Hard times in Abidjan

Publié le par Mahalia Nteby

The origin of the word “idiot” is from the ancient Greek. It originally meant a free-born Athenian citizen with the right to vote. Later usages of the word through the Romans and subsequent cultures depict an idiot as someone of low intellect and easily fooled. The citizens of the Ivory Coast are being treated as “idiots” right now; despite the fact that they have the right to vote, their political leaders are treating them as if they were of low intellect and are busy spending their time trying to fool them.

The political leaders assert that there can be a vote for a new President when there has been no reuniting of the country; no disarmament of the rebels; the continued occupation of their country by the French soldiers and the UN; no social programs in place; no promises of how change might be effected; nor on what basis the idiots can choose among several grotesquely uninspiring candidates for office; each with an appalling record of previous rule.

1)  The citizens of the rebel North continue to say they feel they have not been enfranchised to participate as equal citizens in the running of the country and have missed out on any deliveries of social services for years. Banks have not opened; hospitals have not opened; another school year is missed; social services are non-existent.

2)  The rebel leadership which occupies the positions of power in the rebel North are unable or unwilling to govern their regions except as tin-pot warlords. They were enfranchised as the de facto rulers of the occupied North in the Ouagadougou Agreement but have no idea about governing; no budget to make improvements; no ability or interest in delivering services to their areas of control.

3) These rebels remain armed despite promises of disarmament and, concomitantly, the militias are also armed. Each has notionally handed in weapons but they are stacked in easily reachable caches for whenever they might be needed. The money bounty for handing in weapons has not been fully paid so they are sure they have a right to keep their weapons.

4)  The system of voter registration has bogged down despite a great deal of money having been transferred from foreign donors (especially the Germans) to the French company SAGEM charged with that responsibility who have been unable and unwilling to fulfill this task in the time frame allowed and agreed.

5)  The infrastructure of the country as a whole, and the North in particular, is in a state of advanced decay. The cleanup operations, including that of toxic wastes, have been subcontracted to French companies without tender. Water contracts, energy, electricity and new port and transport contracts have been given to French companies without a tender. French business has returned in force to the Ivory Coast and is active in keeping all competition out.

6)  There are no tax collectors or civil servants in the North. There is no national government which functions. The government is unable to collect revenues from over half of the country and, as a consequence, is unable to deliver the services (schools, hospitals, civil administration, etc.) which would be paid from these tax revenues.

7)  The produce of the North of the country is being diverted, untaxed, from the channels of national commerce to the private accounts of the self-appointed warlords, thus depriving all the citizens of the taxes on the earnings that their labors have produced. The products produced in the South are channeled through a bunch of political rentiers who divert some of the returns on the sales of these products to private accounts. Some grow fat on the cocoa and coffee revenues; others fill their gorges on the revenues from oil sales. The world price of oil has dropped by more than 60% but petrol in Abidjan, even next door to the refinery, has only declined by less than 9%. The poor people of the Ivory Coast (that is about 85% of the population) have grown poorer after Ouagadougou than before.

8)  The forces of law and order are still divided between the loyalists and the rebels and coups and counter-coups are the recurring themes of this relationship. The thugs, bandits, rapists and thieves of the New Forces expect to be given a place and rank in the new armed forces and paid a pension for their time in rebellion against the state. There is constant fighting among the soldiers of the New Forces. In late November former rebels close to Kone Zackaria – a former warlord – attacked the town of Seguela. Police reports said that ten assailants and one New Forces’ soldier were killed when unidentified gunmen tried to take control of the arms depot of the New Forces in the central city of Seguela. According to the paper the armed group also set free prisoners. The New Forces (the euphemistic term for the rebels) are not now ready to give up their booty and privileges and cannot even agree with their fellow rebels how this loot should be shared.

9)  There is no coherent government as the ministers have been chosen, not elected, to fill their posts and pockets until a new election can be held.  Many of the ministers in the Cabinet were imposed on the FPI government by the Ouagadougou Agreement. They were never elected; many have never held any office above ‘eraser monitor’ in their madrassa but rose to high office through attacking their fellow citizens and stealing their property. They represent no one but their own ambitions. There is no government economic or developmental program; there is no government. There is a bunch of failed politicians scrambling to keep their places at the public trough as the new elections approach.

10) The elected politicians of the National Assembly have been in power since 2000. Many of their constituencies have changed dramatically since their election. Many constituencies are behind rebel lines where they still dare not travel. They have nothing to discuss in the Assembly as the country has become an international beggar seeking assistance to run an election that will change nothing. There is an election coming in which there are no issues being discussed by the politicians. The election is based on personalities. In other words there is little hope that these elections will actually change anything, other than the pecking order of the politicians at the public trough. It has been postponed several times; the most recently since November 30th. Perhaps it will be held in the Spring 2009.

11) The country is beset with exposures of crime and corruption. An investigation of the cocoa and coffee business exposed massive diversions of funds. The oil industry has been shown to be even worse. The State Prosecutor, Tchimou, is enmired in allegations of corruption and malfeasance using funds exceeding 71 billion CFA francs. The jails are overflowing.  A recent report stated that 2,000 people are languishing in jail in the Abidjan main prison for the past ten years in remand, awaiting their trial. According to the report, most of the inmates are living in appalling conditions. “At least two prisoners die every month,” said the report, adding “28 percent of the more than 5,000 prisoners incarcerated in the Abidjan prison are HIV-positive.” There are growing security concerns in Abidjan, as the economic capital of Cote d’Ivoire has become “a den of bandits.” According to the report, armed robberies take place everywhere in the city including houses, on the streets, in taxi cabs, churches, restaurants and filling stations… etc. The forces of law and order are failing the people.

12) The working people of the Ivory Coast are constantly active in venting their opposition to the current situation. Virtually every union has gone on strike; the students are out protesting; the township leaders in Abobo, Akouedo and Vridi have given up any hope of a government program to help them; despite promises to do so; especially in the removal of waste and poisons from the environment.

With no disarmament; no political debate on methods of relief for the current desperate; with only failed politicians seeking high political office; what is the point of having a vote? The election will change nothing without a program of reform. The voters are not called ‘idiots’ for nothing. When will the country awake and realize that its misfortunes have been brought about by themselves. They needed no external enemy. They, coached and supported by the French, have done it to themselves. Surely reform is possible; starting with disarmament; then the removal of the French occupying troops and advisors; and then moving on to a debate on where the country wants to go and a decision of how it wants to get there. Surely this is the right time to get started. If not now, when?

Dr. Gary K. Busch

Publié dans Côte d'Ivoire

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