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Young Patriots Threaten Protests and More in Ivory Coast

  • Nico Colombant

Young Patriots are threatening a return to the streets where they have won previous victories for incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo. (File Photo)

Young Patriots are threatening a return to the streets where they have won previous victories for incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo. (File Photo)

So-called Young Patriots who support incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast are now threatening street protests against his rival, internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara.

Friday, the Young Patriots leader who is now the Youth Minister in the disputed Gbagbo government, Charles Ble Goude, reiterated a warning against Mr. Ouattara and the United Nations. He says if after January first U.N. peacekeepers are still protecting Mr. Ouattara at the Golf Hotel in the main southern city Abidjan, Young Patriots will take their responsibilities in their own hands and liberate the compound.

Ble Goude says he is waiting to see if the peacekeepers will force Mr. Ouattara to leave. If not, he says, Young Patriots will decide how to proceed.

The former student leader has been on a list of U.N. asset freeze and travel sanctions since 2006 for previously inciting mob violence.

After one of his previous actions several years ago forced international peace mediators to back down on requests they were making, Ble Goude had this to say to VOA. "Now this is a victory. Therefore I asked all the Young Patriots in discipline to leave the streets and to go home. The day I will see or I will feel the danger coming I will ask them to come back in the street again," he said.

Core members of the group include former and current student activists as well as unemployed young men from southern and western ethnic groups.

Stephen Smith, a U.S-based anthropologist who previously worked as a journalist in Ivory Coast says the Young Patriots could give the already worrisome Ivorian crisis a new dimension. "It is the struggle over the streets, it is the struggle of what Ivorians sometimes refer to as being the Ministry of the Street, which means who controls the public space, and if they can bring together the people maybe sometimes by paying but also obviously there are followers. (Mr.) Gbagbo got 45, 46 percent of the vote, so they are people who really stand behind him and if they all come together there can be 100,000, 200,000 people gathering in Abidjan, that intimidates, that makes other people feel that there is no way they will ever get (Mr.) Gbagbo to relinquish power," he said.

The Ivorian constitutional council threw out votes of the November, 28 election, from northern Ivory Coast, which remains under the control of former rebels, giving victory to Mr. Gbagbo.

But the United Nations which helped organize the vote said Mr. Ouattara, who is extremely popular in the north, had won the vote by a wide margin. International bodies are now threatening the use of force against Mr. Gbagbo if he does not leave power.

Daniel Chirot, a U.S.-based sociologist who saw Young Patriots up close during recent research he did in Ivory Coast, says a lot is at stake for their members. "You could see them, their leaders going around in nice cars, with guns, with pretty girls, and benefiting from the situation and they are not going to lie down. For them, if (Mr.) Gbagbo loses power, it is a disaster, because they lose their sources of revenue, their livelihood, and they are armed so it is not just a popular movement," he said.

The Young Patriots deny they are armed. They say they are fighting for Africa's second independence from outside interference. Their Ivorian political opponents say they are thugs who ally themselves with militias and mercenaries to create chaos whenever Mr. Gbagbo's power is under threat.

Mr. Gbagbo's initial election victory in Ivory Coast in 2000 against a former military ruler was also marred by violence and confusion over ballot counting. Two years later, the northern rebellion began, as did the Young Patriots southern-based movement.