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Cote d’Ivoire: Time to Celebrate?

I was supposed to be on a plane right now, headed for Senegal. More on why that’s not the case at the end of this post. First, Cote d’Ivoire.

Right now, Gbagbo is in some sort of bunker underneath the presidential palace. Yesterday, there were reports that he was surrendering. Then reports that he wasn’t. What’s clear is that Gbagbo talked to France and the UN yesterday and refused to give up. Today, Ouattara’s forces renewed their attack on the palace with orders that Gbagbo is to be taken alive. I hope it ends soon.

Even if it’s over today (which it might not be, Gbagbo is clearly not going to step down, and there are now reports that the FRCI attack is being repelled), however, a long road lies ahead. Reconciliation, an alarming refugee situation, a stalled economy, and an ongoing humanitarian crisis that could become even worse than it is already.

Linda Raftree appropriately rejects the “endgame” term that so many have been using:

The term ‘endgame’ has been all over the headlines for the past 3 or 4 days now, but the ‘end’ of Gbagbo doesn’t mean that things will go back to normal for most people any time soon. Last I heard there are a million people displaced internally and 200,000 externally. I rather doubt it’s the ‘end’ of the crisis for them.

You should read her post in its entirety here

Also read this article from Elizabeth Dickinson who has diligently covered the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire. She outlines why the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire has been an unmitigated disaster.

In the comments to the Dickinson piece, I mentioned a few things that we can be thankful for:

I think that Cote d’Ivoire has an incredibly difficult road ahead, particularly in the reconciliation arena. But I think that it is worth noting that things could have been much worse. That is no way intended to discount the tragedies that have unfolded or to suggest that things went well in the past four months. It has certainly been a disaster.

However, I am greatly relieved that the level of combat in Abidjan was limited and so far there is not evidence of widespread reprisals taking place. Given the horrific way many were killed, especially in Abobo and N. Yopougon, I expected a very ugly scene when FRCI forces arrived. There has been violence and looting, but nothing on the scale I expected.

Also, I think it’s possible that the sanctions did have an effect. Part of the reason that there was such limited fighting throughout the country is because the regular army had been thoroughly neglected by Gbagbo in the past two months and they were not eager to fight on his behalf. Gbagbo focused on paying forces in Abidjan, and largely ignored the regular army elsewhere, probably because his funds were stretched very thin, especially by the start of March.

I’m also encouraged by the fact that Ouattara has invited an investigation into the events in western Cote d’Ivoire, stating that if his troops committed acts of violence against civilians, they would be held accountable. I’m not a Ouattara cheerleader by any means and I’m worried by the fact that his control over FRCI could be compromised, but I think he handled many aspects of this crisis well.

Another thing to celebrate: the fact that Africa came out united against Gbagbo. While you are right to mention their failed efforts, their unity is significant. Even dos Santos in Angola came into the fold against Gbagbo. I can’t think of another situation where this happened and there wasn’t talk of power sharing etc.

As I write this, I have friends in Yopougon who are still afraid to leave their houses and it doesn’t seem appropriate to be talking about things that went right. As you have said, so much has gone wrong. And when Gbagbo does surrender, a lot can go wrong still. I’m holding out hope, however, that the future is brighter.

Many of the points I made could prove false in the coming days. Abidjan has been calm, but people will begin leaving their homes. There is a good chance there will be more looting, and the specter of reprisals and revenge killings is still present. Who is going to police the city? How long will the water be cut? How long before markets are restocked and running? And this is just Abidjan. What about the refugees in Liberia and Ghana, and the precarious situation of towns in western Cote d’Ivoire?

There are other questions, too. One of Ouattara’s most difficult tasks will be to lead reconciliation, political and otherwise, and to establish his legitimacy. France intervening on his behalf does not look good given the amount of distrust there is for the French in Cote d’Ivoire. I strongly recommend reading this This BBC report and watching this discussion from PBS. Both talk about the challenges Ouattara faces once Gbagbo is out of the picture.

Here’s to peace and reconciliation in Cote d’Ivoire.

Please see the previous post for ways that you can directly help people affected by the crisis.

Why am I still here?

My original itinerary had me leaving today for Dakar. Clearly that is not happening. A couple weeks ago I started having what I thought were heart palpitations. They happened as I was falling asleep and felt as if my heart stopped or skipped beats. This was troubling. So I did what any idiot would do and I started looking for answers on the Internet. This was even more troubling. Then I went to the doctor. Tests, ekg, blood analysis, 24h holter monitor, cardiologist visit. Everything was normal. Dr.’s orders: monitor symptoms, come back in if things do not improve.

This was happening last week, so I looked into changing my itinerary. I had booked through ExploreTrip via Dohop (if you are interested in finding a cheap plane ticket to Africa check out this post I wrote). After three different phone calls to ExploreTrip (I wanted to experiment with different customer service reps) I found myself on the phone with someone who allowed me to move my itinerary forward and get a return ticket, and at the end of the day I was paying maybe $100 more than I would have if I had bought a return ticket outright. So I moved the itinerary, new departure date may 8th.

This was not an easy decision, but I did not want to deal with a potential problem in Bamako. Life goes on, and I will be there soon with a (hopefully) fully functioning body.

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