They Are Burning the Country Together. (Feature: Cote d'Ivoire)

Article excerpt

To me, two quotations serve as a metaphor for what has been happening in Cote d'Ivoire since the military struggle for power began there on 19 September this year. One is a statement made by a spokesman for the late General Robert Guei, leader of the 24 December 1999 coup that ousted President Henri Konan Bedie (Guei was himself slain at the onset of the current uprisingon 19 September).

The utterance was made almost exactly two years ago--after Guei's junta had arrested several people in Abidjan and accused them of plotting to overthrow his government.

Explaining the arrests, a spokesman for Guei's junta was quoted by Reuters as saying of those arrested: "[They want] to carry out sabotage to prevent the election [scheduled for 22 October 2000] from taking place, and so that people can say Cote d'Ivoire has descended into a spiral of violence... If they want to burn Cote d'Ivoire, we will burn it together and we will all look at the ashes together." Burn the country together? Who would gain from a lunatic enterprise like that? But there you are.

The second quotation is from an editorial published by the Ivorian newspaper, Le National, when demonstrators were attacking the Senegalese embassy in Abidjan in January 2001, in protest against a critical comment made against xenophobia in the country, by the Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade.

Wade had told a conference on racism that incidents of racism against black people abroad were "marginal" compared to "ethnic and fratricidal conflict between Africans". He singled out Cot d'Ivoire, where, he said, "inter-ethnic conflicts are a tangible reality and I might almost say that right now a Burkinabe suffers more in Cote d'Ivoire than a black does in Europe."

For daring to say openly what many people had observed about current politics in Cote d'Ivoire, Wade was subjected to a most reprehensible campaign of vituperation.

Le National, on its part, told Wade bluntly: "Ivorians refuse to let presidents who are incapable of putting their own houses in order, to set themselves up as givers of lessons [to others]".

Now, guess who the "friend" was that Cote d'Ivoire needed the most when it became clear that the 19 September "rebel" attack on the government was no flash in the pan? None other than Abdoulaye Wade! He is the current chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and indeed it was he who organised the Ecowas summit in Accra, Ghana, on 30 September, at which Gbagbo was able to meet face to face with the man his government had been accusing of helping the insurgents, President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso. Was the Accra summit important for Cote d'Ivoire? Undoubtedly. It is true that Gbagbo subsequently led the team of Ecowas foreign ministers who went to Cote d'Ivoire to try and negotiate a settlement between the government and the "rebels", quite a merry dance.

He told the Ecowas representatives, after they had seen the rebels and reported to him, that his government would sign the truce agreement that Ecowas had negotiated. But his government then refused twice to sign it, each time after so misleading the Ecowas representatives about its readiness to sign that they innocently turned up at Tiebissou and Yamoussoukro for the signing ceremony, only to be left twiddling their thumbs. But in fact Gbagbo was only able to bluff Ecowas because it had already enabled him to obtain important information about the rebels. In Accra, the Ecowas summit had offered him the opportunity to make an appreciation of the extent of Compaore's support for the rebels (if any) and the possible consequences--including ostracism--that the Burkinabe leader would have to face within Ecowas, if he continued supporting the rebels.

Secondly, Gbagbo was able to obtain from his brother heads of state--most of whom totally abhorred the idea of another coup d'etat succeeding in their region against an elected government--pledges of support which could prove especially helpful to Cote d'Ivoire in its quest for information on the rebels. …