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Snapshot – Côte d’Ivoire

March 16, 2011

Fighters opposed to Laurent Gbagbo take up fighting positions as they man a roadblock in the Abobo district of Abidjan. (AP/Rebecca Blackwell)

Conflict continues in Côte d’Ivoire between the supporters of Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara.

About Karno Ouattara (no relation to Alassane), Studio Coordinator in our Côte d’Ivoire office  is keeping us updated on the situation as it progresses. We’ll be sharing his observations here:

Tuesday, March 15 was marked by Alassane Ouattara’s speech on satellite TV in Côte d’Ivoire (TCI, a TV station and radio, which was created by him and his family to get their message across). In this speech Alassane Ouattara said he accepted the conclusions of the African Union’s Council of Peace and Security. These are: the formation of a government of unity and national reconciliation which will bring together expertise from all political forces in the country, including the FPI and civil society; the continuation of reforms in the framework of Ouagadougou agreement; and the offer of an honorable exit for Laurent Gbagbo. Ouattara also proposed the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.

Meanwhile on the ground in Abidjan, the fighting continues with heavy weapons from the armed forces remaining loyal to Laurent Gbagbo (including generals who went to renew their allegiance to Gbagbo) and those who support Alassane Ouattara. The dead are found each day in the streets of Abidjan after the fighting or other confrontations between people. Meanwhile in Abobo and in some cities, marches in support of Alassane Ouattara continue. Fighting between the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (the new name given to the Forces Nouvelles) and the Forces of Defense and Security (forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo) has calmed down on the western front. A speech to the nation by Laurent Gbagbo is expected within hours or days. This information was given by his spokesman on the airwaves of national television (RTI).

~About Karno Ouattara

We’ll have more updates from About in the coming days.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Anon permalink
    March 16, 2011 3:47 pm

    As someone living in Cote d’Ivoire, I have to say I’m slightly shocked that a peacebuilding NGO would portray the conflict in such a way. Language is everything, and de-escalating conflict requires not taking sides or continuing propaganda.

    “Since repelling intense attacks by security forces two weeks ago, an armed force comprising neighborhood residents, former rebels, and defecting security forces has been steadily gaining ground in Abidjan’s northern suburbs and now controls a large swath of territory including Anyama and most of Abobo.” I think the choice of words here is quite sided and incorrect.

    “Repelling” attacks by “former rebels”? This is not accurate. I live in Yopougon, and the rebels are the ones who attacked here, not the armed forces. Our friends and family living in Abobo were forced from their homes by the rebels, not the FDS (though both are behaving appallingly). The rebels have taken the offensive, how else could they “steadily gain ground”? And they are not former rebels– they are still the FN. They have been hiding within the city for months now and arming themselves. Both sides are attacking with ferocity and ruthlessness and this should not be painted as one side attacking an innocent group of people unless you want to discount an entire group of victims.

    I think you really have to be careful in the information that you spread, especially if you want to work towards de-escalating the situation. I normally appreciate the work you do, but was rather disappointed with this particular article.

    • March 16, 2011 5:05 pm

      Dear Anon,

      You’re very right that words matter but I believe there may be some confusion. First, I would mention that the photo caption is actually separate from our update and was written by AP to accompany the photo.

      However, the caption says they repelled attacks by “security forces,” not by “former rebels.” Also there is no implication that these forces are not on the offensive. As you say, ‘to gain ground means going on the offensive.’ Rather than taking sides the caption says that one armed group attacked a second armed group and now that second group has mobilized to take greater control of an area. There is no mention of innocent victims and it explicitly states that both sides are armed.

      About’s update also does not touch on the many people displaced by the conflict.

      You write that words matter, and I would agree and also say that implications matter as well and that bias can be expressed beyond mere words, so I have changed the caption.

      I would be interested to know your opinion of the AP article where the picture is taken from. It is reprinted here:

      The article mentions that many of the armed fighters in opposition to the FDS admit to being FN.

      Do you think they have portrayed the situation accurately?

  2. Anon permalink
    March 16, 2011 9:48 pm

    Thank you for the clarification about the caption. It didn’t seem like the normal reports I have seen with SFCG.

    I mixed up two sentences into one, and it was not clear. I meant that I think it is wrong to say that the rebels are merely “repelling” the government forces. The rebel forces have been on the offensive in this fight as well. This wording suggests that it is one side being attacked by another, and that those being attacked are simply trying to defend themselves. This suggests or at least indirectly implies the innocence and guilt of the parties.
    The caption also suggested that the armed forces in Abobo are made up of “former rebels”, which as I pointed out, is not accurate. It doesn’t even make sense (if they are fighting again, how does the term “former” even apply) and is contradicted in the body of the article.

    The AP article is typical of what I have read in the international news, though slightly more neutral than most. It seems there is a clear bias in the vast majority of the reporting, which I think is only helping to solidify the position of the pro-Gbagbo crowd by reminding them of colonial grips and international conspiracies. This is incredibly divisive to the community. I wish they would paint it in more moderate tones and without taking sides.

    It’s the subtleties of the language that is being used that I find problematic. For example, “residents of the neighbourhood called PK-18 waited for the international community to remove the defiant leader, who first grabbed power a decade ago”. Firstly, there are many in this community who want Gbagbo to leave– as it is a heavily pro-Ouattara area– but there are many as well who believe Gbagbo had won the election and want him to stay. The rebels were able to take up residence in PK-18 over several weeks because they could find sympathetic Dioula locals who would house them. However, there is a minority of Betes within the neighbourhood, many who are political moderates, who were forcibly removed from their homes by rebel forces. I know of several Bete in PK-18 who received a knock at the door by armed rebels, and were forced to hide in a church, without food or water, for more than a week and could not escape because of brutal rebel checkpoints. The displacement in this area (of both Dioula, Baoule and Bete alike) was mostly carried out by rebel forces and sympathizers, not government forces– though almost all articles I have read seem to suggest otherwise. The government forces have been brutal in their fighting, there is no doubt about this, but the rebel forces have also been committing atrocities here and both have been on the offensive. The majority of the reporting seems to gloss over the second part of that.

    I think the suggestion that Gbagbo “grabbed power a decade ago” is also severely misleading, considering the 2000 elections results and popular opinion at the time.

    Most international media I have read are (rightfully) critical of Gbagbo, but unwilling to be even slightly critical of the actions of Ouattara. They are very careful not to implicate him or Soro in any of the violence. They are careful to ignore the opposition media’s propaganda and escalating of the situation, only mentioning the problems of the government papers and television. They are careful to change the names of the FN, to “former rebels”, “invisible commandos”, residents, or the Republican Army of Cote d’Ivoire, etc. and to not explicitly call them the FN. It’s what’s being left out that is important. It is diminishing the culpability of one side of the conflict entirely, and thus ignoring an important fueling factor. This also gives more fodder for Gbagbo to inflate conspiracy theories against him, as people experiencing the conflict see that their reality doesn’t match the reported. This is compounded by the fact that the vote was incredibly split– with nearly half the population at odds with the other half over who actually won, who should be President, who is a “terrorist” or who is a “dictator”.

    The article does touch on parts of this later when it says “Most believe Ouattara tacitly condones the armed group and analysts point to him selecting Soro, the former rebel leader, as his prime minister. Many of the boys manning checkpoints in PK-18 acknowledge being FN, referring to Force Nouvelle, the group’s French name.” However this has been contradicted in the caption by implying they are “former rebels”, civilians and defectors and not FN. Again misleading. There are two armed parties, both spouting propaganda, both being incredibly brutal and committing massive human rights abuses, both leading offensives and trying to take power by force.

    Most of those people I have talked to are now saying that we need both Gbagbo and Ouattara to leave. That if either is in power, we will have continued fighting. We need new moderate leaders to help us escape this conflict. If Gbagbo stays, there will be war. If Ouattara comes in, there will be war. This now seems completely inevitable.

    Unfortunately, I think the international community’s response and the role of the media has helped to escalate rather than de-escalate the situation here. I wish they would consider using professional non-partisan mediators instead of using leaders who have taken sides publicly. Hard to come to a compromise in that situation. I wish the UN would have released all the full numbers polling station by polling station with complete transparency to remove any doubt in skeptic’s minds over the election results. I wish that there had been more of an effort made to publicize the exact legalities of the situation in full details in easy to understand language. I wish they had taken alternative routes than to so quickly use some of the broad sanctions…

    Some of the sanctions have been incredibly devastating to the population, especially the EU block on the port that has prevented many medications from entering. The cocoa sanctions are also going to cripple the population for years to come. Many businesses have shut, and may not be able to re-open under the bank closures and sanctioning. In a country that already had a severe unemployment problem, this is only going to leave a majority of the population angry and unemployed and thus more likely to be persuaded to take up arms.

    I am finding the situation most frustrating at the moment, as I think much of the devastation and abuses could have been avoided if different tactics and strategies had been used. I hope SFCG will continue to work towards peacebuilding activities in the region and that more peacebuilding ventures will begin– they are sorely needed to help de-escalate the situation.

    • March 17, 2011 4:27 pm

      Really interesting response, I believe you’re right that international media has not given as much space to the regular (i.e. unarmed) civilians who support Gbagbo and contest Ouattara’s would-be presidency. Your comment that many people now say both Gbagbo and Ouattara need to go is especially intriguing.


  1. Snapshot – Côte d’Ivoire « The Common Ground Blog

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