23 July 2012

Cote d'Ivoire: Making Sense of Côte d'Ivoire


Events in Duékoué show that Côte d'Ivoire's political problems are far from over.

It was a deadly week in Duékoué, an important crossroad town in Côte d'Ivoire's turbulent Western region. An armed robbery in the Kokoma neighbourhood killed four and on the next day, Friday 20 July, hundreds of youths descended on the Nahibly camp for internally displaced (on the outskirts of Duékoué) and burned it to the ground.

At least eleven people were killed in the attack, believed to be revenge for the robbery. Four thousand people are now without a home and we are in the raining season.

The first reading of this double tragedy was that Kokoma, where the first attack took place, is predominantly Sénoufo-Malinké, which means that they are generally associated with the North of Côte d'Ivoire, while the victims in the camp were Guéré, who are the traditional inhabitants of the West.


I visited Nahibly camp in April. Security was perfunctory and handled by the people living in the camp itself. The camp was part of the town itself and everyone treated it as such, walking in and out at will. Next to the large gate was a watchtower. A few Moroccan UN peacekeepers stood there, looking very relaxed. The towers have now gone up in flames.

But why was there a camp for the displaced at all? Bertine Monsio, one of the inhabitants of the camp told me that she could not go back to her village because it was occupied by rebels and traditional hunters known as dozos. "I am afraid of them. Until they leave I have nowhere to go." If she is still alive, Bertine, who is an old woman, is somewhere in the forest trying to stay alive.

The troops that Bertine Monsio called "rebels" are in fact Côte d'Ivoire's new army, the FRCI (Forces républicaines de la Côte d'Ivoire). They were seen entering the camp, together with the youth who destroyed it. For them, the camp was something different. It was a hiding place for bandits, whom they claim used Nahibly as a cover, from which they would emerge at night, rendering Duékoué and surroundings a dangerous place. During my visit, I could never get a taxi after dark. 'They have all gone home," I was told by the hotel manager. "It's too dangerous. Too many criminals."

Fiendish complexity

Duékoué is a crossroads town. From here, there is a road that goes east to the large centre of Daloa and on to the capital, Yamoussoukro. Another one goes north, to the provincial capital Man. You'll have to pass Bangolo, which is close to a forest that is said to be illegally occupied by a violent militia led by a man from Burkina Faso, Amadé Ouérémi. And then there is the road to the south, past Nahibly, on the way to nearby Liberia, where you pass Guiglo, a town where not so long ago a notorious pro-Gbagbo militia held sway. This town is led by Denis Maho. On paper he has a lowly administrative title but is in fact the lord and master of the place.

I am telling you all this to give you some idea of the fiendish complexity of the political conflict in the West of Côte d'Ivoire.

First part of two-part series on the complexity of Côte d'Ivoire. Read the second part.

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