The world calls him president, but Alassane Ouattara has been under de facto house arrest for almost a week, hunkered down in a luxury hotel, trying to govern Ivory Coast from the manager’s office with phone calls, a fax machine and a pirate radio station to get his message out.
Inside the Golf Hotel, Day 5 of complete isolation was wearing thin. Reached by telephone, one of Mr. Ouattara’s top advisers, Amadou Coulibaly, sounded exhausted. He explained that many of those stuck inside aren’t sleeping.
“Everyone deals with the stress in their own way,” he said. “While we’ve still got enough food, we don’t know how long this is going to last.”
The United Nations certified Mr. Ouattara’s win in last month’s presidential election and it was swiftly supported by the United States, Canada, France, the European Union and the African Union. But incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refuses to recognize those results, hand over the reins and leave the presidential palace. He had half a million votes thrown out and was declared winner by the country’s Constitutional Council.
Both men have taken oaths of office, appointed prime ministers and attempted to set up a government, plunging this West African country back into crisis after the very election that was supposed to turn the page on their 2002-2003 civil war and ensuing political deadlock.
French government spokesman Francois Baroin told reporters Wednesday that France recommends that its citizens who can leave Ivory Coast do so temporarily, citing “undeniable sources of worry” in the country. About 13,000 French people are currently believed to be in Ivory Coast, which maintains close ties to France and was once the crown jewel of its former West African colonial empire.
While Mr. Ouattara commands the respect of the international community, here on the ground Mr. Gbagbo is clearly in control, taking to national television Tuesday to affirm his presidency. His soldiers operate checkpoints throughout the city and opened fire on pro-Ouattara protesters last week when they marched on the state television building, killing at least 10 people. The UN says at least 50 people have been killed in the ensuing days, and Amnesty International accused Mr. Gbagbo of kidnapping and killing his political opponents.
Following last Thursday’s march, Mr. Gbagbo’s troops encircled the Golf Hotel where Mr. Ouattara and his government had set up. A French diplomat ferried out the last group of international journalists that night and no one has been allowed in or out since.
The blockade has been preventing UN trucks from bringing food, water and medicine to the 800 troops stationed at the hotel, local UN mission chief Choi Young-jin says. While the UN says the peacekeepers are there to protect the legitimately elected president and the results of the election, Mr. Gbagbo’s camp considers this to be aiding the enemy, and formally asked the 9,000-strong UN mission to leave the country on the weekend.
Because the UN doesn’t recognize Mr. Gbagbo as president, it did not heed the request, instead opting on Monday to extend the mission’s mandate another six months. The international community is also unlikely to take up Mr. Gbagbo’s latest offer to convene an international panel to study the impasse.
At the Golf Hotel, the palm trees that line a polymorphous swimming pool and the 1970s orange, lime green and black interior recall a different, bountiful age, when European businessmen came here to invest in the world's largest cocoa exporter. But now coils of razor wire line the golf course fairways and white UN armoured personnel carriers guard the entrance to the building, dismissively referred to as the “Golf Republic” by members of Mr. Gbagbo’s inner circle.