Food shortages loom as Abidjan shuts down amid fighting

2011-04-04 08:50

Abidjan – On Sunday morning, as her food at home ran out, Alice decided to risk dangerous barricades guarded by armed men and bullets flying in her suburb to head to the market.

With a few neighbours she walked 2km to the main market in Koumassi, a popular suburb of Abidjan.

“We passed through the suburb, avoiding the main roads, I was so scared of the armed men that we saw at the roadblocks that I didn’t even look at them, she told AFP.

The price of basic goods at the market has doubled or tripled.

“A pile of tomatoes, which usually costs 100 CFA francs (R1.42), I bought for 500 CFA francs (R7.15),” she said, outraged.

In Abidjan’s markets meat has become rare and fish beyond the price of many pockets.

“Soon there will be nothing in the markets. We will go hungry,” said Alice.

In another popular suburb, Treichville, a patrol carried out by the fighters backing internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara often asks “people to quickly do their shopping because the curfew starts at midday”, said Helen, reached by telephone.

In front of some stores along the boulevard that serves the areas of Treichville, Marcory and Koumassi, several witnesses reported seeing armed men, keeping watch after looting.

Since Thursday Ouattara’s army has launched an offensive to wrest control of strongman Laurent Gbagbo’s last strongholds in the economic capital.

The two have been stuck in a fierce stand-off since November elections which the world says Ouattara won, but Gbagbo refuses to cede power.

In Adjame in the north, the race for provisions was rudely interrupted by sustained heavy weapons fire.

Taken by surprise by the first shots on her way back from the market, Assetou rushed home.

“We ran to get back. Now we are hidden in the room with the children. When it stops I will go make something to eat so that hunger doesn’t kill us before that bomb there,” she explained.

But the shooting is starting to wear down residents like Solange: “There is nobody in the streets except for these young people patrolling with kalashnikovs. They provoke people and then they shell the neighbourhood. They are going to kill us here.”

For several weeks days have been punctured by violence and explosions.

“All day we do nothing. When there is shooting we will lie down, when it is calm we watch television.”

“And then we mock each other for the way this one and that one runs for shelter when the shooting starts. It allows us to laugh a bit,” she added.

In Yopougon in the west, a suburb supposedly held by Gbagbo, a sense of normality is still in place.

“It is calm here, there is no curfew. I am having a beer here with my friends,” said Elias.

However the tension remains palpable: “I am anxious anyhow. You pretend not to be afraid but it is not easy especially when there are rumours that Yopougon will be attacked,” said Raoul, a 41-year-old teacher.

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