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Gbagbo loyalist threats highlight Ivory Coast fears

Andrew Harding | 09:16 UK time, Thursday, 6 January 2011

Roadblocks. It's always the roadblocks.

We were trying to test claims that forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo had relaxed their siege of the hotel here in Abidjan, where Mr Gbagbo's rival for the presidency, Alassane Ouattara, remains holed up.

On a scruffy, narrow, wooded section of the road, five heavily armed soldiers - members of Mr Gbagbo's Republican Guard - suddenly surrounded the car, screaming at us to get out.

"You've been filming our positions," snarled the man in command. Not true. Over the course of the next 10 minutes we were all threatened with beatings and death, but our local Ivorian translator and fixer was singled out. He stood, shaking and speechless with terror, as several soldiers jabbed at him with their rifles and described how they would take him into the bushes and finish him off.

"We know you. We know what to do with your sort," they said, after establishing that he was from the north of the country, where support is strong for Mr Ouattara.

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It was a chilling insight into the ethnic tensions that have been fanned and manipulated so many times by Ivory Coast's political class and the disputed election have brought back to centre stage.

A man in civilian clothes - a white T-shirt - seemed to be directing events. He spoke into a mobile phone, calling for back-up, and making some of the most overt threats against our whole group.

Eventually, though, the tension subsided and we were allowed to continue along the empty road that leads to the Golf Hotel, and the man the world insists is the elected leader of this country, guarded by his own soldiers and by a robust ring of United Nations forces.

The hotel - usually accessible to journalists and others only by helicopter - is an island of surreal calm at the heart of Ivory Coast's political storm. Staff mow lawns and serve drinks to members of the "government in waiting," as security guards carefully monitor each corridor and exit and others wash their clothes by the hotel pool.

Inside, I did manage to interview Allassane Ouattara. The highlights struck me as the following:

  • Laurent Gbagbo was not negotiating in good faith but was simply trying "to buy time" while he brought in more military equipment.

  • Negotiations were therefore "over."

  • No meeting could take place between the two men until Mr Gbagbo recognised Mr Ouattara as President. Mr Gbagbo would then be guaranteed amnesty and security here or abroad.

  • The only option now was for Mr Gbagbo to be removed from office either by the threat of force, or by force itself. Mr Ouattara called on the West African regional body Ecowas to move quickly to launch a military strike to "pick" Mr Gbagbo and "take him away."

  • "Removing one person does not mean civil war." Mr Outtara was confident that most of the army, and indeed the country, was on his side and that what military planners sometimes call a "decapitation strategy" could be carried out fairly easily.

We left the hotel, taking a different route back into the city centre, and escorted through the first roadblock by a UN vehicle.

A meeting of Mr Gbagbo's "Young Patriots" was being held on a dusty football pitch in a poor neighbourhood near the airport. Two men in balaclavas, one brandishing a rocket propelled grenade launcher, stood on a van in the centre of the crowd. More armed men lingered on the edges.

The mood in the crowd was generally cheerful, as singers and speakers entertained them. But when I started asking about Gbagbo vs Ouattara, the familiar jibes and prejudices came out. Northerners against Southerners, immigrant communities against "Ivorians."

Several men told me they were ready to "fight and die" for Mr Gbagbo, and that if neighbouring countries sent troops in, "they would see how we Ivorians can defend ourselves."

The constant subtext was that Mr Ouattara and his supporters were not "true Ivorians." When I asked if they could accept, under any circumstances, a President Ouattara, a roar of scorn drowned me out. "So why bother holding elections at all?" I asked. "That's for the politicians to work out," said a young man, adding a subtler threat against the country's huge immigrant community. "If they attack us from abroad, we'll deal with all the foreigners living here."


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  • 1. At 11:30am on 06 Jan 2011, RobB wrote:

    Like all despots, Laurent Gbagbo, to borrow from Obama, appears determined to step on the gas and drive his country into a ditch. There is nothing to gain from asking ourselves the question: WHY? Mwai Kibaki & Robert Mugabe did it, some others steal the vote well before its cast, and ofcourse some dont even bother with elections at all. But if Africa has a conscience then this is the moment to prove it. This is the opportunity to stake our claim to democracy and fair play. This is the time to stand by what is right. This is the time to give our children that elusive commodity: HOPE!

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  • 2. At 12:43pm on 06 Jan 2011, Kiloni wrote:

    Sorry to desagree Rob I find a huge gain asking myself WHY.

    WHY so much interest in this Ivorian case where worse situations happened in other Countries and noone cared?

    In Madagascar an elected president namely Ravalomanana was forced out of office through a military putsch with no reaction neither from AU, EU, UN... WHY?

    In Gabon in 2009 it is well documented that the votes were ripped and reversed so that Bongo's son could win. No UN nations there, WHY?

    Now talking of Mugabe, how many times did he actually step on the gas to drive his country into a ditch? (he's been in charge for over 20 years. WHY is suddenly now that people namely UK and western countries open their eyes? The same countries who were rolling the red carpet under his feet a few years ago? Is there a sort of lost deal there?

    With respect to Ivory Coast WHY is it that no one is willing to accept the recount of the votes as Gbagbo suggested? Is it that difficult? It only took 4 days to the electoral commission to do it. So WHY not do it again? so that it's chrystal clear as to truely won the elections?

    Talking a millitary action to force Gbagbo out. Who is going to lead it? Burkina Faso, the guy in charge there took office through a military putsch himself. In Togo we all know the reality of the past elections there. So WHY Ivory Coast? Is there any sort of revenge deal there?

    Who's scared of truth?

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  • 3. At 1:22pm on 06 Jan 2011, Jaward Sesay wrote:

    They are now talking of sending african forces from the African Union to save the democratically elected president from the former defeated candidate Laurent Gbagbo.The question is, can the African union do it since majority of the leaders of African countries in the past had behaved the same way as Laurent Gbagbo?

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  • 4. At 1:53pm on 06 Jan 2011, delateby wrote:

    Thanks a lots Jaward Sesay,however we re watching,we the younger generation into politics, their past may not count i think most of them listen to OBAMAS message when he came to Ghana,past and tyranny are over we re now talking about new Africa that is all i advise GBAGBO to stop playing such games of the past and leave the place to an elected cousin is one of GBAGBOS SENATORS but LET THE PEOPLES VOTE COUNT;again ECOWAS&AU should be fast to send their troupes to COTE D IVOIRE unless they want us to carry out revenage on our own which will be bloodshed,whoever is saying ivoireen army could fight war liars because they shall never die for GBAGBO whom his allies kept buying jeep and houses for young ladies in town,and never anybody shall see event in my country like others because UNITED NATIONS sponsored and said to certify the result and both parties agreed not now he will play games with his friend NDRI YAO so called head of COUNSEL CONSTITUTION,I DONT EVEN KNOW WHY ALASSAN WASTING TIME TO ATTACK GBAGBO MILITARILY for peaceful end,segregation is not the issue in our country but POWER TUSSLE since GBAGBO felt they took him to be from poor home yet he managed himself to power that is all and he will never give up since he could afford to buy mercenaries with his ill gotten wealth

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  • 5. At 1:55pm on 06 Jan 2011, charité wrote:

    it is very hard and i do not know how to describe this situation. the international community is basing their claim on the election result but that is not actually the main cause of the political deadlock. this problem started back in 1990. though i supported Gbagbo in the election but I am not happy with him because he has worsen the situation by bowing to pressure and now he is paying for it. Why must he allow an election to be held in a country where he knows he don't have access to 60% of the countries territory. Why must he allow an election while the rebels are still armed. He must know that they must rigged the election because France is their mentor and France don't want him. Alassane was refused to context the election twice by others and this time he agreed knowing very well that it is France who brought this man to be the next president after the dead of Felix. And since this man was refused to context election due to his nationality there has never been peace in this country. France who trained and equipped the rebels use Alassane as the political weapon, the rebels as the fighting weapon and them (France) playing the role of economic weapon, he could have known that he is fighting one person France in three different forms.why did they not allow ecomog to fight the rebels? France earlier refused this and today they want ecomog. in how many Francophone countries has ecomog been since it creation? does it mean that there has never been political crisis in any of these countries? Why cote Ivoire? because they simply do not want Gbagbo because this problem is economical.

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  • 6. At 2:01pm on 06 Jan 2011, cancasa wrote:

    As has been mentioned earlier, the AU are struggling with the decision to send in troops.
    I'm not saying it won't eventually happen, but we all know that Gbagbo is merely buying time to prepare for the inevitable consequence.
    With regard to the AU and military intervention, I'm reminded of the old African saying; "When a monkey was told he was ugly, the baboon started to cry".

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  • 7. At 2:17pm on 06 Jan 2011, bill torbitt wrote:

    The root problem is that Western democracy is not for Africa. Most African countries are run by the military factions or decendants of the factions which won independence from the colonial power. They will fight tooth and nail to retain power. In Africa most employment is in the public sector, i.e. in the government, and the government is the ruling party. There is thus huge vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Further, the ruling party and its army usually represents the dominant ethnic component of a country, and most politics is tribal. The dominant tribe has enjoyed all the privileges of power and will not give it up. What about South africa, a 'sophisticated' democracy. It would not be a pretty sight if the dominance of the ruling ANC were ever seriously challenged.

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  • 8. At 3:12pm on 06 Jan 2011, villamagome wrote:

    The key to national unity and peace in the Ivory Coast (and other parts of the African continent) is contained in the following analogy made recently by President Kagame:
    1. He likened the RDF to a family composed of individual family members and stressed that it is the family that supersedes the individual. “It is the family that brings you up, nurtures you, feeds you and makes you what you are.”
    2. Kagame said, “When the military is well led and when it accomplishes its mission and tasks -- it contributes effectively to the development of the nation.” He further noted that discipline and effectiveness of any force is the:
    • outcome of upholding family interests,
    • of working and fighting as members of one family
    • and above all -- fighting against any shame.
    3. President Kagame noted that what is good for the family is always good for the individual and not always vice versa. He pointed out that unlike the family -- the individual is expendable. “Individuals will come and go - but the family will always remain,” he said.
    The President warned that any family member who tarnishes the image of the family -- should be ruthlessly dealt with in the interest of the family. “You should not have dual or split character and personality,” he warned and emphasized that discipline has to be total. (Extract from New Times Newspaper Rwanda 11/05/10).

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  • 9. At 4:59pm on 06 Jan 2011, Stonehall wrote:

    Thanks Mr Andrew Harding for this inside story. But can you, on behalf the Western media, the EU, the UN and the US answer and explain to us in very simple terms, the following questions?
    1) Does the Constitutional Council in Ivory Coast have the powers to annul elections if it believes that there were irregularities that affected the outcome of the election.
    2) According to the Ivorian constitution, is it mandatory for the Constitutional council to certify the results of a presidential election? In other words, can a president be elected without the approval of the Constitutional Council?
    The Eu, the US and the UNO, are skilfully avoiding to talk on the constitutionality of the Constitutional council. Instead, there are hammering on its neutrality.
    Ecowas, urged on by France and the UK should not be naive. Before invading Afghanistan and then Iraq, the US thought that it was just a matter of regime change. Just "pick" the leader and install a new government, and everything will be Ok. But 10 years now and still counting, the wars are still far from over. Does Ecowas have the means and resources to sustain a prolonged conflict in Ivory Coast? These are just a few of the issues they have to reflect deeply on before picking up a gun.
    The so-called decapitating strike can never work in Ivory Coast.

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  • 10. At 7:55pm on 06 Jan 2011, Tokunboh Akinbiyi wrote:

    In response to Kiloni:

    In Nigeria alot of people said Nuhu Ribadu (now contesting the presidency) was selective whilst he led the anti-corruption agency; EFCC. I say: Let us assume he was selective, the big question is - were the thieves he got convicted in Law Courts guilty or not? Can all thieves be caught at once? Will he always remain the head of EFCC? Cant someone else come in and tackle the ''people he favored?''

    Africa can not continue to make weak excuses for despots. This bloke has been there for 10yrs (the equivalent of 2 terms in France or 2.5 in the UK)..Does he have monopoly of knowledge or leadership talent? Is it better for lives to be lost because he wants to cling to power? We should stop playing the ostrich!

    To charite:
    You did not provide evidence that France is a three-pronged fact, they are refusing to remove Gbagbo..what a conclusion you have made! (whereas they have intervened elsewhere before, to remove an unwanted HoS)

    To bill torbitt
    what about Namibia, Botswana, Benin, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone? Generalization is not a smart thing to do..

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  • 11. At 8:29pm on 06 Jan 2011, David Sharp wrote:

    Ah yes and here we have yet another African disaster in the making. A disaster, not for the elegantly dressed politians, but for the very people they supposedly represent.
    So what will the rest of the world do? NOTHING! A lot of disingenuous rubbish about making Africa democratically acceptable to the rest of the world. A lot of empty threats, threats that Gbagbo knows are empty and will never actually be acted upon. Why should he give up the power and the material wealth he can amass just to please the rest of the world? The people that he represents and leads are no more than a nuisance to him, so why should he be worried about what happens to them.
    In the Zimbawean case the world shouted their indignation, so what did any country do about Mugabe's criminality? NOTHING!
    Constitutions, in most African States, can be completely rewritten or ignored at the whim of who ever happens to be in power, so it is valuless to cite a country's constitution.
    So what will happpen to Ivory Coast; the people will starve, millioms will die but Gbagbo will stay where he is and the rest of the world will continue to voice there indignation to the void.
    The rest of the African countries' leaders will fly around like a lot of headless chickens clucking and scrathing at the dirt and do NOTHING!

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  • 12. At 00:15am on 07 Jan 2011, delateby wrote:

    I wonder why some could made mention of GBAGBOS CONSTITUIONAL COUNSEL a COURT been headed by his best friend and SENATOR of his party representing DIVO,better forget about RULE OF LAWS in there,besides in same COTE D IVOIRE LAW no64 said if there is irregularties election could be reconducted not or before 45days does NDRI YAO PAUL_head of the COURT doesnt know his RULE OF LAW enough to canceal the election as the LAW states???Again GBAGBO signed accord that UNITED NATIONS shall certisfy the result before prononcing why then he GBAGBO could not obey the rules or is it because he taught to have it all,we are waiting to see him as empero but he should know that we are no more in 1960s where we been rule by kings.IT WILL BE A SHAMEFUL THING IF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY DID NOT REMOVE GBAGBO BECAUSE IT WILL BE A ROUTINE BY AFRICAN LEADERS I WONDER WHAT OUR FAITH SHALL BE IT CARE IS NOT TAKEN ON THIS VERY MATTER BUT IF THE STEP OF REMOVING GBAGBO IS PUT IN PLACE I THINK WE AFRICANS HAS GAIN THE INDPENDENT BY OURSELF BECAUSE IT IS DONE BY AFRICANS THEN SOUNDS AS WARNING TO OTHERS PLEASE OBAMA,SAKORZY SHOULD ASSIST THE UPCOMING AFRICAN YOUNTHS

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  • 13. At 06:48am on 07 Jan 2011, Will wrote:

    Gbagbo may not be wrong constitutionally, Ouattara cannot challenge him in court for "winning" the election because Gbagbo did nothing wrong under the laws of his country. Gbagbo's Christian supporters are also afraid for the future of their country and the prospect of a Muslim president. Gbagbo may well be the last Christian president Ivory Coast ever had. There is no way a Christian can become president of a Muslim-majority country anywhere in the world. Due to immigration from neighboring countries, Ivory Coast is probably now a Muslim-majority country. Perhaps the only solution is to split the country into two. Ouattara as president of the Muslim rebel-held north, and Gbagbo as president of the Christian south. Anyway, Ouattara got about 90% of his votes from the north, while Gbagbo got about 90% of his votes from the south. Otherwise, a united Ivory Coast under Gbagbo could join "rogue" states like Burma, North Korea, or even Venezuela.

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  • 14. At 12:20pm on 07 Jan 2011, betternotsay wrote:

    This is exhausting!

    The myth of democracy, free and fair elections, etc. - Western countries keep hammering away at these slogans, when and where they feel like it, but when you look at what has happened here in Cote d'Ivoire, it becomes quite clear that these are nothing but a smokescreen laid out to confuse, confound, and delude the world. Behind that screen, they are behaving in truly and completely undemocratic and immoral ways, inserting powers that they want to work with to satisfy their own interests and greed.

    Do the recount. What is so hard about that?

    Address the problem. How and why are we to accept that an election could be free or fair, if half the country was under control and occupied by an illegal armed force? This was during the elections, and in spite of the condition put forth in the accords that they were to be disarmed? Why not just follow those rules OR find a way to penalize them for their refusal to adhere to the rules? Why is the world accepting that rubbish?

    North/South Muslim/Christian nonsense - Understand this:
    There was no real division as such, until an illegal armed force tried to 1) oust the elected president in the second year of his 5 year term in 2002 and

    2) divided and destroyed the country, forcing people out of their homes from the North into the South. (Both Christian AND Muslims who ran from the danger, though probably mostly Christian, since they were the target of these aggressors.)

    3) If this illegal armed force called the New Forces, commanded by Soroo had not taken up weapons and violence against people, killing, maiming, raping and committing all manner of "human rights abuses" beginning in 2002 and on going until today

    4) And all that was done IN THE NAME OF OUATTARA, IN THE NAME OF ISLAM, IN THE NAME OF THE "NORTHERN PEOPLE!" There would NOT be the degree of animosity you hear today if they hadn't taken this action.

    The 10 year "dictator" accusation/smokescreen: Gbagbo was elected in 2000 for a 5 year term. In 2002 a rebel force (the same as noted above) tried to depose Gbagbo from his position, unsuccessfully. In spite of Frances' promise to aid CI in situations such as this, they actually enabled the rebels to gain a further foothold, and they took over the North Gb was there until 2005, when his normal term would have run out - but because of the Northern occupation, the UN HAD HIM STAY ANOTHER 2 YEARS!!

    During that time, the country was to try to deal with the underlying problems of illegal immigration and documentation of illegal aliens, that was a necessary precursor to any possible fair election. So he stayed until 2007 at the UN's REQUEST. During that time, from 2005, his cabinet was also replaced by individuals loyal to Ouattara and Soro.

    From 2007 until 2010, the work of identifying and documenting aliens was completed, and there were several attempts to hold the election, but in each instance, the rebels failed to disarm -- as was a condition of the peace accords, the UN, and the CEI, which had outlined the rules for the election.

    In 2010, because the people did not want any more delays, the elections were held in spite of the occupation of the North.

    So in fact and in summation, Gabagbo only had 2 years of his term in which he was able to act. After that he was no loner truly in power - he was just a place holder until the elections could be held.

    Out of 10 years, only the last 3 could be said to be of his own choosing, even though he was still operating with a cabinet that would not work for him.

    That is not exactly what I would call a dictator.

    So let's put things in perspective, people.

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  • 15. At 12:56pm on 07 Jan 2011, betternotsay wrote:

    You said: "You've been filming our positions," snarled the man in command. Not true." Considering you have videotaped coverage of the incident, it looks like, uh, yeah, you were.

    You said: "The constant subtext was that Mr Ouattara and his supporters were not "true Ivorians." You know what? There are plenty of narrow-minded Americans - a lot of them probably contributors here on this site - who have no problem saying that immigrants living in the United States - especially if they are undocumented - are not "real Americans".

    And in Britain, as I understand it, you CAN'T be British if you aren't, well, British. (Whatever that means.) I met a British man in Kenya who asked me why do black Americans want to distinguish themselves as African Americans? He thought they should be fighting to be"AMERICANS."
    Turns out that his problem is that in Britain, just because he has Bangladeshi parentage, he is not considered British. He is considered Bangladeshi- British.

    So once again. Can we put things in proper perspective?

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  • 16. At 4:54pm on 07 Jan 2011, Lesley wrote:

    I agree with the comments by Messrs Torbitt and Sharp above. I sometimes think the African leaders of this continent must stand together in Solidarity and support the democracy they always say they support. By expecting the western world to come rescue them they are just moving their responsibility to the western world, whom they thereafter can criticise as they will. I don't know of any African country leader who stood up and still stands up against the so called democracy Mugabe put his people in. It's time for Africa to put their money where their mouth is, and I believe that pressure alone from the African leaders will show the continent, and her people that their leaders certainly can handle true democracy and not any artificial so called democracy.

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  • 17. At 5:04pm on 07 Jan 2011, Ghost rider wrote:

    Sometime to understand all these conflicts that we got in Africa we need to read little bit more. I read on these web site who created borders of african countries. These may help to undestand why we got so many problem with religion, tribes, etc.

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  • 18. At 06:24am on 08 Jan 2011, Andrew Harding BBC wrote:

    many thanks for your comments. i've now moved to juba, south sudan for sunday's referendum and will be writing about the situation here soon. one quick reply to betternotsay's thought about the roadblock - to be clear, we didn't film their positions. if we had i'm not sure we'd be here now. we did leave a camera rolling inside the car but it wasn't pointing at anything "strategic."

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