A recent wave of armed attacks in Côte d’Ivoire’s commercial capital, Abidjan, is lowering hopes of a steady return to security in a city that suffered some of the worst fighting during the 2010-11 election violence.
Armed assailants, whose identity is still unknown, attacked a military post in the city’s western Yopougon district on the night of 4 August, killing three people. Later, a police station was also attacked, sparking a fire fight in which five soldiers died.
Two days afterwards, an attack on Akouédo army barracks in Abidjan, where three infantry battalions are lodged, claimed the lives of six troops and one attacker, according to government officials. Another army post in Agboville, in north Abidjan, then came under attack and two people were wounded, one of them seriously.
“I never imagined that the sound of gunfire would return so soon. What has happened makes you fear for the worst, because it seems to me that the people are more divided than before,” said Fatoumata Bamba, a trader in Abidjan’s Cocody district.
“We are in the market every day and we see that people are not courteous to one another. Côte d’Ivoire is slowly going back to square one with this violence that is going to bereave families of their loved ones,” said Bamba, who is considering taking her children to her village in the north of the country.
Mathieu Touah, a civil servant who lives in Yopougon, said he now goes home early to be with his family. During the attack in his neighbourhood, his wife’s fish stall was hit by a bullet. “She is now forced to return home early, while customers often come to buy [on their way home] at nightfall. Unfortunately, the situation calls for prudence. She is losing out at this difficult time,” he told IRIN.
The government of President Alassane Ouattara is blaming sympathisers of former president Laurent Gbagbo. The two men were locked in months of bitter election disputes after the November 2010 presidential run-off, triggering clashes in which some 3,000 people were killed.
“There was some complicity in Akouédo [military] camp. I believe that everything was coordinated by pro-Gbagbo ex-soldiers from Ghana. This was planned to be a time for harassment. There is a series of acts and aggression to erode investor confidence and the morale of Ivoirians,” said Interior Minister Ahmed Bakayoko.
Gbagbo is being detained by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he is facing four counts of crimes against humanity. A statement by his party on 8 August said, “The Ivoirian Patriotic Front rejects the accusations following the attacks… The party strongly condemns the wave of deadly violence, and expresses its indignation at these senseless acts that create a general climate of insecurity.”
Although life has largely returned to normal in Abidjan’s Abobo district, where violence first broke out during the post-election violence, forces loyal to Ouattara still patrol the streets, control traffic and carry out searches on residents and homes.
A road block of tyres and metal bars still exists at the entry to the neighbourhood since a force known as “invisible commandoes” seized the area and began fighting the army in early 2011. Residents complain of harassment and mistreatment, and have demanded that fighters of the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI) be removed.
“They fire their weapons… [all the] time. I don’t feel secure. They ask for IDs and if you don’t have one, they detain you. There are so many of them on the streets,” said Linda Amoun. “There is no government authority here. They [troops] do as they please. Abobo is neglected - we have been left on our own. Something should be done to get these people out of the streets.”
Abobo is the only district in Abidjan where the troops perform police duties. The government has issued several orders for the forces to leave but none have been obeyed.
“If the government can’t do anything beyond issuing statements and circulars [ordering the forces to leave Abobo], it is clear that it doesn’t want to change the situation,” said René Hokou Legré, the head of the Ivorian Human Rights League (LIDHO).
The government set up a reconciliation panel in July 2011 but it has not yet begun work on the ground. Analysts warn that the delay and the incidents of violence may undermine its efforts to bridge political, ethnic and other divisions.
“The presence of this force is a threat to [social] cohesion… the government should act fast, because prolonging the situation could trigger popular reaction that may put the legitimacy of the government into question,” said Legré.
Côte d’Ivoire's western region has been plagued by violence in recent months. Seven UN peacekeepers were killed there in an ambush in June, and around six weeks later the country’s last camp for internally displaced persons was torched and six people died in an ethnically driven attack.
Arbitrary arrest and detention, mainly of those considered to be Gbagbo supporters, is also undermining efforts to reconcile a country that has suffered several crises in the past decade. Kévine Adou, secretary general of the Centre for Research Action for Peace (CERAP) in Côte d’Ivoire, said there were still deep divisions in the police, the military police and the army after the post-election conflict.
“Efforts have been made on the economic front, but security is still weak. It is difficult to know who is behind this series of attacks. An investigation should be carried out to identify the perpetrators and what they want,” Adou told IRIN. “The army needs to be united. Everybody should be involved, even those who are not on Ouattara’s side.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions