Ivorians resigned to long-haul crisis

2011-01-10 21:23

Abidjan - Few Ivorians have the stomach for military intervention to oust Laurent Gbagbo after a disputed election, and many are resigned to a political deadlock which they fear could last months or even years.

Gbagbo is locked in a power struggle with rival Alassane Ouattara, internationally proclaimed as the winner of a November 28 presidential election that the incumbent refuses to concede.

Leaders of West Africa's region Ecowas bloc have threatened Gbagbo with force but he maintains a grip both on the country's army and on funds from the cocoa sector, the world's largest.

The shabby, rubbish-filled streets of the main commercial city of Abidjan are slightly busier now than last month, when a street protest turned bloody as demonstrators clashed with security forces and prompted many people to stay indoors.

But the common sight of unemployed men spending their days drinking cheap beer at wooden shacks, attended by women trying to eke out a living by selling them fried bananas, underlines how the economy is still suffering from the stalemate.

"We don't want military force. It wouldn't solve anything," said student Amed Jimoh, 29, on the side of sandy, pot-holed road. He was too scared of reprisals to admit who he supported.

Abidjan was about split almost evenly, 52-48, between Gbagbo and Ouattara in the vote, electoral commission results showed.

"We hope all sides understand that we have to resolve this crisis without violence. We want a solution that brings peace," he said, reflecting fears among many that any military intervention could trigger a repeat of the 2002-2003 civil war.

His comments also echoed those of neighbouring Ghana's President John Atta Mills, who said on Friday his country would not take sides or support military action to oust Gbagbo.

Roughly one million Ghanaians live in Ivory Coast and, like other expatriates from around the region, could become targets for pro-Gbagbo mobs if a West African force invades.

Don't want war

Long before the war, Abidjan used to be West Africa's pearl: a city of gleaming tall buildings, lagoon-side hotels, leafy mansions, posh cafes, multi-lane highways, an ice-skating rink.

The election was supposed to reunite a country after the war, but instead has worsened the divisions between north and south that caused the conflict in the first place.

Hotel owners complain of empty rooms, bar owners say they are selling less beer, taxi drivers picking up fewer clients.

"Every weekend we drink, but many still stay at home because they are scared to go out: anything could happen. See how quiet these streets are?" said Anderson Dje, a teacher, glaring at a road empty but for the odd orange taxi and a girl selling fruit.

"This crisis is wearing us down. Trade is down, no one wants to invest. But no one thinks military intervention is the answer. That would be another civil war," he said.

Around 1 000 foreign West Africans in Ivory Coast attended a rally in a Gbagbo-controlled venue late on Sunday, to plead for a peaceful rather than military solution.

Ouattara thinks a commando operation could remove Gbagbo without provoking war, although analysts doubt Ecowas could pull off such a surgical strike.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo was the latest mediator trying to woo Gbagbo to step down, saying on Sunday he was optimistic, but not ruling out force.

While many Ivorians are resigned to the deadlock dragging on, some are impatient for a quick end to the impasse and note that dialogue has already been tried and that the end-result was the staging of the election itself.

"We're so sick of this," said tailor Estelle Subia.

"Whatever they need to do to resolve it, they had better do it fast."