BBC BLOGS - Andrew Harding on Africa
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Civil war, Ivory Coast-style

Andrew Harding | 17:15 UK time, Saturday, 9 April 2011

It's 10 in the morning in Abidjan, and at least a quarter of the soldiers around me seem drunk.

A rebel fighter wearing a gas mask on the outskirts of Abidjan (5 April 2011)

One man, sporting a gas mask, is offering me a beer. Nearby another heavily armed group is driving off in a car, packed with looted kitchen appliances.

Suddenly there's a burst of incoming gunfire. I duck, then look around. About half the soldiers seem to be panicking. The rest don't even bother to stand up.

If you're wondering why the battle to seize and stabilise Abidjan - one of the biggest cities in Africa - is taking quite so long, just hang out with the invading army for a few days and it will start to make sense.

Of course, there's more to it than bad soldiering.

On a leafy hillside near the centre of Abidjan sits the imposing presidential residence where Laurent Gbagbo remains under siege, trapped in his cellar.

He's a history professor, a former dissident, and a great fan of American westerns. You can work out the ironies for yourself. Although I'm not sure he has.

Having tried and failed to get Mr Gbagbo out by force, his enemies are now opting for a strategy that is bound to offend him even more. They are trying to sideline him.

It's not a bad plan.

The internationally recognised winner of Ivory Coast's election, Alassane Ouatarra, is an economist. He is visibly uncomfortable talking about military matters, and he no doubt understands that getting sanctions lifted, cocoa exported, banks reopened, civil servants back to work, and salaries paid, will win him a lot more support than bullets and windy rhetoric.

This was a prosperous, sophisticated country. It's a mess now, but there's no reason why it shouldn't bounce back - especially if the new government can show some real impartiality, and muscle, in prosecuting those responsible for the atrocities of the past few months.

But there is, still, the problem of Mr Gbagbo.

While he remains uncaptured, the militia groups loyal to him will presumably battle on. Perhaps for weeks.

There are French troops here - and there's a good chance they will get sucked more deeply into this conflict. The same goes for the United Nations. At some point, neighbouring countries may have to send in troops as well.

For now, I'm still moderately confident that this war will end with a winner and a loser, and some sort of stability. The continent - and the future of African democracy - can surely not afford anything less.

But driving round the deserted, looted suburbs of Abidjan, watching out for snipers and militia groups, and wondering who now controls which neighbourhood - I am reminded of another African city.



  • Comment number 1.

    Ouattara is acting too civilised for my liking. Brutal dictators like Gbagbo can only understand the language of the jungle - brute force. He scurried into the bunker and quickly called for a ceasefire when maximum fire power was used on him. And Ouattara fell for his trick. Now he is still breathing and hoping against all odds that God would make the day for him. The delay is costing more lives and more misery for Ivorians. Ouattara should be decisive and order his troops to finish off with the Gbagbo threat.

  • Comment number 2.

    Mr Harding we all hope and pray that Cote d' Ivoire, returns to stability. But I fear that it is a long way to that as long as one side of the opposing sides is constantley demonised and the role of the west partcularly that of France is not fully exposed. Ouattarra may finally rule over Cote d' Ivoire by the support of France, but be under no illusion his authority will face a huge challenge from day one. France must start to realise that its unchallenged domination of subsaharian Africa (what is known as Francafrique) has to come to an end. Yes Mr Gbagbo may have lost elections but why there couldn't be appropriate mechanisms to verify his allegations. Instead of dismissing them from the outset. Do no evoke that UN has done so. Because UN is part of the problem in my view it is the most corrupt organisation in the world and it is an instrument of the west (France in this case). Mr Gbagbo may end up in court or even dead faced with agression of mighty France which enjoys the game of killing Black Africans but this should mark a start for Black Africa to work towards defeating this evil French domination which has caused much bloodshed, genocide and misery.

  • Comment number 3.

    The ongoing street battles in Abidjan, who started it? Who started the civil war? Is it the pro-Ouattara forces who attacked from the north? Why cannot Ouattara talk to Gbagbo as "equal", instead demanding Gbagbo accept that he lost the elections before Ouattara will talk to him. How do you expect Gbagbo to accept that kind of condition? Just heard the report that pro-Gbagbo forces fired rockets into the French embassy, I don't think they are stupid to do that. The French could have been making up the story to get the excuse to "retaliate", and thereby, helping the pro-Ouattara forces. LeRoy told the media that pro-Gbagbo forces have heavy weapons and using them against the civilian population, do you believe that? Most of the population in Abidjan support Gbagbo, why do they need to do that? The pro-Gbagbo forces are under attack, remember? If they fight back and a rocket fell on civilian population, it doesn't mean they are targeting the civilian population. It could be the pro-Ouattara forces happen to be in civilian populated areas, there is civil war and street battles are being fought. Most media say that Gbagbo is an illegitimate president, based on what? Based on the UN resolution? Is the UN fair on Gbagbo? Gbagbo won the election because the Constitutional Council threw away some votes due to fraud, what is wrong with that? Why did the UN declared Ouattara the winner without a thorough investigation of the fraud? Can the UN side-step a sovereign nation's constitution? And why did the election proceed without first disarming the rebels (who are pro-Ouattara)? The UN must partially be responsible for the blood now flowing in Ivory Coast.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    In Africa, we more harms to ourselves than what the outside world do to us. We are our own enemies.

  • Comment number 6.

    The problem in Ivory Coast should be blamed on those who were so quick in taking side. During the election Gbagbo had a complain. If the international community had gone into the complain without taking side back by the use of force, there won't had been bloodshed. Another thing is because those international people don't have any relations(family members, and countrymen) in Africa and so all they dreamed is to see Africans dying and their youths being destroyed through the use of weapons.

  • Comment number 7.

    USA, UK, and FRANCE can never fire a gun in a place where their citizens are.But they go ahead shooting at Africans without any remorse and pretend to protect them when they are reducing them greatly in numbers and resources. Africa open your eyes and stop the west from destroying you like what they are doing in Ivory Coast and Libya.

  • Comment number 8.

    To the Chief:

    Who started the violence???? Mr. Ouattara with his rag-tag riff-raff mercenary "army". The legitimate ruler, according to the Ivorian constitution imprudently awaited the assault. Please note, chief, that mr. Ouattaras fighters are outsiders - mr. Gbagbo's are the Ivorians. Without France and the UN he wouldn't stand a chance.

    If I had been mr, Gbagbo, I would have struck first - I would have flattened Hotel du Golfe and the French airforce, which has now been used to hit targets in Abidjan - I am sure the Ivorian civilians, whom this alledgedly was done to protect are eternally grateful to mr. Sarkonazy.

    France out of Africa!!!!

  • Comment number 9.

    So, chief, your comparison of mr. Gbagbo to Hitler could not be more misplaced - Hitler struck first. Hitler was the one who didn't care about civilian casualties. But one thing they do have in common: They were both the legitimate, elected rulers of their country.

  • Comment number 10.

    Before the election in Cote D'ivoire, there were two internal powers( Election Commission, and Constitutional Court) set up by both parties with agreetment of the observers. Now, my questions and reasons for believing that indeed the international community took side are 1,why should you take a government official in a private area(hotel) to announce government election's results while the government have an office for its workers(constitutionally)? 2,why should you honored and gave credit to one of the internal powers that equally functions as the other?

  • Comment number 11.

    Now, let us make it quite clear who is responsible for the violence. The African Union was called in to mediate after first John Atta Mills and the Museveni expressed their serious doubts about Ouattara's win.

    The commitee then formed let the news sift by the end of March that they would recommend new elections. Not good enough! They were quite obviously kicked back into place by France and the UN, so their mandate was prolonged by another 2 weeks until they couls reach a result acceptable to the Western powers.

    Gbagbo was never the aggressor. He only responded to violence. He never refused to negociate. Why has all the information and all the data not been published world-wide for everyone and world opinion to form its own stance?

    There has been a totally arrogant lack of information. The world media carry a heavy responsibility, too. Why is it that the BBC and CNN and others cannot grace us with the mere numbers? With accounts and arguments of the official spokesmen of both camps? By the views of international lawyers?

    All we have had is a load of tabloid BS with no substance. It has been left to bloggers to argue the cases of both camps. Is this democracy? Had the world been properly informed, there migh not have been any need of violence. But maybe the outcome of such a "public trial" of evidence would have produced a different outcome from that desired by the capital interests BEHIND the media.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    I don't understand this.
    Gbagbo won the election. The Supreme Cout of the Ivory Coast upheld Gbagbo's victory. So why are the wstern powers trying to steal this elction for their western-trained, IMF-thinking Quattara?
    So much for democracy!

  • Comment number 15.

    @BluesBerry, me thinks you are being sarcastic... Gbagbo has never won a free election on Ivorian soil! not even 10 years ago..

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    I am afraid that many africans do not understand the problem in Ivory Coast due the tactics used by UN and France to spoil the regime of Laurent Gbagbo. They cut-off Ivory Coast state TV from air thereby making it impossible to be heard outside Abidjan, this means that whatever President Laurent Gbagbo is talking or complaining nobody will hear him from other countries while the United Nation and France are using BBC, CNN and other international media to spoil gbagbos regime. Africans must know that Quattara whom UN and France are supporting did not win the election, but due to the French intrests in Ivory which was opposed by Mr. Gbagbo since 2002 this is why they want Gbagbo out by all means in order to continue cutting Ivory Coast resources. Africans are not asking the reason why France has their military base in Ivory Coast, its is simply to intimidate ivoirinnes. This is time for all Africans to join come 2gethr as one and say no to westerners. Even if laurent Gbagbo should be made to go, why cant they allow his people to remove him by themselves?. This is to show you that majority of Ivoirrinnes are in support of Gbagbo. France are saying that Mr. Gbagbo has stayed for 10 yrs in power simply because he refused to abide by their command. Blaise Campoare from Burkina Faso has stayed over 20 yrs in power and France did not talk that because he obey their command. All Africans pls come out en masse to help Mr. Gbagbo because he cant do it alone.

  • Comment number 20.

    Ivorians should learn to live with each other. If people from the Northern part of your country are considered by the southerners as foreigners why are the southerners running for safety in other people’s country? There are Ivorians living in others countries around the world and no one pick on them as foreigners. I am married to an Ivorian from Gbagbo’s region of Gagnoa they consider our children as not Ivorians because I am not and that is so sad. I don’t sweat over it because I don’t see myself living in a place where people have so much hate for other different form themselves.

  • Comment number 21.

    The UN will be destroyed by its utter bias in waging war to drive out the democratically elected president of Ivory Coast. The fact that the UN is taking such violent measures to try and oust Gbagho is evidence enough that its "certification" of the election in Ouattara's favour is a complete lie. It is not a surprise to me to hear the UN is flying in mercenaries from other countries and dressing them up in UN uniform. Well done to the Bangladeshi UN commander for resigning and taking the side of right. The truth will prevail. Gbagbo will prevail. The UN and its mercenaries will be humiliated.

  • Comment number 22.

    Consensus rather than blacks being maimed on their own soil with less regards for their human life by the big fire powers .

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    Ouattara the IMF/world bank reform economist will do what the IMF/world bank does best, like privatize all the corporations, liberalize the cocoa sector , grant access to cocoa land to foreign multi nationals and above all ensure French companies are favored in seeking for contracts in ivory coast.

    Then those who are smart as it is in any liberalized economy will be the winners, in this case the tens of thousands of so called experts who live in ivory coast.As for the poor ivorians they can remain second class citizens. check out Gabon where almost all the top oil jobs are held by French. The same will happen ivory coast under the so called IMF economist. What plans has he got to build the country that he will have to destroy it first in a civil war.

    As for UN , well the western powers do not know the UN, it is a mechanism to Govern the week and poorer countries. UN had information that there was genocide in Rwanda but did not act on it. It is shocking to find thousands of UN peace keepers and French in ivory coast , yet innocent people were killed in their hundreds in the west of the country. They probably were given assurances that the rebels are well trained and will behave themselves. indeed this would have set a new standard for rebel soldiers in Africa. They let thousand of people massacred in the west of the country and they are bugged down in Abidjan fighting a political war in the name of protecting civilians.

    UN failed the people of Ivory coast BIG TIME. They failed to disarm the rebels according to the Burkina Faso accord.

    Ban ki Moon knows a thing or two about protecting civilians against heavy weapon. I saw what his actions were against the North Korea when the shelled South Korean Villages. W e saw evidence of that it was every where. The one in Ivory coast is one that only the UN and France seem to know the targets that had "been shelled".


  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    I would like to reiterate some of the questions posed by Will. And why are we only being presented one side of the coin from the international media? Why isn't it specifically mentioned in your blog Mr. Harding that the drunken soldiers and looters are of the pro-Ouattara forces? Why do we evoke ethnic genocide without pointing to the fact that the people massacred in Duékoué are of the same ethnicity as Mr. Gbagbo? Why does the media remain focused on Abidjan when people are being targeted all over Ivory Coast for their links to the Gbabgo regime, either political or ethnic? The media overlooked the fact that the French national killed in Yamassoukro when Ouattara troops sieged the city was an outspoken supporter of Mr. Gbagbo (Prof. Philippe Rémond).

  • Comment number 28.

    If Gbagbo had just stepped down when he lost the elections, all this bloodshed would not have happened (calling his people to take up arms and kill and maim is an incitement to voilence). As it is with us Africans, we love power so much that it corrupts the mind and makes the thinking impaired. It is very easy to blame France and the UN when the solution lies within ourselves. In my opinion, the only way forward is for Gbagbo (if he is still sane) to step down and accept defeat. And if it needs be, a new and fresh election should be called for when the dust settles. Is this wishful thinking?

  • Comment number 29.

    Ivory coast's constitution is unsound and so many other countries within the continent, if not this chaos wouldn't be. In a real democratic government; a president shouldn't seek more than two terms, and anything more that can be regarded as despotic. Yes! we africans are responsible for all our problem, because if we put our home in good order intruder can't come inn.

  • Comment number 30.

    Please don't believe in conspiracy theory – i.e., the WEST is after our oil and riches..
    This is CI we’re talking about!!!, compared to Nigeria or even Ghana, we don’t have enough oil to interest the West – the proof is in their swift intervention in Lybia when the Ivoirian crisis started way before Libya’s. Now on Cocoa and Coffee, granted we are a big producer but are these really vital commodities? Come on…Yes, the French have some vested interest in CI but believe me, their economy will not collapse without ours...
    We are one of the poorest countries on earth and if 50 years after the independence we are still poor, its’ not the French’s fault, it’s ours.. We have been corrupted, tribalist and completely oblivious to what’s going on in the world around us…

  • Comment number 31.

    Now, re the elections – granted it wasn’t perfect, but it was satisfactory enough in the 1st round for all parties involved. However, the tone changed after Laurent Gbagbo realised that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. He instituted curfew and rallied his troops around Abidjan. He claim that there was massive fraud in the North and therefore takes upon himself to cancel the votes of 11 departments and installed himself as president. Why? He claims that the constitution says that he’s president therefore he’s president. No, the constitution says that if one party realised that there has been massive frauds which can change the outcome of the elections, they should be cancelled all other the territory and reorganised within 45 days.

  • Comment number 32.

    This man called Gbagbo is a tyrant who doesnt appreciate democracy and must leave office or else he should be smoked out of his bunker by force! Why should one man cause all these deaths? Why? What is wrong with us Africans? I support France and UN on their Mission! Someone calls himself a Professor of History yet he behaves like an illiterate and insensitive goat and potrays an indignity of vagrancy! He is such a shame to our African people! I love our African people but characters like Gbagbo are a pain and spoil our name and reputation in the Global context! He is just a pain and a useless creature! We need PEACE! The first President built a prosperous nation, a country that was the most successful economically and was very politically stable in Black Africa! Now We are in a mess because of one useless man! Gbagbo! I really hate this! He must pay for all these!

  • Comment number 33.

    The truth is Laurent Gbagbo lost the elections - there is no way he could have won when two big parties (RDR and PDCI) joined in a coalition. Also, please believe me when I say this, he’s not the nationalist hero he’s pretending to be, he only plays this card when he feels threatened. He has lost a big chunk of the electorate after 10 years in power (he turned out to be worse that any CI president). Where Ivoirians expected him to be about reunification, he played the tribalism/nationalist and xenophobic card – branding 40% of the population not Ivoirian enough, not patriot enough…He was completely deluded in thinking that the majority of Ivoirian will want another 5 years of his corrupted and below par government.

  • Comment number 34.

    So yet another conflict in Africa, wonder of wonders. Why has the AU not rushed to mediate in this conflict and come up with an African solution such as in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Perhaps all they need to do is establish another government of national unity and perhaps the Ivorians could make this work, unlike in Zimbabwe.
    I must admit I am intrigued by the role of the French in this conflict. I have not yet been able to find any indication as to a reason for French involvement beyond the need to rescue their own citizens. Likewise I thought that the traditional role of the UN was that of peacekeepers but now as a result of Resolution 1973 they have the ability to take sides. This is very dangerous.

    Mr Harding expresses the hope that for the sake of African Democracy that this conflict will be resolved. I am afraid Mr Harding that democracy is an alien concept in Africa. Unfortunately the creation of artificial borders by the British, French, Germans and Belgians over a 100 years ago has left the legacy of unresolved tribal conflicts. These are still being fought out today.
    Where power and authority is sought for powers sake and and seen as an opportunity for individuals to amass wealth at the expense of every one else I am afraid that Africa is a winner take all continent. One man one vote one time.

    One question never asked or answered by the media in these conflicts is who is supplying the weapons and ammunition to both sides and how is it being paid for. What deals are being negotiated?. Surely the easiest solution is to stop the influx of weapons etc into the country. Naive I know silly me!

  • Comment number 35.

    I hope once Zuma and the other AU guys finish in Libya, they head over to Ivory Coast. Let's see what Zuma is made of as he seems to suggest that he can 'fix all problems' - remember to always fix the problems at home first before attempting to fix other people's problems

  • Comment number 36.

    Lord have mercy, this a big relief that Gbagbo is captured alive,this war will stop hopefully,i call on all Ivory coast citizens to support the efforts of the new government of Allassan Dramane Ouattarra to bring back true democracy and sanity to our beloved country. No winner , no vanquished, this is a victory of all Ivoriens,do not listen to the calls for resistance to PEACE, we need PEACE now more than ever,many people have died,enough of the killings, i call on those that still have weapons illegaly to hand them over to security agents,Police or to UN forces,lets clean up the mess and allow life to return to normal, it won`t be easy but together,we shall overcome,Long live Ivory Coast,PEACE,PEACE,PEACE!!!!!! GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

  • Comment number 37.

    Truth is Gbagbo lost the elections even with all the state money he stole and used to bribe the electorate... He could have stepped aside and waited for 5 years for another chance.. but no he wanted his wife's bra strap on TV and a disheveled him paraded on TV too... In Cote d'Ivore we just want to be able to buy food now.. Bye bye sick man. Thank you Sarkozy and great work UN-SRSG Y. J Choi for caring about us Africans more than people like Jacob Zuma..


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