Ivory Coast heads into the abyss
"Be careful - trust no-one," is the half-whispered welcome of a baggage handler at Abidjan's smart international airport. Officials crowd round our luggage, but are not interested in their contents, only our intentions - "You will tell lies like the French," one uniformed woman snarls. A man in dark glasses demands of me: "So, who won our elections?"
Life is on hold for Abidjan residents
It's two months since my last visit here. In January, Ivory Coast was moving steadily towards the brink of civil war. Today, it is already plunging headlong into the abyss.
A rash of menacing roadblocks has erupted across the city, set up by a confusing array of militias and soldiers who are steadily carving frontlines into every neighbourhood. Parts of this once-elegant city still seem calm, but there is a twitchy and deepening sense of insecurity everywhere. In the west of the country, the fighting has already begun in earnest.
Laurent Gbagbo, the man deemed to have lost last November's heavily monitored presidential election, remains in his office. He has already "nationalised" the banks - "one of the biggest bank robberies in history" is how a western diplomat here describes it - now he's doing the same thing with the cocoa industry.
Smart tactics by a man feeling the squeeze of international sanctions - but will it buy him more than a few weeks' worth of salaries for his soldiers and civil servants?
A final diplomatic push by the African Union to find a peaceful settlement looks like it will collapse later this week. Mr Gbagbo has been invited to Ethiopia for his first face-to-face meeting with Alassane Ouattara, the man almost universally recognised as the duly elected president of Ivory Coast. Mr Gbagbo - probably fearing a coup - is unlikely to leave town.
And the AU's early and adamant unity in support of Mr Ouattara has been fatally weakened by South Africa's reckless politicking, which has seen Pretoria call the election "inconclusive." "Unusual and unhelpful," as one observer here put it. The AU's final recommendations seem certain to be ignored.
So then what?
Some sort of military escalation seems the most likely right now.
Mr Gbagbo could cling on for many months. Or he could be ousted by his generals. Mr Ouattara's forces could launch an offensive from their bases in the north of the country. Or Nigeria could take the initiative after its own elections next month and push for a regional military intervention. Or the wretched status quo - complete with a rising death toll - could drag on indefinitely.
And today Women's Day is likely to be marked here with rallies across the city. On many people's minds - last week's vicious attack on unarmed women demonstrators.