences” are “neutralised”.

Since suspicious presences can mean nationals of ECOWAS countries, members of ethnic groups that did not largely vote for Gbagbo and anyone suspected of not supporting Gbagbo, this looks quite like a call for genocide.

And UNHCR reports that there is a mass exodus from Abidjan:

On Monday morning and over the weekend, UNHCR monitors saw thousands of people trying to leave from Adjame and Yopougon bus terminals, the two largest in Abidjan. Many families slept there in order to make sure they get seats.

Some of them told UNHCR monitors they were leaving Abidjan because of an appeal made on Saturday by youth leader Charles Blé Goudé for civilians to join the ranks of the armed forces loyal to presidential candidate Laurent Gbago on Monday. Reportedly thousands of youth have responded to this appeal, which those fleeing viewed as a call for war.

The bus terminals were already crowded with families seeking to leave the southern city in the wake of last week’s heavy and spreading violence, the worst Abidjan has witnessed since the post-election crisis started in late November.

The cost of transportation at the volatile start of this week has increased sharply, possibly tripled, according to a humanitarian partner whose staff have received requests from internally displaced people (IDPs) to help them leave Abidjan.

Genocide Memorial in Rwanda.

Calling to check if friends are still alive

Ethnic killings

It looks like the Gbagbo regime has stepped up killings of civilians in Abidjan in the last few days. I guess the killings were never entirely political, but the ethnic aspect of it seem to have gotten more pronounced lately.  Targeted groups are immigrants from the rest of West Africa (even 2nd and 3rd generation), ethnic groups from the north – largest of which is the Malinke (often called Dioula), and the Baole ethnic group of the center that largely voted for the PDCI party.

Ethnicity isn’t marked in Ivorian identity cards (as it was in Rwanda) but it’s nevertheless easy to identify especially northern ethnic groups by their names.  Furthermore, there are many areas in Abidjan that are dominated by the ethnic groups mentioned above, and these are the areas that have been attacked by Gbagbo’s forces.

The situation looks worrisome in the large (possibly 1 million people) Yopougon neighbourhood that voted for Gbagbo 2:1.  I have read reports of attacks against enclaves within Yopougon where northerners live, and roadblocks around such enclaves manned by armed pro-Gbagbo militia.

Stories from Yopougon

I have a few friends of northern ethnic groups living in Yopougon, and it’s gotten to the point that I call mainly to check that they are still alive. So far they are all ok, but some have gone into hiding, and others have left Abidjan to reach safety in the rebel-controlled north.

There was an incident three days ago where a man was stopped at a roadblock in Yopougon and an amulet was found on him which was taken as a sign he could be a rebel soldier.  He was let go, but started running causing the military manning the roadblock shot at him. He was hit in the shoulder, but kept running and reached the gate of the house of a friend of mine asking to be let in.  My friend was sleeping and never opened, and the man went elsewhere without getting caught.

The military, seeing blood outside the gate of my friend’s house, thought that the man had taken refuge there. They asked to get in, but my friend did not open the gate, and the military shot at the gate and the house, but did not manage to get in. Then the military left, but said they would come back in a few hours causing people from the entire block to leave. However, they never did come back.


Picture of people killed in a memorial of the Rwandan genocide.

Wari bana?

Human Rights Watch

When you don’t think the situation in the Ivory Coast can get any worse, it nevertheless keeps getting worse. This Human Rights Watch report published yesterday, outlines what’s going on, sometimes in gruesome detail.  For those that can stomach it, it’s a very good read giving an overview of human rights abuses as well as  full details of several events of which I felt I only got fragmentary information from twitter and other media sources.

End point of bad news

So to stop bad news from exceeding expectations, it’s time for a total and utter worst case scenario that is still within the realistic range of outcomes.

I think such a scenario would be if Gbagbo doesn’t give up and manages to obtain enough funds on an ongoing basis to keep the fighting going for years in Abidjan and the southern half of the country.

That would mean that violence, mass killings and democide would continue in especially Gbagbo-controlled areas.  With such lasting insecurity it would be difficult to provide basic necessities to a 4 million city like Abidjan.

The temporary drop in economic activity and GDP we are seeing now, would be made permanent like what happened in Liberia and Somalia during the long wars there.

As it stands, if violence ends and Ouattara assumes power tomorrow or even in three months, I think businesses will rush back in and resume operations pretty quickly, and this post-electoral phase will just be a blip on the curve. The social fabric and physical infrastructure is still reasonably intact. If however, the violence keeps going for years, we have a problem.

Wari bana?

So do I think Gbagbo will manage to keep it going?   He certainly wants to try.

Back April 2010 I wrote that a good way to analyse and predict Gbagbo’s actions is to assume that he always takes the course of action that is most likely to allow him to stay in power regardless of other consequences.  That seems to be even more true today, and besides, I don’t know of a case where a dictator has voluntarily left power short of being forced to by their own army (Ben Ali, Mubarak) or seeing enemy forces set to inevitably capture their entire capital city (Mubutu, Hitler and many more).

So, can Gbagbo muster the funds and resources necessary to keep enough of army, security forces and militia loyal to him and fight for him over time?  I don’t think so.

After the African Union’s latest clear support for Ouattara, I think it starts looking like Gbagbo’s support and power base is eroding.  One key reason behind it is probably that Gbagbo is running out of money or “wari bana” as it’s called in dioula language.

Gbagbo spent a lot of funds on the election campaign, so the state coffers were pretty empty after the election. Then the unusually severe economic sanctions hit, reducing Gbagbo’s income. With the banking closures the Gbagbo regime has to collect tax largely in cash which opens up for mass corruption.  My guess is that only a fraction of taxes collected in cash ends up available to Gbagbo’s regime – as opposed to in bank accounts abroad belonging to members  of the Gbagbo regime (or even just as cash at their homes).

On top of that Reuters reported a while ago that the Gbagbo regime had asked Angola for financial support but been rejected. (can’t find the link right now)

In a telling episode at the end of February, Gbagbo’s spokesman Don Mello announced, that they had managed to pay 62% of public servants, making it sound like a success.

For a somewhat contrary point of view Radio Netherlands Worldwide has a piece today with a bit of talk about Gbagbo’s financial position.

UPDATE: Ivorian reggae singer Alpha Blondy’s hit song Wari Bana:


Reuters analysis

I just read what I think is the best analysis so far on the post-electoral Ivorian crisis. It’s an article by Tim Cocks and David Lewis of Reuters  entitled SCENARIOS-Ivory Coast heading back towards civil war?


Here are some possible scenarios in the weeks ahead:


With daily AK-47 assault rifles and heavy weapons fire booming through Abidjan, and clashes erupting in various places across the country this week, a return to all out civil war is looking increasingly likely.


It is not clear whether Ouattara is ready to sanction a full-blown rebel advance, as it would taint his credibility if he came to power. Nor is it clear the rebels would succeed if they mounted any such offensive.

But analysts say Gbagbo’s forces may be spread thin if clashes are opened up on enough fronts and he risks defections if losses within his ranks start building up — as they seemed to do this week, with a number of deadly ambushes in Abidjan.

A military source says increasing numbers of soldiers in the Ivorian military are deserting, by switching their phones off and going into hiding. A few are defecting to the other side.



Ivory Coast’s crises have a habit of fizzling into a slow burn neither war nor peace stalemate — as has been the case since 2002-3. In this scenario, no side makes much progress and the frontline doesn’t move much from the existing north-south one, with armed men on each side looting what they can from a rapidly shrinking economy.

But previous such stalemates were possible because negotiations held out the hope of a resolution eventually. That now seems impossible since Gbagbo effectively tore up the peace process by refusing to accept the poll results.



Analysts see this as extremely unlikely unless his own life is in danger. Gbagbo has shown that he is more than willing to watch his country implode economically and head back to all out civil war if it will keep him in power.

News from Abidjan

I’ve just talked to a few friends in Abidjan and here’s what they are saying:

  • In a neighbourhood in Yopougon last night, houses where people of the ethnic group Dioula live were again marked with crosses.  They had a neighbourhood meeting about it, where the non-Dioulas of the neighbourhood denied any involvement in the markings. My friend thinks some non-Dioulas did the markings but don’t want to acknowledge it for fear of retribution.
  • Gunshots heard today on the first Yopougon bridge leading to the Plateu district.
  • Jet fighters flyovers over Abidjan heard yesterday.
  • No water or electricity in Abobo confirmed by several people I talked to.
  • The Ivorian FDS forces are mostly standing by, no longer supporting Gbagbo like before. Twitterer “Mareeblanche” writes: Abidjan:Ble Goudé au jeunes patriotes:”les fds ont echoué,a vous de faire le travail!traquez les rhdp partout en abidjan”! [Ble Goude to the Young Patriots militia: “The FDS have failed, it’s up to you to do the work! Hunt down the RHDP everywhere in Abidjan”]  which, while alarming, would support what my friends are saying.
  • The pro-Ouattara “Commando Fognon*”  is in control of Abobo. *Fognon means wind in Dioula.
  • Many new roadblocks manned by pro-Gbagbo militia set up in Abidjan, very hostile to foreigners and Ivorians with names from the northern part of the country.

What’s going on in the Ivory Coast?

Twitter says

It looks like Abidjan and other parts of the Ivory Coast are in a state of open conflict, but with difficult working conditions for journalists and media coverage focusing on Libya, it’s hard to get good information on what’s going on.

Here’s stuff I’ve read on twitter (#civ2010) but not seen in any other media:

  • Gbagbo has introduced false CFA Franc bills printed in Argentina.
  • A UN patrol has been attcked in Abobo with heavy losses for the UN.
  • Fighter jets have been seen flying over Abidjan.
  • Two communities are fighting in Aboboté: Ebrié against Dioula.
  • Standoff between UN/French forces and FDS in Sebroco. One UN soldier killed.
  • FDS Armoured vehicles controlling major intersections in Abobo
  • Water and electricity cut off in Abobo

If true, some of this should show up in regular media soon – especially reports about killed UN soldiers.  With twitter you do get the news first, but you also get a lot of stuff that turn out not to be true.

What’s going on?

Here’s stuff I’d like to know:

  • To what extent are Gbagbo’s forces targeting unarmed civilians?
  • What are the UN and French forces doing? Do they manage to overcome the blockade ordered by Ble Goude? Are they managing to protect civilians at all, and where?
  • In theory, in Abidjan, Gbagbo’s security forces, army and militia should be militarily superior to the “Commando Fognon”, the pro-Ouattara urban guerilla/militia.  How superior are they in practice?
  • Who controls Abobo and Anyama?
  • What’s the extent of the inter-ethnic clashes?  And are they really clashes, or more like murder of the Dioula population?
  • Are the banks still open and functioning in Bouake?
  • Who controls Zouan-Hounien – did Gbagbo forces take it back?

And to conclude here’s a cartoon from South Africa (not sure of the exact source) that at least includes not only the arab world uprisings, but also the Ivory Coast: