Upcoming country visit of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries to Côte d’Ivoire.

Presented by Ariel Ozdemir and Caren Thomas

The history of Côte d’Ivoire shows periods of political instability and coups. The 2002 Ivorian Civil War deepened the divisions within the country. 1 The presidential election in 2010 highlighted the power struggle between the candidates, which increased the political and ethnic tensions in the country. This constant state of political instability and civil unrest can contribute to Ivorian nationals’ being more susceptible to recruitment into mercenary activities. The lawlessness prevalent within Côte d’Ivoire may force individuals to seek stability or financial gain from different sources.
Despite Côte d’Ivoire being the largest economy in the West African Economic and Monetary Union, the country’s 46.3 per cent of its population is below the poverty line. Gender inequalities continue to persist within the country. This is noticed right from the grassroot level. Only 52 per cent of the girls have completed secondary education in the country compared to 63 per cent of the boys. Additionally, the fluctuations in cocoa, coffee, and palm oil export prices severely impact the Ivorians as their livelihoods depend on these commodities. 2

However, despite the progress in domestic legal responses to mercenarism in Côte d’Ivoire, the country has yet to ratify the 1989 Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries. While the country supported the 3rd Cycle UPR recommendation to ratify the convention, the mid-term assessment outlined the lack of any substantial actions to do so. 6 As a result, Côte d’Ivoire still has substantial further progress to make in its fight against the use of mercenaries. An optimistic sign as to potential future progress on ratification can be found in the Ivorian Minister of Foreign Affairs’ 2019 speech, in which he asserted Ivorian support for the convention and urged those nations to ratify the convention that had not yet done so. However, whether this declaration represents a wider domestic desire to begin the ratification process is yet unclear.

PMC activities pose significant threats to Ivorian stability. Foreign actors have been exporting PMC and military equipment to many countries on the African continent, and Côte d’Ivoire is no exception. Two principal PMC’s have a strong presence in the country, namely the French PMC CorpGuard 12 and the Russian Wagner group. Since 2017, CorpGuard, founded by Secopex’ co-founder David Hornus, which is itself active in Somalia and the CAR, has been training the Ivorian military. 13 According to CorpGuard, during a 9-month training period they set up 4 infantry companies, 1 operational center, and trained 1,235 soldiers “to United Nations standards”. 14
Despite being strongly marketed as harbingers of peace and allegedly participating in the transformation of Ivorian military personnel from “soldiers in war” to “soldiers of peace”, 15 the complete lack of regulation of PMCs has resulted in an inability to enforce legitimacy and accountability. In this light, CorpGuard’s training of President Alassane Ouattara’s military can be understood to have had a direct impact on the 2020 electoral violence.

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1 Tayoh, B. (2009). Background information. In Property Taxation in Francophone West Africa: Case Study of Côte d’Ivoire (pp. 1–4). Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep18288.3
2 Nelson, N. (2020). The Top 3 Causes of Poverty in Côte d’Ivoire. The Borgen Project. https://borgenproject.org/poverty-in-cote-divoire/

6 S.E.M. Marcel Amon-Tanoh. “Conseil De Sécurité Des Nations Unies Débat Public De Haut Niveau Sur Le Thème: Les Activités Mercenaires Comme Source D’insecurite Et De Destabilisation En Afrique Centrale Déclaration De S.E.M. Marcel Amon-Tanoh Ministre Des Affaires Étrangères De La République De Côte d’Ivoire.” New York, February 4, 2019. https://press.un.org/fr/2019/cs13688.doc.htm

12 Note: David Hornus rejects the description of CorpGuard as a PMC and claims that “CorpGuard is an operational security and defense service company which does not meet the designation of a private military company.” source: Martin, Elise. “Armée: de Lyon à la Côte d’Ivoire, pourquoi la société « de sécurité et de défense » CorpGuard interroge?” 20 Minutes, April 28, 2023. https://www.20minutes.fr/societe/4034203-20230428-armee-lyon-cote-ivoire-pourquoi-societe-securite-defense-corpguard-interroge
13 Kadlec, Amanda. “In Africa, Wagner Is Not the Only Game in Town.” New Lines Magazine (blog), July 17, 2023. https://newlinesmag.com/spotlight/in-africa-wagner-is-not-the-only-game-in-town/
14 CorpGuard. “Developments And Challenges of Peacekeeping Operation in The French-Speaking World 2017-2020.” CORPGUARD Conseil International (blog), May 26, 2020. https://www.corpguard.com/fr/evolutions-et-defis-du-maintien-de-la-paix-dans-lespace-francophone/
15 Observatoire. “Table ronde du 4 octobre 2017 – 3ème panel.” OBG, October 7, 2017. https://www.observatoire-boutros-ghali.org/2017/10/table-ronde-du-4-octobre-2017-3/

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