Attacks by armed groups in Cote d'Ivoire continue to raise concerns over the state of security in the country.
After the attacks in the western region that killed eight United Nations (UN) peacekeepers in June, recent attacks in Abidjan, the heart of political and economic power in the country, brought to the fore the imperative to undertake, speed up and effectively complete the security sector reform (SSR).
On Monday 6 August 2012, a group of armed men attacked a military camp in Akouedo in Abidjan. The attack left seven soldiers dead. The previous day, a similar attack took place in Yopougon, resulting in the killing of five soldiers from the Republican Forces of Cote d'Ivoire (RFCI).
These incidents came a few weeks after the government made an announcement on a foiled coup meant to destabilise the current government.
There is no doubt that Cote d'Ivoire has made significant gains in terms of peace efforts since the political violence following the November 2010 elections that brought the country to the brink of all-out war.
While the country managed to avoid war, the current situation in Cote d'Ivoire is still extremely fragile. As with previous violent clashes, the government was quick to point to former members of the national defense and security forces and militias close to Laurent Gbagbo, the former president now standing trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In reality, Cote d'Ivoire is facing numerous challenges, including stalled SSR. For almost a year, SSR has not been able to move beyond the integration of former rebels into the national army under the new name of the Republican Forces of Cote d'Ivoire. Though there are many plans under discussion, key actors involved still have to come up with an integrated approach to speed up reforms in major security agencies.
Indeed, there are military, political and social dimensions to the ongoing violence in Cote d'Ivoire. At a military level, two main problems remain to be resolved. Firstly, the harmonious functioning of the command structure across the various units of the army and security agencies needs substantial improvement. Secondly, it is perhaps time to pay attention to the practical phase of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process, mainly the many volunteers and traditional fighters commonly known as dozos who joined the fight during the post-electoral crisis. Moreover, the new armed forces are still hampered by a lack of equipment as a result of a continuing United Nations (UN) arms embargo, yet the country faces the problem of a proliferation of small arms. The longer it takes to tackle this, the riskier it will be for peace and stability in Cote d'Ivoire.
At a political level, current arrangements meant to respond to the need to create a balance among the political forces that supported the election of President Alassane Ouattara, have not yet been able to usher in effective institutions, rule of law, a transparent and equitable justice system or an all-inclusive political consensus. The former ruling party, the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI), boycotted the 2011 legislative elections and continued to reject most attempts by the government to have a national dialogue on the political future of Cote d'Ivoire. At a social level the truth and reconciliation process, a key process to foster national cohesion, faces serious challenges due to the intransigence of former president Gbagbo's party members and a perception of impunity within the current government.
In his reaction to the attacks, President Ouattara promised to create a National Security Council (NSC) and a single authority to complete the DDR. If this is translated into action, it will be an important step in the peacebuilding process. It could provide for the adequate structure and institutions to address the complex challenge of disarming, demobilising and reintegrating former combatants into society. However, for this to have a positive impact on peace and stability in Cote d'Ivoire it will require greater effort to make the truth and reconciliation exercise more effective, as well as a guarantee of socio-economic opportunities for the demobilised soldiers.
In the meantime, there are many questions that still need to be answered, including the real objectives of the various armed groups operating in the country. Beyond allegations of coups and threats to make the country ungovernable, it might also be important to reassess the relationships among the various units of the RFCI, as well as former national defence and security forces members who have been left out or neglected under the new dispensation.
It is hoped that the renewed mandate of the UN Operation in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) until July 2013 will provide the government with the necessary support needed in the post-conflict reconstruction process.
While calling upon the government to develop and swiftly implement a DDR programme with 'a clear eligibility criteria, a new secure and transparent database, and a central oversight authority', the UN also insisted on the need for a consolidated political dialogue and an impartial justice system. So far, these issues remain highly challenging.