Ivory Coast: no reconciliation in sight | Africa | DW | 11.04.2012
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Ivory Coast: no reconciliation in sight

One year ago, the whole world was watching as Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was arrested, wearing just his underwear. One year later, the people of the country are still waiting for reconciliation.

Bakayoko Hamed wipes the sweat from his forehead. The way up to the waterfall at the town of Man is steep and the stones are slippery. Carefully, the young man puts one foot in front of another. The Man waterfall is one of the most popular leisure spots in the region.

After 20 minutes the young man is standing in front of the waterfall. “We meet up here in the evenings, we chat and relax." Bakayoko Hamed has to yell for his voice to be heard above the sound of the water, but he doesn't seem to mind.

Man Waterfall in the Ivory coast

The Man waterfall used to be a popular tourist spot.

The young Ivorian is a tourist guide and loves showing visitors from Europe his homeland. Man is perfect for a holiday, he says. The city, which is in the west of the country, is particularly green and the numerous mountains are perfect for walking tours. But Hamed doesn't have much to do anymore. “No more tourists are coming. They all believe that Ivory Coast is too dangerous,“ he says.

A land of two presidents

The most recent problems in Ivory Coast began in September 2002, when civil war broke out in the country. Back then, Man was one of the rebel strongholds. Five years later the war was finally over. Bakayoko Hamed believed that things were going to get better at that point, but in November 2010 events in the country took a turn for the worse.

Laurent Gbagbo appearing on TV footage on Ivorian television channel TCI shortly after his capture in an Abidjan hotel.

Laurent Gbagbo's arrest last year was televized in Ivory Coast

The catalyst was the presidential vote, which provided the world's biggest cocoa exporter with two heads of state: Alassane Ouattara, who the international community recognized as Ivorian president, and the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. Following the result, Gbagbo refused to resign and the crisis began. It ended officially on April 11, 2011 as Ouattara's troops - with international help - arrested Gbagbo in his bunker.

He was arrested in his undershirt. Pictures of the capture went around the world and showed the power-obsessed leader at his weakest moment. Gbagbo was depicted by the media as the evil one, his challenger Ouattara represented new policies and fresh hopes. Gbagbo has since been extradited to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Ouattara's troops in Duékoué

Romaric Giazahi is working on his black sewing machine, repairing a pair of ripped jeans. He admits, "I voted for Gbagbo." He lives in Duékoué, about two hours south of Man by car. The city has always supported Gbagbo. Last year, his opponent's troops rioted here, and Giazahi had to look on as the market place where he worked was set on fire on March 29, 2011. By then it was clear that it was just a question of time before Gbagbo would be caught.

Government soldiers near the town of Duékoué rest on a couch.

Soldiers in the town of Duékoué are there to preserve peace

According to eyewitnesses, Ouattara's troops committed a massacre that day. The number of fatalities still remains unclear, though it would probably have been more if Catholic priest Cyprien Ahouré hadn't been there to help. He opened the door of his mission in the middle of the city for 30,000 fleeing people. “It was pure horror, just terrible," he told DW.

Living with terrible memories

One year on and the people here are slowly leaving temporary accommodation and returning to their villages. Roady Tehanzin has already returned. He is now living with his family in Fengolo and has a positive outlook: "Since the end of the war the situation here is stable again. The people can work again." Then he falls silent. “It's not the same as before though." Priest Ahouré feels the same way: "We have to live on with these terrible memories."

It seems that little is being done to improve the divisions that still exist in society. Alassane Ouattara did set up a reconciliation committee in September 2011, following the South African model, but since then the commission has done little. Human Rights Watch says that previous crimes are not being looked into. No investigation has been made into the events in Duékoué, those responsible for the mass killings have not been identified, says the organization.

Die Skyline von Abidjan

Abidjan, the Ivorian capital, was once a hotspot for tourists

It fits into the picture that many people in the west of Ivory Coast have of their new president. To the world he seems statesmanlike, but domestically he hasn't concerned himself with the isolated border area to Liberia. Tourist guide Bakayoko Hamed is not too bothered. He doesn't want to make any comment on politics. “The Ivory Coast is really a safe place to visit. And it has so much to offer." Unfortunately, it is likely to be some time before potential holiday-makers realize that.

Author: Kathrin Gänsler / al
Editor: Ben Knight

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