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Africa

Côte d'Ivoire vice-president takes office aimd army discontent

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President Alassane Ouattara congratulates Côte d'Ivoire's new Vice-president Daniel Kablan Duncan (L), along with National Assembly President Guillaume Soro (R), January 10 REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

Daniel Kablan Duncan was sworn in as the new Vice-president of Côte d'Ivoire on Monday-- the first vice president in the history of the country. His appointment comes after changes to the constitution were approved last year in an effort to calm social and policitcal unrest following several mutinies and strikes.

In principle, Daniel Kablan Duncan has the advantage of being inclusive.

An experienced technocrat, who served five years as Prime Minister and held several key posts before that, he comes from the southeast of the country, while his Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly is from Kohorgo in the North.

His government respects the delicate North-South split in Côte d'Ivoire.

President Alassane Ouattara has long been accused of favoring Northerners who helped bring him to power. Kablan Duncan's appointment shoudl address that.

On top of that, these same Northerners are rebelling. A two-day mutiny by soldiers demanding better pay and living conditions, recently paralyzed several cities in the West African nation, including the government's stronghold of Kohorgo.

Everyone's vice president?

"One of the reasons behind the mutinies is that forces loyal to Guillaume Soro [President of the National Assembly] are unhappy with changes to the constitution which include bringing in a new Vice President, likely to weaken their bargaining power," Nick Branson, a senior researcher at the Africa Research institute in London told RFI by phone on Monday.

"These guys have made it clear they're not going to go without a fight. They resent the snub they seem to have viewed, having Soro overlooked as the heir apparent to Ouattara, and losing their seat at the table as it were."

Under the old constitution, the President of the National Assembly--Guillaume Soro in this case--was next in line to replace Ouattara.

However, since his re-election in October 2015, Ouattara has attempted to reduce the power of those former rebels.

"This may have spurred combatants once under Soro’s command to agitate against the changes and remind the political class of the unresolved grievances within the army," explains Branson.

Hefty bill

A deal struck late on Friday between the government and mutineers has raised hopes of a return to stability in Africa’s fastest-growing economy.

Ensuring it will last is a matter not for vice president Duncan, insists Côte d'Ivoire's main opposition party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), but the president.

"When we come to the mutiny, this is the problem of Alassane Ouattara," Abdon Bayeto, spokesperson of the FPI in London, told RFI by phone.

"The whole world will know that this guy is the one who engaged mercenaries in Cote d'Ivoire: he brought a foreign army to dislodge Laurent Gbagbo, a democratically elected president. I don't think it's for Mr Kablan Duncan to try and solve a coup that Ouattara is unwilling to."

"The issue will be whether Ouattara can proceed in tandem with the repayment of the disgruntled soldiers supposed bonuses," Nick Branson of the Africa Research institute added.

On Monday, Ivorian authorities were expected to fork out 63 million euros to settle the bill, roughly the "equivalent of what Cote d'Ivoire has budgeted for 2017 in terms of providing clean water across the country," says Branson.

What about the army?

However, with civil servants too on strike, there is no one to actually budget or get the sums of cash to individuals who have mutinied.

For now, the appointment of Daniel Kablan Duncan has deflected attention away from the former commanders.

But it hasn't solved the problem.

"Ouattara's first priority for me would have been to reconcile the whole country. There was no need to rush and change the constitution,” Abdon Bayeto.

With his strongman Laurent Gbagbo in the Hague and other FPI stalwarts in exile, it’s normal for him to be upset.

The case for the protesting soldiers is different. Many of them are former rebel fighters who supported Ouattara and now feel abandoned.

“If the president can proceed with building a professional army, one where the mutineers receive a decent level of training, not ones inclined to follow parallel chains of command and rebel as and when it suits them” only then can the government defuse the situation, reckons Branson. 

Duncan's experience no matter how good, may not be good enough.

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