Quand les éléphants se battent c'est toujours l'herbe qui est écrasée...
Overseas Campaigns : Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast, a West African country of 320 000 km2, open to the Gulf of Guinea, having 17 000 000 inhabitants (in 2002), is made up of diverse ethnic groups, notably:
the Mandingues, the Dioulas, the Senoufos and the Baoulés. The predominant religion in the north is Islam, while in the south is Christianity.
French influence in the Ivory Coast dates as far back as the seventeenth century; the country became a French colony in 1893. She gained independence on August 7, 1960, but continued to be loyal to France within a bilateral cooperation framework.
“Old Man” ruled with wisdom and clairvoyance
On December 7, 1993, at the death of President Houphouet Boigny, fondly called “Old Man”, who led the country with wisdom and clear-headedness since independence, Henri Konan Bédié took over, before being overthrown in December 1999 during a coup d’état. In October 2000, Laurent Gbagbo became president.
In September 2002, mutineer soldiers staged an uprising in the north of the country. General Robert Gueï, who had became president after overthrowing Konan Bédié in December 1999, was killed alongside the Interior Minister and the Bouaké military commander.
The rebellion degenerated into a civil war in Korhogo, Bouaké and Abidjan.
From September 22, 2002, within the framework of cooperation agreements, French soldiers were sent to Ivory Coast to ensure the safety of foreign citizens. The weeks that followed were devoted to the execution of the second task of the mission which was to avoid the destabilisation this influential African country, without supporting President Gbagbo or his opponents. A real delicate task…
Launching Operation Licorne
The 600 men of the 43rd BIMa, initially positioned at Port Bouët, were reinforced by a detachment of the 21st RIMa, an armoured squadron of the 1st RIMa, and parachutists of the 1st RCP, which is permanently stationed in Gabon. Troops were posted to guard the airport.
Legionnaires equipped with light armoured vehicles played the role of a peacekeeping force at the front, preventing any risk of genocide. No one would like to witness a replay of the dreadful events of Rwanda and Somalia. Various detachments, notably the RPIMa, RIMa, GCP and COS, were equally sent to intervene.
Transmetteurs de l'opération Licorne
The French contingent, which altogether numbered about 4 000 men, had to contain the attacks of several rebel organisations: MPIGO, MJP, MPCI…During the violent confrontations that took place, the rebels suffered heavy losses.
A fragile ceasefire
In July 2003, a ceasefire was declared, but the north remained under rebel control. French units stayed put and were reinforced by a 1 300-man ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) force.
As concerns military intervention, a bloodbath was pre-empted thanks to the courageous and timely action of French troops. Though there is still tension, relative stability was achieved with minimal loss - an unquestionable success.
New clashes are inevitable given that the seed of discord between the rebels and President Gbagbo is still intact. Finding a long-lasting solution to this problem depends on the will and ability of the sons and daughters of Ivory Coast to draw up appropriate internal policies. It is up to them to work out the possibility of putting in place a government of national reconciliation with which all Ivorians would identify.