-Prof Mamadou Koulibaly
By Ajong Mbapndah L
He fought tooth and nail to be President of Ivory Coast. Created a party, fought with three Presidents, allied himself with an armed rebellion and for two years now he is in power with a score card which impresses neither his opponents, nor some in the international community who were among his ardent supporters. Ivory Coast under President Alassane Ouattara has not made much progress says Former National Assembly President and head of the Lider Political party Prof Mamadou Koulibaly. With his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo facing trial at the ICC, Prof Mamadou Koulibaly has emerged as the most acerbic critic of Ouattara and spares no efforts in painting him as a leader who is incapable of resolving the complex problems facing Ivory Coast. The security problems are acute, the reconciliation process is stalled, unemployment is high, former elements of the rebellion are holding Ouattara hostage and the human rights situation is not good, says Koulibaly in his assessment of President Ouattara. Koulibaly who was victim of an accident under questionable circumstances in the course of last year, lashes out at Ouattara for double standards with a justice system that turns a blind eye to excesses of his partisans. Coming out of a crisis, the foundation of the Ivorian state is weak and if President Ouattara continues to act as a leader who lives in fear and unable to control his armed militias, the country runs the risk of degenerating into more chaos says Prof Koulibaly.
Prof. Koulibaly, It is two years now with Alassane Ouattara as president of the country, may we have an idea about how Côte d’Ivoire is doing politically, socially and economically?
Almost two years in fact since Ouattara came to power. Confidence is still not restored between him and the opposition, between him and the people who did not vote for him, between him and the army, the gendarmerie, between him and all the components of the FRCI (military) he has put in place and who have not stopped attacking his regime and harassing him to the point of forcing him to be defense minister. There is also a disappointment in him from the international community which has not seen any improvement in the democracy his leadership was expected to bring. So far, he has not yet established reconciliation, which has been shifted to the back burner as he pursues the utopia of the emergent Ivory Coast in 2020.
Economically, the crisis is only getting worse. Direct foreign investment has reduced and promises of development assistance that were made while he was still secluded at the Golf Hotel have not been met with the arrival of fresh funds. Domestic and foreign private investors are skeptical because of insecurity and corruption in the upper levels of government. The jobs he promised are nowhere. In the face of rising unemployment, Ouattara has resorted to catering more and more to the needs of his ethnic base. It is true that there are a few public projects on infrastructure, but these are at outrageous costs and in scandalous conditions.
Socially, numerous professional bodies are waiting for Ouattara to fulfill his promise of higher wages. Students, who saw the rehabilitation of their universities at exorbitant and outrageous costs, are waiting to see the libraries open and equipped, as well as restaurants and laboratories of science and technology. In the meantime, they just look at the cafeterias and bars mounted by Ouattara’s friends on campus, where sandwiches and lunches are sold at unaffordable prices, which brought about strikes by students, preceded by that of teachers who are still waiting for the payment of their entire overtime. The social atmosphere is especially marked by insecurity brought about by the FRCI, the high cost of living, racketeering and criminalization of the state.
Security remains a big challenge and there are reports of human rights violations, where is the violence coming from and what is the purpose?
Violence today is essentially caused by the FRCI. They are the only ones who carry weapons and occupy the national territory, but normally are in control of the areas of influence. Factions are fighting against each other for control of sinecures, because the state does not pay them salaries. Left to themselves, these fighters must survive by extortion, theft, assault and violence. In order to have them with him during his ascension to power against Gbagbo’s troops, Ouattara promised them jobs in the army, the gendarmerie and the police. However these troops from the same ethnic groups have not been successful, and lest they turn their arms against him, Ouattara asked them, as well as supplementary Dozos (traditional hunters), to redeploy across the country, in all the cities and villages, to ensure security. But instead, we note that with their presence, theft and insecurity are rather on the rise. These militias demand support from the people and are violent when people do not respond favorably to their grievances. Côte d’Ivoire is living in fear.
What about efforts towards reconciliation, there is supposed to be a reconciliation committee headed by Charles Konan Banny, has it served any purpose?
The CDVR of Charles Konan Banny is run by people of good faith, but who alas work under the authority of Ouattara himself. He does not give the financial and political means to the commission to make it effective. He gives the commission a two-year agenda for a reconciliation, which a year and a half after, has not yet begun its work seriously. The CDVR speaks of reconciliation while Ouattara promotes injustice, impunity and the violence by FRCI continues unabated. The reconciliation process is not credible and is thwarted by Ouattara himself who does not seem in any hurry to get there.
We have also heard you decry the corruption that is taking place under the present government, what facts do you have to back your accusations?
Corruption is rampant under Ouattara although it has always existed in the various regimes that preceded his in Côte d’Ivoire. First of all the justice system is totally corrupt while Ouattara has changed all the main leaders of the judiciary and he himself is chairman of the Judiciary. He can in this way pursue his main opponents of yesterday for economic crimes or murder, but condones the crimes committed by his own men and the FAFN which has since become the FRCI.
Ouattara undertakes numerous infrastructure projects, but has never made public tenders for the award of contracts. Projects are announced at an initial cost and then, month after month, we see the costs increase without explanations. The most obvious is the rehabilitation of universities, whose initial cost was about forty billion francs CFA, which then increased to sixty and a hundred billion. At
this stage of a hundred billion, and with his council of ministers, Ouattara discovered that the project had been over priced by at least forty billion. As punishment, he dismissed the Director of Financial Affairs of the Ministry of Higher Education, without touching the minister himself who did not resign either. A few weeks later, the same minister informs us that the actual cost of the project is rather one hundred and seventy-five billion francs CFA and nothing was done to him. There is the case of this other Minister, who is suspected of embezzling more than four billion francs CFA destined to the victims of the toxic waste dumped in Abidjan by the Probo Koala ship Trafigura a few years ago. The minister was ousted from government, but no action taken against him, justice having found nothing to reproach him. They are both members of parliament and want to become mayors of different cities in Côte d’Ivoire. Cases of this kind exist in abundance.
Despite your strong criticisms against President Ouattara, just to be fair to him, are there things you think he has done right to move Côte d’Ivoire forward?
Yes, you are right. Abidjan became a little cleaner than under the previous regime. It is true that the proposed third bridge in Abidjan, which was dragging from the time of Houphouët-Boigny, saw its construction undertaken by Ouattara. It is also true that in the city of Abidjan, holes in the roads were clogged, especially in the upscale neighborhood of Cocody. It is also noteworthy that Ouattara, after having started his reign with forty government ministers, now scaled it down to 28 ministers. You see, he has worked and we do not forget it. But remember anyway, in short, that the contract for the third bridge was concluded in totally obscurity. Nobody knows what the exact cost is, or what financial and economic guarantees the state is committed to for the next forty years. Neither the public nor parliament was informed of these public contracts. In addition, the roads in Abidjan are not the only roads in Côte d’Ivoire. There is the interior of the country, for example the cocoa producing areas that have no roads and yet strongly finance the state budget.
You now head your own party, LIDER which did not do so well in the last elections, how is the party doing and what role do you expect to play in shaping a better future for Côte d’Ivoire?
LIDER went to the parliamentary elections in difficult conditions on which we will not dwell. We left these elections without a single elected candidate, even though we presented twelve candidates and we had just arrived on the political scene for just four months. We saw and warned Ouattara against the violation of Additional Protocol No. 2 of the ECOWAS Treaty prohibiting all member governments of the organization from changing the rules of the electoral process less than 6 months before the election date, no matter the type of election, without a broad consensus with the entire political class. Ouattara has shamelessly violated with impunity this provision of ECOWAS.
LIDER, in a responsible way, continues its ascent through the installation of party bases around the country and without great means for the moment. We aim to build a real opposition to challenge the power of Ouattara. We believe that people must understand that democracy is not multipartism and elections. Democracy is first of all a state of law, not in the sense of a government emerging from elections, a legal government, but a state, a situation in which the law applies to everyone, starting with the state itself and its leaders. We explain to people that multipartism does not mean having parties that act as unions for ethnic groups. We explain to politicians and our activists that democracy is first of all to recognize the inalienable rights of the private ownership of land in their country, and the freedom to exchange these lands. We believe that if LIDER succeeds in being heard on these issues, then we will have achieved our goal of education about democracy, social harmony and peace.
In the course of last year you were a victim of several accidents etc. Were these just routine accidents or you read something behind this since you are a strong opponent of the regime?
I still cannot explain the cause of this accident, but I find it curious that the government of Ouattara, which divided the country into official military zones controlled by the informal com-zones and com-sectors, goes to attack my family, my farm and my workers under the pretext that there was a training camp of anti-Ouattara militias in my village. I find it curious that there has been no serious investigation after these events and that the police and the Chief of General Staff of the armed forces have refused to receive complaints from my parents against the warriors of the pro- Ouattara militia called the FRCI. I find it disturbing that at the same time, the government is trying to portray me as a criminal, when I am the victim.
Former President Laurent Gbagbo is due for trial at the ICC but we have not heard about warrants for those who were in the rebellion, what is your take on this as well as the continuous detention of many high profile activists and government officials?
Ouattara applies a justice of variable geometry. A justice system which imprisons criminals of the defeated side and demands accounts and one that promotes criminals in his own camp and condones their wrongdoing. It is difficult in these conditions to build a nation, to reconcile and to build confidence in Côte d’Ivoire. By this attitude, Ouattara ensures the criminalization of the state. And our eyes are turned towards the ICC, to know whether it will be an accomplice or not in this local justice which is more of revenge than justice.
You have written in the past about defense accords between African countries and the French, can you talk about this briefly especially in light of the crisis in Mali, and most recently Central Africa? How relevant are these accords?
In modern economies, when states engage in this type of international agreements, people are informed of the content of these treaties and conventions. Civil society and parliamentarians discuss about them, so that people know what their government is engaged in. Sometimes we proceed by referendum to ratify such an agreement. This is the procedure in place in developed societies. But in African societies, only the President of the Republic and sometimes some members of the government are contacted and informed about the content of these agreements. The public remains in ignorance, parliament also, as well as the press. These are societies of distrust, patrimonial societies. And when a shock happens and the agreements must be implemented, the people do not understand it. Mali, like most African states is not viable individually. Our countries would be stronger and more viable if they were integrated into a federal structure. Each country would have a head of state elected according to the parliamentary system, and all states would be subject to a federal government which is also a product of a parliamentary system, following parliamentary elections after a one round majority vote, according to the Westminster model in Great Britain. Without this reform, there is no happy and harmonious future for African countries. Mali is a case study which shows that, despite all our elections, our governments, our armies, our narrow nationalism, all our countries and their institutions can collapse overnight without any internal forces capable of remedying the situation. We also see the same scenario in Côte d’Ivoire, where there is no more a state. It is a potential risk for all African countries. You saw what happened with President Bozizé’s call for help to Paris, and the response of President Hollande. We must become free men and regain confidence in ourselves and our neighbors and proceed with the construction of this African federalism. It is in the interest of our collective security, development, prosperity and peace. These defense agreements are nothing but loosely tied trade agreements. They serve as something else other than the defense of countries and their populations. We can do without them, if we reduce the risk of conflict in our countries. And for that, we have great untapped potentials.
We know it is still very challenging for Côte d’Ivoire, what are some of the reasons that should give people a reason to hope and what is your prediction for the future?
I have no crystal ball to predict the future of Côte d’Ivoire, but if the criminalization of the state remains the trend that we see right now, I fear that the year 2013 is going to be more difficult than 2012. If reconciliation does not make progress, if justice is not restored, if Ouattara continues to take people hostage with his armed tribal factions deployed throughout the country, I fear that economic activity will remain stifled and unemployment and difficulties of all kinds will increase. If the regime’s corruption continues to grow, and if impunity continues to be the norm, I fear that the foundations of our nation which are still fragile will cave to violence and chaos. But at the beginning of 2013, I wish that Ouattara would become aware of his responsibilities and fully assume them ,without presenting himself to us as someone who is unable to control his armed militia and who lives in perpetual fear, even though he is the President of the Republic.
**Translated by Cyprian Chongwain, Msc in Translation, New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies. firstname.lastname@example.org