On the 15th of January 2018 the Government of the Ivory Coast began its case at the Court of Assizes against former Defence Minister, Moise Lida Kouassi; accusing him of participating in a plot “against the authority of the State”. Having been able to escape from the French soldiers and their UN collaborators whose helicopter gunships indiscriminately massacred thousands of Ivorian civilians and whose troops captured President Gbagbo in 2011, Lida Kouassi had made his way to Ghana, seeking sanctuary.
The charges being read out at this initial hearing described Lida Kouassi’s purported crime as “during the course of the month of February 2012, the Counter-espionage services (DST) received information mentioning preparation of a project of destabilization of the current mode by officers of the army in exile in Ghana, made up in a military platform, with the implication of certain civilians and politicians close to the former president of the Republic”. In short, the ousted Defence Minister met with his former officers in Ghana to discuss what they might do to rectify the injustices being perpetrated by Allassane Ouattara and his ragged band of marauding rebels and Dozos who were attacking civilians across the country; beating and stealing from everyone who didn’t speak Dioula or Malinke, the languages of the North.
The Ivory Coast presented these allegations to the Government of Ghana, the country to which they had fled, and the Government of Ghana, to its eternal discredit and shame, agreed to extradite Lida Kouassi back to the Ivory Coast to stand trial for subversion in June 2012. Since 2014 Lida Kouassi has been a prisoner in the Ivory Coast.
It is important to understand why Lida Kouassi is being tried and the background to his involvement.
The French Wars Against Gbagbo
Since 2002 the Ivory Coast has been divided by a rebellion which divided the country in two. This was a scheme devised by the French at the supposed ‘peace process’ at Linas-Marcoussis and has been enforced by the French Army ever since. It was not just a political separation; it was a religious and ethnic divide as well. The French Army separated the rebel North from the loyalist South and effectively divided the country along ethnic lines. The French, and later the United Nations, moved in to maintain this division and to protect the rebels from the wrath of the legitimate elected government of Gbagbo in the South.
There is no way of understanding what has happened to the Ivory Coast without understanding the key role of the French in dividing the country and supporting the rebellion for over twelve years. The French have defended their extensive economic interests in the country and were happy to murder and pillage the Ivory Coast citizens; to assist in stealing their lands; to take back monopoly control of its industries and financial centres for French business; to destroy its Air Force; to plot coups and assaults against the Gbagbo government; to force Gbagbo to accept the illiterate and incompetent rebels as Cabinet members; to rig the elections and to jail thousands of patriots, including the President, who is currently at the Hague defending himself against claims of a crime against humanity. Other than eating African babies it is hard to imagine anything else the French could have done to the country.
In 2002, the French met in Ouagadougou with Blaise Campaore and Ouattara who had fled to sanctuary in the French Embassy when the rebellion started. They decided that they would take advantage of a visit of Gbagbo to Rome and prepared for a coup – the first of many. When Gbagbo travelled overseas, the French plotters saw their opportunity. On the Wednesday, in September 2002, when the rebellion began, there were about 650 rebels holed up in Bouake. These were Guei appointees who had been purged from the Army. They had little equipment and ammunition, as they had expected a conflict of no more than five days. President Gbagbo was in Rome, meeting the Pope and the rebels felt sure that the coup could take place quickly with the President out of the country.
Fortunately for Gbagbo, his loyalist Army was led by his Minister of Defence, Moise Lida Kouassi; a former cellmate of Gbagbo’s when they had been jailed earlier, under Houphouet-Boigny, by his Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara. The internal security was in the hands of another cellmate, the Minister of the Interior, Emile Boga Doudou. As the coup began in the second largest town, Bouake, the loyalist troops under Lida Kouassi responded. They were able to surround the rebels, trapping them in the city, and killing about 320 of them. They were positioned for a final onslaught on the remaining 330 rebels but were suddenly stopped by the French commander of the body of French troops stationed in the Ivory Coast. He demanded a delay of 48 hours to evacuate the French nationals and some US personnel in the town. Gbagbo’s army demanded to be allowed to attack Bouake to put down the rebels, but the French insisted on the delay. As soon as there was a delay, the French dropped French parachutists into Bouake who took up positions alongside the rebels. This made it impossible for the loyalist troops to attack the rebels without killing a lot of Frenchmen at the same time.
During those 48 hours the French military command chartered three Antonov-12 aircraft, one of which picked up a load of weapons in Franceville in Gabon; military supplies stocked by the French in Central Africa. Two of the other planes had started their journey in Durban where Ukrainian equipment and military personnel were loaded on board. The chartered planes flew to Nimba County, Liberia (on the Ivory Coast border) and then on to the rebel areas in Ivory Coast (Bouake and Korhogo) where they were handed to the rebels. Busloads of Burkinabe troops (supplied at a price by Blaise Campaore) were transported from Burkina Faso to Korhogo dressed in civilian clothes where they were equipped with the military supplies brought in by the French from Central Africa and the Ukraine.
Suddenly there were 2,500 fully armed soldiers on the rebel side as mercenaries from Liberia and Sierra Leone were also brought in by the same planes as well. They were equipped with Kalashnikovs and other bloc equipment which was never part of the Ivory Coast arsenal. France supplied sophisticated communications equipment as well. Once the rebels were rearmed and equipped, the French gradually withdrew, leaving operational control to the Eastern European mercenaries who directed the rebels in co-ordination with the French headquarters at Yamoussoukro.
The French demanded that the United Nations peacekeeping forces be activated to maintain the safety of the rebels in their Northern section of the country and to relieve the French of some of its financial burdens of empire. They asked for the provision of West African ECOMOG forces to come to the Ivory Coast to serve as peacekeepers. However, this African ‘peacekeeping’ was designed to be the preserve of francophone countries, primarily Senegal. These francophone countries were under the direct or indirect control of the French army. Their officers were trained in France or by French soldiers in country. Their armament and supplies came from France and were supplied on credits from the French Treasury. Their foreign intelligence and military communications systems, and quite often their transport systems, were run by French officers. They were, to all extents, black French surrogate military forces. They offered little succour to the Ivory Coast patriots but spread the costs of their occupation to the UN. Despite having lost the rebellion, the French created a northern rebel state whose borders were patrolled by French and françafrique soldiers and who were financed by the ‘international community’.
As part of the agreement, the rebel forces (the ‘New Forces’) were given ministerial positions in the national government and allowed to take over all business in the regions north of the French dividing line. Their rule in the north was characterised by unfettered greed and military domination of the civilian populations. They divided their areas of plundering in “comzones” run by New Forces warlords; territories which they administered and robbed. Violence was the rule. Even after the ministers from the New Forces took their places in the Cabinet. The violence continued. The post-war violence was not much different than the violence perpetrated during the conflict, except that the French and UN helicopter gunships and tanks were not then being used earlier According to Guillaume Ngefa, the acting human rights chief in the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) "Violations committed include proven cases of summary, extrajudicial executions, illegal arrests and detention, the freeing of people in return for cash, extortion, and criminal rackets against numerous drivers" There were twenty-six extrajudicial executions documented by the UN in Côte d'Ivoire in just one week, including that of a 17-month-old baby; over a hundred other human rights abuses were perpetrated in a single month by the FRCI.” This was not only in the military fiefdoms operated by these tin pot warlords in the North since their rebellion in 2002, but in the heart of Abidjan itself.
Mr. Ngefa also voiced concern at violent clashes between the army and young villagers in several areas, denouncing "acts of intimidation, extortion and numerous obstacles to free movement committed by army elements.” Citing cruel and inhuman treatment and violation of property rights, he said similar abuses had also been perpetrated against ethnic groups, such as the Bété, Bakwé, Attié and Ebrié. People were being attacked, robbed and killed for their tribal identity.
The rebels who separated the North from the South of the country after their 2002 rebellion were not regular soldiers. There were less than 1,250 regular soldiers in the New Forces which morphed, by decree, into the FRCI. These rebel troops were untrained and undisciplined shoemakers, porters, rubbish collectors, itinerant labourers. They were joined by English-speaking experienced mercenaries from the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia who showed them how to run these rackets. At the time of the rebellion virtually all the civil servants, educators, doctors and the other members of the professional class fled from the North. The poor farmers who were left there paid no taxes, no rents, no customs fees, and no services to the central government. They paid these only to their local rebel commanders. They still pay these to their local commanders. Only now, this corrupt and vicious system has spread to cover the whole of the Ivory Coast when this malignant northern scum was allowed to take over power in the South and the municipalities.
Despite many agreements with the international community, the rebels refused to disarm. They demanded that they be integrated into the FANCI (the national army); retaining their grades and receiving back pay for the time they were in rebellion. The absence of disarmament was crucial. In order to proceed to the next election, it was necessary to prepare a proper electoral roll and set up an infrastructure to carry out the basic administrative functions for governance. There were no schools, universities, banks, hospitals or city administrations operating in the North from 2002 until 2010 when the election happened. The rebels had destroyed almost all the administrative files: records of births, deaths, marriages, property, taxes, school certificates; citizenship; drivers’ licenses; health records; bank deposits; etc. No one in the North paid income taxes, customs duties, or other fees to the Ivory Coast government in the South. All the electricity in the North came from the South; as did the water, fuel and communications systems. It was kept turned on by the French owners of these monopolies during the secession of the North even though there were many who begged Gbagbo to turn off the water, electricity, fuel deliveries and the telephone system to cut off the North and return it to the stone age. The South picked up the bill through the extra changes on the citizens in the South. The South was effectively subsidising the North. The key to this was the power of the warlords.
The Ivorian Warlords
The warlords rose to power when the rebellion began in 2002. The regular armed forces were far better prepared, trained and led than the ragtag bunch of rebels assembled by the French. When the French used Alassane Ouattara as the “Father of the Rebellion” it soon became clear that there was serious money to be made for his troop leaders in taking over a territory and operating in it to steal everything available. This practice of warlordism has not diminished in the years since 2002. When Gbagbo was pushed out office in 2011 the warlords became even stronger. They are strong because they are very rich in a very poor area.
There are many warlords. The six biggest include: [i]
A. Issiaka Ouattara, (aka Wattao) the Deputy Commander of the Republican Guards. Ouattara (not related to President Ouattara) is the most prominent former warlord because of his ostentatious lifestyle and ownership of several luxury cars, ten dogs with pedigrees and a gold pistol. He has several dozen including Ferrari, BMW X5, Mercedes Compressor. He attended a 10-month military training course in Morocco in August 2014 and returned to his current post and assistant commander of the Centre of Coordination of the Decisional Operations (CCDO), Wattao was a corporal in the Ivoirian Army before joining the rebellion in the early 2000’s. He was the deputy chief of staff of the New Forces, the military that controlled northern Cote d’Ivoire from 2003 to 2010. During that time, he took over the regions of Vavoua in the centre-west and Seguela in the north from Zakaria Kone—who was exiled in Burkina Faso—and headed the “Anaconda” battalion. Wattao is accused of illegal diamond and gold exploitation in violation of the UN embargo on Ivoirian diamonds; extortion of money from Lebanese traders, and trafficking at the Abidjan port. The EU suspects him of earning $20 million yearly from his diamond dealings alone. He owns one of the three major diamond mines in the country. In November 2015 the Ivory Coast closed a large gold mine that United Nations investigators claimed was controlled Wattao.
B. Herve Pellikan Toure (aka "Vetcho") Head, 3rd Infantry Battalion of Bouake. Toure was current National Assembly President Guillaume Soro's chief of staff during the rebellion and commander of the Katiola, Dabakala, Niakara, and Tafire areas in northern Cote d'Ivoire. The UN alleges that Toure is illegally exploiting Katiola's Daga goldmine for personal profit. He controls depots of fuel smuggled from Burkina Faso and Mali and owns a large house outside Paris and properties in Ouagadougou.
C. Ousmane Cherif, (aka "Papa Cheetah") Second in Command, Presidency Security Group (GSPR) During the post-electoral conflict, Cherif's troops captured Yamoussoukro and later took control of Abidjan's Yopougon neighbourhood after Gbagbo was captured in April 2011. He is the master of the Plateau in Abidjan and earns a lot of money (with his assistants) as heads of local banks. In Bouaké he requisitioned the hotel Harmattan. He owns several residences in Burkina Faso, where his wife Binta Lamizana, one of the granddaughters of the former Burkinabe president Sangoulé Lamizana, stays. Cherif was a sergeant in the Ivoirian Army before joining the rebellion. He is the former commander of the central Ivoirian town of Bouake, known as the "rebel capital," where he headed the Compagnie Guepard "Cheetah Battalion." Ouattara attended Cherif's wedding in Burkina Faso in 2007. According to Human Rights Watch, Cherif took an active part in the massacre of civilians in Yopougon in the period that followed Gbagbo's arrest. Amnesty International and HRW accused Cherif of being responsible for dozens of extrajudicial executions and a massacre in the west in 2003 during the rebellion.
D. Losseni Fofana (aka "Cobra" or “Loss”) Head, Western Security Brigade (BSO). Fofana took an active part in the 2010-2011 violence in the west, where he fought forces loyal to Gbagbo, including Liberian mercenaries and pro-Gbagbo militia. He is the former commander of the Man region in western Cote d'Ivoire that borders Liberia and was head of the Cobra unit during the rebellion. Fofana is accused of supplying weapons to pro-Ouattara militia leader Amade Ouremi, who is suspected of killing nearly 1,000 Gbagbo supporters in the western town of Duekoue in March 2011. The UN has accused Fofana of illegally exporting cocoa and timber. He makes his fortune from coffee export circuits in the Montagnes region (West). Human Rights Watch also claims Fofana participated in war crimes from 2010 to 2011.
E. Djakaridja Kone (aka "Zakaria Kone") Head, Military Police; Second in Command, Armoured Battalion Barracks of Akouedo. Kone was commander of the regions of Vavoua in the centre-west and Seguela in the north until he was forced into temporary exile in Burkina Faso for failing to comply with the 2008 Ouagadougou Accord brokered by then South African President Thabo Mbeki. The accord called for zone commanders to disarm prior to the elections. Kone returned from exile on 12 March 2011 and is a member of a group known as Dozos, who are traditional hunters who backed Ouattara during the crisis. Kone is said to be close to Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko. Several reports have accused Kone of recruiting mercenaries from Burkina Faso during the postelection crisis to combat forces supportive of Gbagbo. Kone is also accused of providing logistical and financial assistance to Burkinabe General Diendere, who attempted to oust the transitional government in Burkina Faso in September 2015. A UN report in 2013 said Kone violated the UN embargo on importing weapons to Cote d'Ivoire. Weapons smuggling and a tax on the Dozo’s agricultural predations are a regular source of income.
F. Martin Fofie Kouakou Commander, 4th Infantry Battalion of Korhogo. Kouakou was the commander of the Korhogo zone in northern Cote d'Ivoire and in charge of guarding Gbagbo after his arrest in April 2011. Kouakou headed the "Arc-en-ciel" (Rainbow) battalion, also known as Fansara. Kouakou is one of the pillars of the rebellion because of his "unshakable loyalty" to then rebel leader Guillaume Soro. The UN accused Kouakou of violating its embargo and illegally controlling a warehouse filled with "60 tons of military equipment." Kouakou has been under UN sanctions that include a travel ban and assets freeze for pre-conflict crimes. The media and human rights organizations accused him of human rights abuses that include the recruitment of child soldiers and extra judicial killings.
These six warlords are not the only warlords; only the richest. In addition to their entrepreneurial enterprises, they all collect taxes and rents, issue permits and passes throughout their areas which provide a generous income some, like Morou Ouattara, (aka "Atchiengué"), own large farms they requisitioned; like his extensive farm in Bouna (North-East).
However, when it comes to stealing, the business is not reserved only for warlords. One of the most successful bandits is the President of the National Assembly Guillaume Soro. As head of the Forces Nouvellles Soro received regular payments from the warlords and the various tax collectors and importers of motor bikes in the North, in addition he received a regular stipend from the French for his work in the military. He bought several commercial properties in Ouagadougu and Paris, where his girlfriend lives and administers his investments.
The most successful brigand in the Ivory Coast is said to be the President, Alassane Ouattara. There have been many stories about his accumulated wealth since being elevated to the Presidency after Gbagbo. There have been no proofs offered about the extent of his accumulated wealth in any court but there have been several allegations made in the French and Ivoirian press on the subject. Perhaps the most notorious was the secret dossier produced by the DGSE (General Directorate for External Security is France's external intelligence agency) published in the Ivoirian Aujourd’hui, newspaper in 2015, Ouattara was accused of having amassed USD27 million in four years. Joseph Gnanhoua Titi, the publisher and editor of Aujourd’hui, was arrested and put in MACA prison for publishing “false news” and insulting President Alassane Ouattara for this revelation. He was charged in connection with an article on 21 July claiming that a report prepared by the French foreign intelligence agency, the DSGE, accused President Ouattara of embezzling development aid, money laundering and illegal asset transfers. No evidence was submitted against Titi at the trial except for a denial by the State. The jailing of journalists is specifically prohibited in the Ivory Coast Law.
Moise Lida Kouassi
The man who is charged with “plotting against the State” is one of the most important men and women who refused to plot against the State. He was a close confidant of President Gbagbo from their days in prison when he, President Gbagbo, Emile Bogo Doudou and the First Lady, Simone Ehivet Gbagbo were arrested and jailed by Ouattara when he was Prime Minister under Houphouet-Boigny for speaking up for the rights of the Ivoirian workers. When the rebellion started against the Gbagbo government in 2002 he was the minister of Defence. He rallied the troops and confronted the rebels in Bouake. When the French intervened to protect the rebels, they took exception to the leadership role of Lida Kouassi. They spread rumours and stories about him to try to get him removed from his ministry in the hopes that a new minister might be more amenable to French wishes.
On the day of the rebel coup in 2002 Lida Kouassi was at his home with his wife and son. The rebels came to his door asking for him, with the clear intention to kill him as they were killing the others, like Bogo Doudou. His wife delayed the rebels and he hid behind a door. When the rebels broke in they started to abuse his wife and threatened his son, asking where Lida Kouassi could be found. The wife said nothing, and his son was brave in resisting the soldiers. He refused to tell the soldiers anything and remembered not to look at the door behind which his father was hiding. The rebels took the wife with them and threatened to come back. It took days to get his wife freed. They went to the Presidency and planned the battle against the rebels. Meanwhile Ouattara was warned of the rebel advance and climbed over the wall of the French embassy and was sheltered there.
It a strange irony this scene was repeated when the rebels attacked Abidjan after the French and UN bombed strafed the city in 2011. The afternoon of Gbagbo’s capture the troops of the Ouattara forces arrived with printed lists of the houses of the main Gbagbo supporters prepared for them at the Golf Hotel. Moise Lida Kouassi’s house was raided by twenty Ouattara soldiers. They broke in and stole everything (watches, clothes, cash, items of furniture) and beat up everyone in the house quite badly. They took everything and left. Two hours later another Ouattara mob of soldiers arrived with the list. They were devastated to find that other Ouattara soldiers had been earlier and had already looted the place. They then beat everybody up again. The sergeant sent to protect Kouassi and his family was nearly killed ended up in intensive care. The second band of soldiers left. Lida and his family had to leave again. He finally made it to Ghana.
Throughout his time in the Ivory Coast Lida Kouassi defended Gbagbo and the Constitution. When the prosecutors proceed against Lida Kouassi for plotting against the state they do so with no sense of irony. When Ouattara took his papers making him an Ivory Coast citizen he swore allegiance to the Constitution of the Ivory Coast. He swore again when he contested the Presidency. When the rebels were given Cabinet seats in the government they swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the Ivory Coast. And yet, when Ouattara, the warlords, the rebel commanders, the leaders of the RDR and the PDCI rose against Gbagbo, the elected President of the nation they acted against the very principles to which they had sworn an oath of loyalty. What hypocrisy; made even more ludicrous by the charge of subversion against the man in the dock who has refused to share in their treasonous behaviour.
In his testimony on the 17th of January 2018 Lida Kouassi defended himself saying “I am teacher-researcher, vice-president of the FPI and former minister of State. I have a doctorate in political science with a speciality in defence and strategy. My political adversaries think that this speciality is dangerous. They tend to believe that I became an expert in coup d’état. I invite you to dissipate these thoughts in the heads of my adversaries: I am not an expert in coup d’état”. I would like to say here high and strong that I am not an assassin. I never attacked the Republic. The plot against the authority of the State is an eminently political offence. I am in front of you as a political prisoner and it is as such suiting you to judge me.”
He is, indeed, a political prisoner. He is an honourable man who refused to commit treason against his country. His accusers bear the stain of treason and rebellion. They have no business in jailing such a patriot.