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Ivory Coast Tourism Declines Because of Drawn Out Civil War


A drawn out six-year civil war has emptied beachside villages in divided Ivory Coast, like in one area called Assinie, where groups of European tourists used to come in busloads. And now beach erosion is adding to the problem, destroying the beach homes of some of the few Ivorian residents who still visited. But as VOA's Nico Colombant reports, tourism workers remain, hoping visitors will one day return and that the ocean will behave when they do.

Ivorian reggae musician Alpha Blondy sings the praise of Assinie in one of his recently remixed songs. Assinie-Mafia is the main town here, near the border with Ghana.

From time to time, a few Lebanese families, French businessmen on assignment in Ivory Coast without their families, and United Nations peacekeepers still visit. They lounge on soft sand underneath coconut trees, and sometimes also tempt their fate in the dangerous surf.

But usually, if anyone does show up, they have large expanses of the beach to themselves.

Clothes maker Moumouni gives a tour of his store called Ami de Tout le Monde, meaning friend of everyone, in one of the area's beach villages, Assouinde.

He says he used to work from seven in the morning to nine at night, with 12 sewing machines, employing 16 people, to make clothes with African motifs for tourists to buy.

Now he says it is just him and his brother, and one sewing machine that is mostly idle.

Moumouni explains that like many of the workers in the tourism industry in Ivory Coast, he is a Burkina Faso national, even though he was born here, the son of migrant workers.

His story reflects a part of the recent troubles in Ivory Coast.

Rebels took up arms in late 2002 saying they wanted more rights for millions of northerners, many of them undocumented, and others like Moumouni, who they say should be able to become Ivorians and vote in elections.

But Moumouni does not want to become an Ivorian. Because of his name and his appearance, he says, he will always be persecuted by police even if he does become Ivorian, so he says, he prefers to stay Burkinabe.

He says even though he will not vote in the scheduled November presidential and legislative elections, he hopes those who will, will make good choices.

More than anything, he says he hopes the path to peace is now irreversible.

As the ocean roars, another Burkinabe tourism worker, Jean Baptiste, walks by sand-filled bags that are used to block the advancing Atlantic Ocean. Last year and again this year, advancing tides caused several oceanfront homes, known as paillottes, to crumble.

Jean Baptiste says 40 paillottes have been destroyed, and that some have been left to ruin, with local staff dismissed.

He says it is one more headache and challenge to deal with. But he says what is on everyone's mind now is the hoped for November election. Despite successive peace deals, the vote has been repeatedly delayed amid problems to release new voting cards, re-integrate the army and disarm militias.

Jean Baptiste says he hopes there will be good and transparent elections. If the elections are bad, and lead to violence, he says, he is afraid visitors will stay away.

On a Sunday evening, many of the Assinie locals gather at a bamboo-made bar to celebrate the end of another weekend, after the few visitors, surfers, and rich residents of the commercial capital Abidjan who own paillottes have left. They also left behind a few local CFA francs in tips and salaries for tourism workers to afford a few beers, or local palm wine.