Gbagbo

Politicizing the holidays. Maouloud in Côte d’Ivoire.

Today in Côte d’Ivoire there is public holiday; at least for some. Others will take the holiday tomorrow.

Sadly, the holiday to commemorate the birth of the Prophet (peace be upon him), known as Maouloud/Mawlid (and numerous other spellings), is now being used as a political weapon between Gbagbo and Ouattara’s camps. On Monday, Imam Idriss Kudu Kone, chairman of the National Islamic Council (CNI), declared Tuesday the paid holiday, which was supported by the Gbagbo government. However, Sheikh Fofana Boikary, Chairman of the Higher Council of Imams in Côte d’Ivoire (COSIMA) announced that Wednesday would be the paid holiday, the date backed by Ouattara’s government.

The date of the holiday typically fluctuates within the Gregorian calendar, as it is traditionally set according to the lunar Arabic calendar that doesn’t run its months in the same fashion. Sunni Muslims typically celebrate 5 days earlier than Shi’as. There are also commonly other date variations depending on the country and cultural beliefs of the person. Burkina Faso, for example, celebrate their public holiday this year on Wednesday (the same date as COSIMA), but in several other Arabic countries, such as Mali, and Lebanon the holiday this year falls today, Tuesday (the same date as the CNI). Saudi Arabia does not have a public holiday at all, and some sects also abstain from celebration altogether.

The altering dates however, have caused some stir among the local population. Managers and owners of industry and business must give their employees one day off with pay, but both Presidents are stating that their date is the “proper” date that must be legally followed and many employees are angered that they are forced to work on their day of rest. The result has been divisive. One’s sympathies become much more apparent publicly, as they must chose when to work or not to work, when to worship or not worship. It’s a hot topic of conversation at the moment and I’ve listened as numerous verbal conflicts have ensued around me.

And of course, the local papers are awash with the same slanted political rhetoric I’ve come to dread; one side alleging that the CNI Imam is working to divide the Muslim community while sitting in Gbagbo’s pocket, the other is filled with rumours that Burkina’s President collaborated with Ouattara to create a controversy. Conspiracies and rumours run wild. This was supposed to be a holiday, a day of rest. Now it is another wedge in the community. Another block between people.

I’ve heard countless stories lately of families breaking up over politics in this country. The economic effects are crippling on many families, as food and goods prices have all skyrocketed. Exports are slowed, imports are slowed. Banks are closing. I’ve also heard now from those in some of the neighbouring countries who say they are also feeling the economic effects.

Moves like this continually force politics into the public sphere, manufacturing cultural violence that only eventually fuel violent structural policies that are exclusive or insensitive to some parts of the population, in turn only creating more incidences of direct violence as people become incensed at the inequalities. Frankly, I’m disappointed to not see more attempts at lessening the cultural violence within the country. So far, I’ve read tons of suggestions and strategies aimed at economically hurting Gbagbo, using military invasion, using mediation between the leaders to lessen the crisis; but where are the strategies aimed at healing the divisions being created within society? Where is the funding and aid being directed to peacebuilding projects? There are a few organizations like the Search for Common Ground (SCG) in the country trying to do just this, and they have been having relative success. SCG’s balanced radio program is currently a voice of reason in a sea of escalating propaganda and their conflict resolution strategies for land conflicts have shown to be quite effective.

Lately, I fear this country may just end up split in two. Getting Gbagbo out of power will not instantly heal this country, as land conflicts, majorly corrupt justice systems, disenfranchisement of certain populations in certain areas, slanted media that marginalizes moderate voices and numerous other cultural, economic and sociological factors are at play here, working to divide the population. It makes me wonder why the focus for de-escalating conflict within the international community seems always directed at the political and economic sphere. There always seems to be a focus on the macro, to the detriment of the micro. Leaders come and go (and sometimes stay longer than we’d like), but the lingering effects of the cultural and structural conflicts that are manufactured remain for many years to come.

 

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This week in conflict… December 4th- 10th, 2010

World

  • In an attempt to reduce the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation, the International Atomic Energy Agency voted to set up a global nuclear fuel bank that aspiring nations could turn to for reactor fuel instead of making it themselves. Billionaire Warren Buffett pledged $50 million towards the project. 
  • December 10th was Human Rights Day, a day for the promotion and protection of human rights that marks the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • December 9th was International Anti-Corruption Day at the UN headquarters. Recent reports suggest that one in four people in the world paid a bribe over the past year to government institutions.
  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange turned himself in and was arrested on Tuesday following an Interpol arrest warrant for sexual crimes. Assange denies the charges and has so far been denied bail. So-called “hactivists” have began a cyber war attacking MasterCard, PayPal, Visa and a Swiss bank for blocking payments to Wikileaks.
  • Nineteen countries have declined invitations to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway on December 10th, which is allegedly tied to Chinese pressure over the awarding of political dissident Liu Xiaobo. Afghanistan, China, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Vietnam were all absent. The Nobel committee left a symbolic empty chair for Xiaobo on stage during the ceremonies.
  • Canada, Russia and Japan were under intense pressure to soften their opposition to the Kyoto Protocol during the Cancun climate summit, which ended this week. Details of a deal are to be released shortly.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Yukio Takasu of Japan as the special adviser on human security this week, after the General Assembly issued a resolution to continue discussions on the issue earlier this year.

Africa

  • The African Union (AU) has appointed Guinea’s outgoing military leader Sekouba Konate to head its standby  military force, it was announced on Tuesday. Konate would be put in charge of peacekeeping and intervention for a proposed African Standby Force.
  • The UN mission in Chad and Central African Republic (MINURCAT) is wrapping up by the end of the year at the request of the Chadian government. The 5,550 peacekeepers in the area were charged solely with protecting civilians.
  • Seven people were killed in a fresh attack in Nigeria late Friday. The attack was reported to be a suspected reprisal of the alleged killing of a Fulani herdsman. On Sunday, the Borno State police command said five people including two suspected Boko Haram gunmen died in a gun battle on Saturday night. The Nigerian military acknowledged on Monday that civilians died in recent battles with criminal gangs in the oil-rich south and parts of the north in the military offensive against the Niger Delta Liberation Force.
  • WikiLeaks brought to light evidence that two companies, drugmaker Pfizer and oil-giant Shell, are both collecting information on the Nigerian government in an effort to ensure their respective activities go on in the country without interference following major scandals. Shell took it one step further with it’s Wikileaks cable claiming the company to have actually inserted staff into the main ministries in the government.
  • Unrest continued in Cote D’Ivoire following last week’s elections results that left the country’s constitutional court announcing separate results from the electoral commission that resulted in two Presidents being sworn in by separate bodies. South African leader Thabo Mbeki was called in to mediate, but left days later without success. The AU and ECOWAS have suspended incumbent Gbagbo from activities and several international bodies are preparing sanctions. By Friday, Gbagbo gave hints that he might be willing to talk.
  • Egypt faced its second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday, a week after the first round was condemned for alleged fraud. The National Democratic Party is said to have won with a massive majority, amid allegations of fraud, after the Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd party pulled out. The UN refugee agency is urging Egypt to intervene to secure the release of about 250 Eritreans who have been held hostage for at least a month by human traffickers in the Sinai. The hostages are said to be bound by chains around their ankles, deprived of adequate food, tortured and branded like cattle.
  • At least 22 people were killed and more than 35 others wounded in two days of fighting between the African Union and the al-Shabaab fighters in Mogadishu, Somalia. The AU backed government troops claimed to kill some 43 fighters as well.
  • In 2008, Somali pirates discovered a Ukrainian freighter packed with weapons, including 32 Soviet-era battle tanks, headed for the regional government in southern Sudan. The Ukrainian and Kenyan governments both insisted that the tanks were intended for the Kenyan military. WikiLeaks documents have just confirmed that the pirates were telling the truth.
  • Kenyan police announced that they have arrested 346 foreigners after two separate grenade and gun attacks last week that killed three policemen. The suspects are allegedly of Ethiopian and Somali origin.
  • Opposition MPs have claimed the government is arming people in northern Uganda, and the the Inspector General of the Police is recruiting 100 youths from each village to form brigades to aid cheating in the upcoming elections. The government denies all allegations.
  • Local leaders in southern Sudan are calling on the government to arm the local Arrow Boys militia to protect civilians from attacks by the LRA during the January referendum. The militia promises they will return the weapons once the “job” is done. The Sudanese army clashed with troops loyal to a former Darfur rebel leader in southern Sudan on Thursday. The rebel leader is accused of moving his troops to southern Sudan in order to prepare for war. The Sudanese government is claiming that Darfur’s largest refugee camp, protected by the UN and the AU forces, is hiding rebel fighters. The military has threatened to take action. On Friday, the South Sudan army accused the north of bombing its territory in three air attacks in a week, dropping some 18 bombs.

Asia

  • A blast in eastern an Afghanistan army base killed at least two coalition troops and two civilians on Sunday.  On Monday, the ISAF announced they were investigating a possible “friendly-fire” incident in Helmand province from Sunday where an ISAF service member had been killed; and 2 ISAF service members were killed in alleged separate insurgent attacks in Kabul. On Wednesday, two ISAF service members were killed in an attack by insurgents in Kabul; and an air strike by international forces in southern Kabul killed two Afghan soldiers and wounded five more. On Friday, an ISAF service member was killed by a roadside bomb in Kabul.
  • Thousands of people were dispersed by tear gas and a water canon on Sunday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia following an opposition-backed rally against the federal government’s involvement in a dispute over drinking water. Some 48 people were arrested.
  • Russian airplanes are said to have flown in the region of a joint US-Japanese military drill this week, heightening tensions between Tokyo and Moscow. Military exercises between the US and Japan took place from December 3rd to 10th, with some 44,500 personnel.
  • Land tensions in the Indonesian half of Timor island have recently led to outbreaks of violence. Large numbers of former refugees complicate the issue, as access to precious little cultivable land is in short supply.
  • Wikileaks cables have brought to light the possibility that Myanmar/Burma might be building missile and nuclear sites with North Korean support. Surface-to-air missiles are said to be being built and Burmese workers are constructing a concrete-reinforced underground facility. One of the largest rebel groups in the country say that fighting will escalate if the new government fails to start talks with major ethnic groups, following the recent problematic elections that say the military-backed party win with an overwhelming victory.
  • Sri Lankan rights groups reported that a five-minute video clip that showed blindfolded, naked men being shot dead at close range last month warranted a UN investigation. The government denies that the video, leaked by a Tamil Tiger rebel tv station, is authentic.
  • The International Criminal Court announced on Monday that they have opened a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes by North Korea regarding the recent clashes with South Korea. South Korea began live-fire artillery drills on Monday, ignoring the North Korean warning of war. The North Koreans in return launched apparent artillery drills.
  • Hundreds of protesters in Hong Kong protested this week for China to free dissident Liu Xiaobo so that he can formally be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway. The award was denounced by the Chinese, who had their own peace prize to award on December 9th.
  • Two suicide bombers attacked a meeting of pro-government elders in northwest Pakistan on Monday killing at least 40 people and injuring dozens more. US drone missile attacks are said to have killed another at least five people on Monday. On Tuesday, suspected twin suicide blasts killed at least 50 people and injured many more at a government compound in northwest Pakistan and police say another suicide bomber attacked a convoy carrying the top official in a southwestern province. On Wednesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up beside a crowded bus, killing some 14 people, and wounding many others in Kohat.  On Thursday, four suspected militants were killed after insurgents attacked a check post killing a paramilitary soldier.  On Friday, a suicide bomber blew up a trailer packed with explosives outside a hospital in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 15 people and wounding many others; and Pakistani security forces are said to have killed 5 suspected militants in a clash.
  • A bomb hidden in a metal canister exploded as thousands gathered for a Hindu ceremony in India, killing a toddler and triggering a stampede that left many wounded. The Indian Mujahideen allegedly sent a five-page claim of responsibility for the attack.

Americas

  • Dozens of people were injured on Easter Island after evicted islanders clashed with riot police. About a dozen buildings are being occupied by native Rapa Nui who say Chile illegally took their family’s ancestral homes. 
  • Protesters in Haiti clashed on Sunday with riot police demanding the annulment of last week’s elections. The police responded with tear gas that left stinging gas clouds blowing over a large camp of homeless survivors from the Jan 12 earthquake. By Wednesday, the violent protests had essentially shut down the country, closing businesses, schools and shops. On Thursday, election officials announced they would review the disputed results in an effort to diffuse the violence.
  • Gunmen ambushed and killed four policemen in their patrol car on Saturday in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. On Wednesday, an 8 month old, a 16 year old girl and federal officer were gunned down in a series of shootouts between police and suspected La Familia gunmen. On Thursday, gunmen forced drivers from their cars, and set vehicles on fire in the middle of major intersections in Morelia. The suspected leader of La Familia is thought to have been killed in a resulting shootout.
  • An Argentine energy company operating in Brazil has suspended production at several sites after labor protests are said to have gotten violent over the weekend.
  • San Diego demolition teams burned down a house on Thursday that is said to have the largest cache of homemade bomb-making materials ever found in the US. The occupant of the home has so far pleaded not guilty to all charges, and police are unsure what plans he had with the explosives.
  • Guatemala’s Congress passed a bill that would allow the government to confiscate property from convicted criminals in an effort to tackle the wealth of drug traffickers. The bill will allow the state to use, donate or auction seized goods.

Middle East

  • Several Iranian pilgrims were killed in Baghdad on Saturday in separate bomb attacks, with some reports saying at least 16 were dead and more than 100 injured. On Sunday, gunmen killed a couple in their home in eastern Baghdad; gunmen in a speeding car killed a civilian in west-central Baghdad; and gunmen attacked a police checkpoint and killed two policemen in Mosul. On Monday, a roadside bomb exploded in central Baghdad wounding two civilians and another roadside bomb exploded killing two and injuring several others in Baquba. On Wednesday, a bomb targeting Iraqi army patrol killed two civilians and wounded 17 others in Taji; seven Iranian pilgrims were wounded in a roadside bomb attack near Baghdad; a roadside bomb near a police patrol wounded two policemen in southwestern Baghdad; and gunmen opened fire on the home of an Iraqi interior minister, killing his daughter and wounding two other family members. On Friday, a roadside bomb targeting Iraqi police wounded two policemen in southern Baghdad; another roadside bomb killed one civilian and wounded five others in southern Baghdad; and gunmen in a speeding car opened fire at an Iraqi police checkpoint, killing two policemen and wounding two others in Tikrit.
  • Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, announced that his governing body may be dissolved if a peace deal cannot be agreed upon with Israel and the international community. US-brokered peace talks have been deadlocked since September. Brazil has decided to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, much to Israel’s disappointment and days later Argentina followed suit. It appears the US has given up its effort to persuade Israeli PM Netanyahu to renew the expired freeze on Jewish settlement construction, leaving Middle East peace talks in limbo.
  • Iran claimed on Sunday that it was now able to use domestically mined uranium to produce nuclear furl, giving it complete control over its process. The move would allow Iran to bypass UN sanctions on import of the material. Nuclear talks began on Monday between Iran and several other global powers, and ended on Tuesday with no agreement but the parties agreeing to meet again in Istanbul next month. Iran, however, is refusing to talk about stopping its enrichment of uranium at the next meeting. On Tuesday, three journalists and the financial manager of a leading Iranian daily were arrested in Tehran with unknown charges, after releasing a special edition containing articles and interviews by critics of the government.
  • Syria’s interference in Lebanon and alleged increasingly sophisticated weapons shipments to Hezbollah have prompted Israel’s military to consider a strike against a Syrian weapons depot. Israel has said they have tracked nighttime missile shipments by Syrian personnel to the Lebanese border.
  • A rally west of Kuwait City on Wednesday injured at least five people, and has put the Prime Minister under questioning. Opposition MPs accuse the government of trying to undermine the status of the constitution in a bid to suppress freedom and democracy.
  • A football game turned violent in Amman between two Jordanian clubs on Friday. Some 250 people were injured after a metal fence collapsed during clashes, and eyewitnesses say that several people were beaten to death by police trying to prevent an escalation of violence.

Europe

  • Thousands of supporters of Macedonia’s leading opposition protested in the capital on Sunday to call for early elections. They accuse the conservative government of mismanaging the economy and criticize its failure to bring the country closer to the EU and NATO. 
  • Police and demonstrators clashed in Greece, after thousands of people gathered to mark the anniversary of a police shooting.
  • Protests in Britain over drastically increasing university tuition fees got violent this week. Police have been accused of “kettling”, a practice that hold demonstrators in small periods of space for long periods of time.
  • All the top police officials in a town east of Moscow, Russia were fired after locals complained of police ignoring crimes. The prosecutor-general announced that four criminal cases were opened against policemen suspected of intentionally obstructing the investigation of numerous crimes.

Return to the coup d’etat status quo: Elections in Cote D’Ivoire

Here’s a piece I just wrote for STAND Canada. I was going to write a second piece exclusively for this blog, but am still tired and weakened from my recent bout with malaria that I didn’t feel quite up to it yet. I’ll have some new pieces for you soon and should have the weekly conflict roundup posted sometime tomorrow!

Since this piece was written last night, we have had some more news: the Constitutional Council has overturned the CEI’s election results and announced that Gbagbo has won the elections with 51% of the vote, after eliminating seven regions in the Ouattara-supported North.

Peace!

Rebecca Sargent


It looked promising. A face to face debate between the two candidates days before the second round of elections featured set two minute response times to each question to curtail any cutting off or interruptions and ended in a handshake and gentle embrace between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. They laughed and joked with each other, even telling of friendly phone conversations between them over the past years, and calling for an end to some escalating violent tones within street campaigning. Onlookers might think they were old friends and not longstanding political rivals who had previously battled each other in civil war. I watched while the days progressed as people who had repeatedly talked of peace and patience quickly turned to spread hype-filled rumours, enhancing cultural violence and tensions. Today, we know a new coup was born and democracy was again denied for the people of Cote D’Ivoire.

The night before the election, tensions boiled over and clashes broke out in the streets, resulting in at least six reported deaths and many injuries. Current President Gbagbo announced a five-day curfew, later extended indefinitely, that would run from night until mornings in an attempt to reduce the violence happening in the streets. Ouattara subsequently stated that the curfew was illegal, unconstitutional and that it would open the door to electoral fraud, preventing election results from being properly delivered and counted. Angered, he and many of his supporters refused to respect the curfew and that night many youth supporters took to the streets in Abidjan against it, clashing with police as demonstrations turned violent. At least three people were reported killed.

The day of the vote was tense. Polls opened late in many areas, and eager voters were restricted from lining up at first light as they had in the previous round because the curfew prevented it. Voter intimidation was cited several regions, and many people chose to simply stay home to avoid the violence or threats. Despite the intimidation and several early complaints of irregularity, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cote D’Ivoire, Y.J. Choi, expressed that he had “no doubt that no (sic) candidate will resort to undemocratic means to express his position on the results of the poll”; citing that the tally sheets were being transported normally despite the rumours and false alarms. The EU electoral commission head suggested otherwise, announcing early on that their “observers saw irregularities, some obstacles on the day of the vote and serious tension”. The streets became ghost towns and the majority of shops were closed.

Originally, we were told results would be released within 48 hours of the vote, though the CEI (electoral commission) constitutionally had until Wednesday at midnight to make their announcements before it would be turned over to the Supreme Court’s decision. On Tuesday, glued to the tv, we watched as a Gbagbo supporter within the CEI physically seized the papers of the provisional results out of the commission spokesman’s hands and tore them up in front of a crowd of journalists, claiming the results were not valid. Ouattara alleged Gbagbo was attempting to confiscate power by preventing the results from being read, while Nigerian President and head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) asked both candidates to “tone down their rhetoric and maintain peace”.  Results were to be read the following day, but as the day came and went, no new news was released. Rumours of more clashes in the street were abundant, but unconfirmed as we called our friends around the country asking for information on the happenings in their neighbourhoods. At this point the CEI constitutional right to announce the results had expired, leaving the tallying in the hands of the Ggbagbo-appointed Supreme Court. It seemed that the CEI was forbidden from making any further announcements on state television after the confiscation earlier in the day.

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This piece is an afterthought of a series I wrote for STAND on the elections process in Cote D’Ivoire which can viewed here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3