Ivory Coast Marks Anniversary of Gbagbo Arrest

Gbagbo and his wife Simone sit in a room at Hotel Golf in Abidjan, after they were arrested, April 11, 2011.
Gbagbo and his wife Simone sit in a room at Hotel Golf in Abidjan, after they were arrested, April 11, 2011.

It has been one year since Ivorian rebel forces arrested former president Laurent Gbagbo after he refused to step down after losing an election six months earlier. His arrest marked an end to months of fighting that killed 3,000 people and displaced more than one million. Mr. Gbagbo is now awaiting trial at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity.

Outside of the mayor’s office in the Abobo neighborhood of Abidjan, an association of market women in colorful traditional dresses stand in a line chatting while they wait for a vehicle to take them to a holiday celebration.

It is stark contrast from the scene here just over a year ago, when Abobo, an opposition stronghold, rose to international infamy as the epicenter of a violent repression by pro-Gbagbo forces.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara during his inauguration ceremony, May 21, 2011.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara during his inauguration ceremony, May 21, 2011.
Mr. Gbagbo refused to cede power to Alassane Ouattara, who was widely acknowledged to have won the run-off election.

In the weeks and months that followed that disputed November election, human rights workers accuse Gbagbo loyalists of kidnapping and killing pro-Ouattara political leaders, gang-raping women and attacking neighborhoods, like Abobo, with rockets and heavy artillery.

Lucy Kakoutie recalls a key point in the crisis, when civilians were openly targeted. She was protesting in favor of Mr. Ouattara in early March when soldiers in tanks turned their guns on a crowd of women.

She says she saw the tanks passing and the last one began to shoot. She says there was panic and six women were shot.

The long-delayed November election was supposed to reunite Ivory Coast after a bloody civil war in 2002 - 2003. A concept known as Ivorite, or Ivorian-ness, led to deep divisions along ethnic and regional lines.

That xenophobia hit a fever pitch during the crisis as the international community rallied around Mr. Ouattara. Anti-French sentiment raged among Gbagbo supporters. West African immigrants became the target of violent attacks by pro-Gbagbo militia in Abidjan.

One year later, many foreigners say they once again feel at home.

Mor Diop, a 32-year-old taxi driver from Senegal, says he used to feel a bit threatened as a foreigner at police checkpoints. He says he was always being asked for his papers, but under President Alassane Ouattara, foreigners from other parts of West Africa can feel at home.

Analysts say the economy has fared well under President Ouattara, an economist and former International Monetary Fund (IMF) official.

Economic growth is expected to top eight percent in 2012, bringing hope that Ivory Coast could return to the prosperity it experienced before the wars when the cocoa-rich country was known as the "jewel of Africa."

The leader of Mr. Ouattara’s political party, Joel N’Guessan, says ports and airports are functioning again and the economy has bounced back. He says the central bank functions, businesses are coming back and foreign partners are returning. He says all of the international powers who condemned Ivory Coast during the crisis have reopened their doors.

Mr. Gbagbo's arrest last April marked the end of the offensive launched by former rebel fighters in the North that allowed Mr. Ouattara to take office.

As they swept down western Ivory Coast, those fighters are accused of killing civilians from pro-Gbagbo ethnic groups, raping women, burning villages and massacring hundreds of residents of the western town of Duekoue.

Human Rights Watch says Ivorian courts have so far charged 130 people from Mr. Gbagbo's camp with crimes related to the conflict. However, HRW Ivory Coast researcher Matt Wells said no one from Mr. Ouattara’s side has been charged.

“In terms of this core promise of Ouattara’s government, that of impartial justice for the grave post-election crimes that were committed, it essentially remains entirely unfulfilled," he said.

He says Ivorians have resorted to violence to solve disputes because of the absence of the rule of law and  "victor's justice" would be particularly dangerous for Ivory Coast as tensions continue to fester.

At a meeting commemorating the anniversary of the former president,  some 50 Gbagbo supporters gathered at the party's old campaign headquarters which is still missing its windows after being pillaged last year.   Mamadou Denbele, who works for an international insurance company,  was in exile in Ghana for four months following Mr. Gbagbo's arrest.  He says he does not advise his friends who are still there to return.

He said he has warned his friends if they come back they will find their homes pillaged and bank accounts frozen.  he says the only reason he could come back was because he has friends there who are able to send money.  

But in some areas of Abidjan,  Gbagbo supporters say tensions have died down. Outside of a storefront in the mixed neighborhood of Adjamé, Muslims and Christians of different ethnic groups sell vegetables and sit chatting and laughing.

Rene Kouakou, 24, says he supported Gbagbo during the crisis. He says he was holed up in his house during the war and did not go into the streets. Kouakou, who is unemployed, points to his group of friends proudly showing off their diversity: Muslim, Christian, Guere, Dioula. He says in his part of the neighborhood the community held meetings where people from different sides came together to learn how to sympathize with each other.

In my area he says, there were meetings where people try to sympathize with people from all parties, so that the country can move forward.  He says they couldn't stay in the same situation.

Not everyone is ready to move on. Ethnic tensions persist in the west of the country, and in the Ivorian press, heated rhetoric on both sides reflects persistent anger and frustration.

Back in the Abobo neighborhood, the market women have other concerns too.  Like other women here, Bouhoussou Ouffouet lost her merchandise when she fled her home last March. She returned after Gbagbo's arrest. She says life is hard due to thievery, frequent power outages and unaffordable food prices.

There is no light in the neighborhood she says. Otherwise, things are getting better. After the war came, Ouattara is fixing the country she says.  But the times are hard, there is not enough food.  At the market it's expensive.

The government has promised to address rising food prices, but the cost of living remains a key concern for many Ivorians.

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Comment Sorting
by: walla richard
April 13, 2012 8:36 AM
Since Quattera has decided to seize POWER from P. Gbagbo; through force; he should make sure that he gouverned the nation perfectly well inorder to avoid any further conflict.

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