Friday, December 24, 2010

One Village Votes: radio documentary

At the link above, you can download the mp3 file of my fifty-minute radio documentary about the elections and their aftermath. It is a personal account and focuses on the people from one rural community north of Korhogo, where I have spent time for the past thirty years. Some of the people in this account live in the village itself, which I call Kalikaha in the documentary. Others now live in Korhogo, Koumassi, and Abobo.

Kalikaha voted peacefully on November 28. Gbagbo's representatives signed the sworn statements. But the villagers' votes were thrown out.

Now as Ouattara and Gbagbo play chess over the country's financial assets, ordinary people once again suffer the consequences. I only wish it had a happy ending.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dangerous streets

Amnesty International has expressed its concern about the violence in Abidjan perpetrated by the security forces against ordinary people. I hear the same thing over the telephone when I call friends. Pro-Gbagbo youths with machetes chasing youths in Abobo and beating them if they catch them, soldiers using tear gas even during the daytime in Koumassi to chase everyone back inside. The most chilling story came from someone who, on the way home to Abobo just before the curfew began, saw SUVs pull up at a house. The electricity was off there. A man in a boubou who looked like a neighbor knocked at the door. The people in the house opened the door. The man and soldiers went in. Shots were heard.

Meanwhile, RTI continues to tell only its side of the story: Gbagbo is protecting the country's sovereignty against unwarranted interference from the international community and the French who want to tell Ivorians how to run their own country and want to install their puppet as president.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cut off and trapped inside

This morning I woke up to wet heavy snow coating the branches and the street. On the internet I watched Ivorian television, the masquerade of Gbagbo being sworn in as president in the presidential palace in front of about two hundred people. Gbagbo himself looked serious, and when a noise came from outside, the audience members looked nervously over their shoulders at the door. On the road Gbagbo has taken, he will always have to look over his shoulder from now on, wondering who may burst in, how it may end. When the gold necklace was placed around his neck, he finally smiled and gave his supporters two thumbs up; his wife cheered enthusiastically from the front row. Of the 15 million Ivorians, these 200 people are the only ones who stand to benefit from his electoral coup.

Called friends on Saturday night. Do., in Abobo, said that Friday afternoon, when they heard that the Conseil Constitutional had named Gbagbo president, they ran straight home. They have not gone out since. They heard shots in the street Friday night and until about eleven on Saturday morning. It was quiet outside Saturday afternoon, but they were afraid to go out. “We have no news,” she said. “We have only the government television channel and they play the same speeches over and over.” I told her that the United Nations, the African Union, France, and Obama had all recognized Ouattara as the true president, that Soro had resigned to Ouattara and been reappointed by him, and the IMF had said they would not work with Gbagbo’s government.

“We didn’t know any of that,” she said. Even the United Nations FM station has been blocked. She had heard a rumor that Ouattara was inaugurated at the Golf Hotel.

I said that if they went to the cyber café, they could get the news on the Internet. “Yes, but it’s too dangerous to go out.” The little boys were playing soccer inside the apartment.

“How could they annul all those votes,” she said indignantly. “Korhogo, Bouaké, Ferké--it’s like we’re not part of the country!”

Her younger brother calls every day from the village to get news but she cannot call him back. Calls won’t go through to the north.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ivory Coast conflict--what does religion have to do with it?

Ivory Coast is in the news. And we keep hearing about the Muslim North and Christian South. Why can't the western media report on Ivory Coast without inventing a religious conflict that doesn't exist?

The BBC says that Ivory Coast has "long been deeply divided along ethnic, religious and economic lines." In the next paragraph, explaining why Alassane Ouattara was excluded from running for president, Ouattara is identified as a Muslim, as if his political exclusion is based on religion.

NPR uses "largely Muslim north" and calls the south "Christian and animist."

The NY Times wrote that "Mr. Ouattara is from the largely Muslim north — which has been a de facto separate country from the Christian south since the 2002 civil war--..."

Back to the BBC--it is unclear to me how Ivory Coast could be divided along religious lines. Muslims live everywhere in the country, particularly in urban centers. In fact, there are more Muslims living in the south (35%) than Christians (33%).

But more importantly, by including religion in every discussion of the conflict, the western press reinforces two stereotypes:

one, that African conflicts are always religious or ethnic in nature,

and two, that Christians and Muslims who live in the same country must inevitably be in conflict.

Ivorians are extremely tolerant about religion. It is the last thing they would go to war over. The people I discuss in this blog are mostly northerners, some of whom live in the south. Some are Christian, some are Muslim. One is an active animist religious leader who has converted to Islam, which bothers no one. Most support Ouattara, but I know both Muslims and animists who support Gbagbo.

It is true that politicians have tried to use ethnicity and religion to divide Ivorians and gain supporters, just as they have used xenophobic, nationalistic, and anti-French rhetoric. But religion as a divisive mechanism has not been terribly successful in Ivory Coast.

Ivorians are deeply divided--not over religion--but over who can hold Ivorian citizenship, vote, and run for office, and who can own land. The references to religion mislead western readers.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

No winner, no loser, no results...

As Billy Billy sings, “Changement, Bloquage!” We are stuck at bloquage.

Before the first round of this election, the International Crisis Group warned that of all the possible run-off scenarios, the riskiest would be Gbagbo-Ouattara. In Abidjan, in Korhogo, and even here in the Midwestern US, in the first snow of the season, Ivorians and all of us who care about Ivory Coast are holding our breath…

“Surreal,” said the anchor on France 24 before she played the video of what happened yesterday at the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI). As the spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission got ready to announce results in his mellifluous baritone, two pro-Gbagbo members of the commission stood up and protested the announcement. As the spokesman watched in disbelief and the cameras whirred, one grabbed the sheets and walked away with them, tearing them up as he went.

The deadline to announce results--midnight Wednesday--has passed. The French, the Americans, the EU, the UN--everyone is urging the immediate announcement of the results. Between the lines of diplomatic language, perhaps the real message is, "Man up, Gbagbo, and admit defeat!" His response was to extend the curfew until Monday morning.

Gbagbo’s party, the LMP, wants the votes from the north invalidated. The Carter Center, the European Union, and the African Union all had observers in the north and all have judged the election, although not ideal, sufficiently transparent. The representative of the UN concurs.

If you look at the numbers, it’s clear that unfortunate as the problematic incidents were, they could not have changed the outcome. The numbers are essentially the same as the first round, which everyone agrees went impeccably. In the Savanes region (departments of Korhogo, Boundiali, Ferkéssedougou, and Tengrela), Gbagbo received 19, 312 votes in the first round, 6.5% of the vote. In the second round, he received 21, 203 votes or 6.45% of the vote. His percentage went down slightly while Ouattara’s percentage rose from 85.9% to 93.5%. This makes sense because the percentage of invalidated ballots went down from 6.6% to 1.3%. Most of those votes (16,635), cast correctly in the second round, probably went to Ouattara. Ouattara also picked up the votes of those who voted in the first round for Bedié and the eleven other candidates. Nevertheless, despite the intimidation his party claims, Gbagbo gained 1891 votes in the second round.

The rebellion happened in large part because northerners resented being excluded from the political process. To invalidate their votes now would doom the peace process and take the country back to more years of division and instability.