Guest post by Ilmari Käihkö
“We will be victorious” is a famous statement made by the former Ivorian Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude before the elections in Ivory Coast in 2011. This statement soon became iconic when the group Les Galliets adopted it as an intro to its militaristic and anti-imperialistic pro-Gbagbo electoral song called C’est Mais.
As we now know with hindsight, Gbagbo was not victorious in the elections, and equally failed to cling to power in their aftermath. While Gbagbo is awaiting the beginning of his trial at Hague, Ble Goude himself is sought after following cross-border raids to Ivory Coast. Nevertheless, the song remains as popular as ever among the supporters of the former president, many of whom currently reside in the refugee camps and their environs in the Grand Gedeh county of the neighboring Liberia.
While Ble Goude’s words could initially be interpreted as either prophetical self-assurance or alternatively as a blunt way to promise vote rigging in case of defeat, today they offer hope to the Ivorian exiles that want to return home. As has been described elsewhere, many see repatriation as an impossible alternative in the current situation due to insecurity and lack of reconciliation. To these Ivorians Ble Goude’s words still speak of the imminent outcome of the current struggle against Ouattara. Others even mix this militancy with fervent Christianity that equally promises victory and deliverance to the righteous. In some cases it is not very far-fetched to compare the love of Gbagbo to a personality cult, and this personality cult to religion.
But in reality it is very difficult to see how the supporters of Gbagbo could return to power in Ivory Coast through armed struggle. As I have described before, the active pro-Gbagbo supporters can be divided to two camps: the moderates and the militants. The moderates still harbor hope that Gbagbo will be freed in Hague and returned to the presidential throne in Ivory Coast. When confronted with the question what will happen if Gbagbo is sentenced (as he probably is), they usually become silent but then answer: “If Gbagbo is sentenced there will be serious war.” In other words, a guilty verdict will make any political solution more difficult in the short term, as the moderates will join the militant camp. On the long-term it is though likely that political solution is very difficult if not impossible as long as the Gbagbo and Ouattara supporters have inherently incompatible goals as both aim to monopolize power in the country. After all, is this not what Ble Goude promised, victory?
But victory for the pro-Gbagbo supporters seems like a very distant prospect. In fact there are only two ways that can enable challenging the Ouattara government. The first one is gaining access to enough external resources to finance an expensive large-scale war. In the region successful rebellions, such as LURD and MODEL in Liberia, have only been able to fight successfully with state backing. While some Ivorians are optimistic about this possibility, their view that it is ultimately the United Nations that will provide these resources to them after seeing the “true face” of the Ouattara government seems very remote and only wishful thinking. This view is based on the same conspiratorial thinking that sees the killing of the United Nations peacekeeping during the so-called “Tai mission” as being committed by Ouattara forces trying to muster international support against its enemies. It is though important to note that many moderates did not agree with the cross-border attacks, at least at this stage of the struggle, which makes it understandable that they want to shift the blame of these obviously damaging acts to the enemy camp.
The second way is that the Ouattara government will face so serious internal struggle that it will fall apart or at least weaken considerably, thus making it possible for the rebels to challenge it. While this alternative seems more probable, it is difficult to say how likely these prospects are. Without serious weakening of the Ouattara side or equally large empowerment of the rebels, the rebellion will likely remain a minor force in the Ivorian West. What though can change the situation are the reports of rising ethnic tensions between the Ivorian Krahn and other groups that have already resulted in local conflicts and internal re-displacement, which blow air into the kindling rebellion.
To sum it up, it is very difficult to see, how the pro-Gbagbo rebels can fulfill Ble Goude’s prophecy. What they can do, however, is to employ the same mobilization strategies as during the past decade in the region and contact a number of big men in networks who can in turn quickly mobilize the first wave of recruits. As one Ivorian explained, the second wave follows naturally after the first wave returns home with “cash and a car”. Some resources and looting can thus enable engaging in a protracted war against the current Ivorian government. But without external support or internal problems within the enemy camp this war cannot deliver victory, but mere destabilization to both Ivory Coast and Liberia.