Abidjan calling

Sending money to Yop – No problem!

I’ve been talking to a few Ivorians in the diaspora here in Europe.  They all complain that everybody is calling from Abidjan to ask them for money all the time. Since the crisis started even releatives they haven’t heard from in years are calling.

I tell them: “but look, since all the banks are closed, and Western Union isn’t working, you can’t send money to Abidjan anyway”.   They respond “They ask me to send it to neighbouring countries. Do you know Ivorians? When it comes to fetching money, a war is not going to stop them.”

And then they have these amazingly strong social networks. Within the Dioula community there are many involved in transport, and they have been making boatloads of money  transporting people out of Abidjan at many times the ordinary price.

In Europe there are many dioula Ivorians with a stake in the transport business, so what they do is they take money from an Ivorian in Europe wanting to send money, and then they ask their transport guy in Abidjan to hand it over.   This way money can be transferred from Europe to deepest Yopougon in hours.

I knew it was a good buy

Anyhow, it looks like all of this will soon be history as the fall of Gbagbo looks to be coming up soon.  The Ivory Coast US dollar government bond is up more than 7% today, trading at close to 43 cents on the dollar:


Strong Buy

Back to normal blogging?

Looks like the Republican Forces (pro-Ouattara) started an all out offensive on Monday, and they seem to be advancing everywhere, except on the most expected route from Bouaké to Tiébissou to Yamoussoukro. A good map of the Ivory Coast can be found at izf.net

If this keeps going I might be going back to business and entrepreneurship blogging soon. Would be about time.

“Upside potential should Gbagbo be unable to repel pro-Ouattara forces”

On Bloomberg I read that the Ivorian government bonds are rallying on news of the pro-Ouattara advance, on expectation that the crisis will end, that Ouattara takes full power and starts making bond payments.

The bond price could be the quickest way to get an honest view of how things are going in the Ivory Coast. As I’m writing this, the USD-denominated Ivory Coast bond maturing in 2032 is trading at bid/offer 39.567 / 40.469 cents on the dollar.

One can really see the unfolding of the Ivorian crisis in the bond price:

Possibly a great buy, the only catch is that the minimum denomination is USD 100,000. Any volunteers to bet all their savings on a defaulted bond issued by a small african country at war?

The Wild West

A mess in Guiglo

These Liberian mercenaries seem to be a real pain. AFP reports:

Hundreds of Liberian ”mercenaries” have gone on a rampage of rape, murder and looting in the western Ivory Coast region of Guiglo, a virtual lawless zone, the UN refugee agency said today.

Spokesman Jacques Franquin told AFP the mercenaries were an opportunistic “third force” taking advantage of post-election clashes between troops loyal to strongman Laurent Gbagbo and those supporting internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara.

“They are neither pro-Gbagbo nor pro-Ouattara, they are merely profiting from the situation. They loot, they rape, they kill,” said Franquin, of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Abidjan.

“We are very concerned, the population is panicked.” “Guiglo is in a lawless zone, there is no functioning police, everyone does what they want.”

So if I’ve gotten this straight Gbagbo first invites and pays Liberian mercenaries to fight for him, then he runs out of money to pay them, so the Liberians turn on the pro-Gbagbo forces and take over whole cities where they go berserk against the civilian population. Nice work Goobagballs!

Rebel tweets

Alain Lobognon, spokesperson for the pro-Ouattara forces in the north, is tweeting about what’s going on every day (love that by the way), and so far I think he’s been pretty accurate. Today Alain has tweeted the following regarding the city of Guiglo in Gbagbo held territory in the west:

Les FRCI “négocient” le départ des Libériens, qui ont pris Guiglo en otage. #civ2010 Le drame des populations est réel.

[The Repulican Forces of the Ivory Coast (the new name of the ex-rebel forces plus defected soldiers from Gbagbo’s army) are negotiating the departure of the Liberians who have taken Guiglo hostage.  The drama faced by the population is real.]

La présence massive de Libériens à Guiglo est une menace pour la ville. Forcer ou négocier leur départ? Négociation en cours.

[The massive presence of Liberians in Guiglo is a threat to the city. Shall we force or negotiate their departure? Negotiations are taking place.]

Le préfet a fui la ville, les FDS prises également en otages. #civ2010

[The prefect has fled from the city and the FDS (Gbagbo’s forces) are also taken hostage.]

Négociations = couloirs de sortie vers le Liberia… Sans casses. #civ2010

[Negotiations = safe paths to return to Liberia… Without destruction]

Ils réclament leur paie aux FDS. Certains veulent rentrer au Liberia avec les armes.

[They (the Liberians) demand their pay from the FDS. Some want to return to Liberia with their weapons.]

Liberating Guiglo?

So if Alain Lobognon isn’t putting too much spin on things, this seems to be both a propaganda and military debacle for Gbagbo. Guiglo would be the largest city taken so far by the pro-Ouattara forces. It voted for Gbagbo 60% – 40% and is at the center of a cocoa producing region.

Instead of taking the city from Gbagbo forces supported by the local population, pro-Ouattara forces could be liberating it from Liberian mercenaries, which looks a lot better from a “winning hearts and minds” perspective.


Central Western Ivory Coast – Click on map to enlarge

The pro-Ouattara forces advance in the last month has been from south of Danane along the A701 to Toulepleu and then east, again along the A701, towards Guiglo.

Come on world media!

I get that Libya gets more media attention than the Ivory Coast at the moment, but Bahrein??  Come on world media!

When Mark Doyle who has been an Africa correspondent for BBC as long as I can remember tweets: “#Ivorycoast is reminding me of rwanda in 1994. There, I’ve said it. I was in kigali most of the genocide.” I believe it’s time to start taking things seriously.

Other bad signs include:

Thousands of the pro Gbagbo “Young Patriots” youth militia are recruited to the army.  I have heard that not only arent they getting paid, but they have to pay a fee to get enrolled, so it looks like they’ll make up for it by attacking and pillaging the civil population. Reuters reports:

Analysts worry it [the youth milita] is a weapon even Gbagbo can’t control.

As they streamed into the stadium, soldiers tried in vain to stop more getting in, but were overwhelmed, as the crowd pushed down a gate. Efforts to cordon them off with iron bars were half successful. At one point, a frustrated soldier whipped some with a rope like an overseer to push them behind a line.

“Do you want a Kalashnikov?” shouted a voice amplified by loudspeakers. “Yes! Yes!” shouted the crowd.

Chanting slogans like “We will kill them now” and “The rebels will die”, Gbagbo prospective recruits gathered at a stadium(Reuters)

On France24 I read:

In an official statement on Friday, Gbagbo urged “greater responsibility and collaboration” between citizens and the FDS [the armed forces] so that “suspicious presences” are “neutralised”.

Since suspicious presences can mean nationals of ECOWAS countries, members of ethnic groups that did not largely vote for Gbagbo and anyone suspected of not supporting Gbagbo, this looks quite like a call for genocide.

And UNHCR reports that there is a mass exodus from Abidjan:

On Monday morning and over the weekend, UNHCR monitors saw thousands of people trying to leave from Adjame and Yopougon bus terminals, the two largest in Abidjan. Many families slept there in order to make sure they get seats.

Some of them told UNHCR monitors they were leaving Abidjan because of an appeal made on Saturday by youth leader Charles Blé Goudé for civilians to join the ranks of the armed forces loyal to presidential candidate Laurent Gbago on Monday. Reportedly thousands of youth have responded to this appeal, which those fleeing viewed as a call for war.

The bus terminals were already crowded with families seeking to leave the southern city in the wake of last week’s heavy and spreading violence, the worst Abidjan has witnessed since the post-election crisis started in late November.

The cost of transportation at the volatile start of this week has increased sharply, possibly tripled, according to a humanitarian partner whose staff have received requests from internally displaced people (IDPs) to help them leave Abidjan.

Genocide Memorial in Rwanda.

Calling to check if friends are still alive

Ethnic killings

It looks like the Gbagbo regime has stepped up killings of civilians in Abidjan in the last few days. I guess the killings were never entirely political, but the ethnic aspect of it seem to have gotten more pronounced lately.  Targeted groups are immigrants from the rest of West Africa (even 2nd and 3rd generation), ethnic groups from the north – largest of which is the Malinke (often called Dioula), and the Baole ethnic group of the center that largely voted for the PDCI party.

Ethnicity isn’t marked in Ivorian identity cards (as it was in Rwanda) but it’s nevertheless easy to identify especially northern ethnic groups by their names.  Furthermore, there are many areas in Abidjan that are dominated by the ethnic groups mentioned above, and these are the areas that have been attacked by Gbagbo’s forces.

The situation looks worrisome in the large (possibly 1 million people) Yopougon neighbourhood that voted for Gbagbo 2:1.  I have read reports of attacks against enclaves within Yopougon where northerners live, and roadblocks around such enclaves manned by armed pro-Gbagbo militia.

Stories from Yopougon

I have a few friends of northern ethnic groups living in Yopougon, and it’s gotten to the point that I call mainly to check that they are still alive. So far they are all ok, but some have gone into hiding, and others have left Abidjan to reach safety in the rebel-controlled north.

There was an incident three days ago where a man was stopped at a roadblock in Yopougon and an amulet was found on him which was taken as a sign he could be a rebel soldier.  He was let go, but started running causing the military manning the roadblock shot at him. He was hit in the shoulder, but kept running and reached the gate of the house of a friend of mine asking to be let in.  My friend was sleeping and never opened, and the man went elsewhere without getting caught.

The military, seeing blood outside the gate of my friend’s house, thought that the man had taken refuge there. They asked to get in, but my friend did not open the gate, and the military shot at the gate and the house, but did not manage to get in. Then the military left, but said they would come back in a few hours causing people from the entire block to leave. However, they never did come back.


Picture of people killed in a memorial of the Rwandan genocide.

Wari bana?

Human Rights Watch

When you don’t think the situation in the Ivory Coast can get any worse, it nevertheless keeps getting worse. This Human Rights Watch report published yesterday, outlines what’s going on, sometimes in gruesome detail.  For those that can stomach it, it’s a very good read giving an overview of human rights abuses as well as  full details of several events of which I felt I only got fragmentary information from twitter and other media sources.

End point of bad news

So to stop bad news from exceeding expectations, it’s time for a total and utter worst case scenario that is still within the realistic range of outcomes.

I think such a scenario would be if Gbagbo doesn’t give up and manages to obtain enough funds on an ongoing basis to keep the fighting going for years in Abidjan and the southern half of the country.

That would mean that violence, mass killings and democide would continue in especially Gbagbo-controlled areas.  With such lasting insecurity it would be difficult to provide basic necessities to a 4 million city like Abidjan.

The temporary drop in economic activity and GDP we are seeing now, would be made permanent like what happened in Liberia and Somalia during the long wars there.

As it stands, if violence ends and Ouattara assumes power tomorrow or even in three months, I think businesses will rush back in and resume operations pretty quickly, and this post-electoral phase will just be a blip on the curve. The social fabric and physical infrastructure is still reasonably intact. If however, the violence keeps going for years, we have a problem.

Wari bana?

So do I think Gbagbo will manage to keep it going?   He certainly wants to try.

Back April 2010 I wrote that a good way to analyse and predict Gbagbo’s actions is to assume that he always takes the course of action that is most likely to allow him to stay in power regardless of other consequences.  That seems to be even more true today, and besides, I don’t know of a case where a dictator has voluntarily left power short of being forced to by their own army (Ben Ali, Mubarak) or seeing enemy forces set to inevitably capture their entire capital city (Mubutu, Hitler and many more).

So, can Gbagbo muster the funds and resources necessary to keep enough of army, security forces and militia loyal to him and fight for him over time?  I don’t think so.

After the African Union’s latest clear support for Ouattara, I think it starts looking like Gbagbo’s support and power base is eroding.  One key reason behind it is probably that Gbagbo is running out of money or “wari bana” as it’s called in dioula language.

Gbagbo spent a lot of funds on the election campaign, so the state coffers were pretty empty after the election. Then the unusually severe economic sanctions hit, reducing Gbagbo’s income. With the banking closures the Gbagbo regime has to collect tax largely in cash which opens up for mass corruption.  My guess is that only a fraction of taxes collected in cash ends up available to Gbagbo’s regime – as opposed to in bank accounts abroad belonging to members  of the Gbagbo regime (or even just as cash at their homes).

On top of that Reuters reported a while ago that the Gbagbo regime had asked Angola for financial support but been rejected. (can’t find the link right now)

In a telling episode at the end of February, Gbagbo’s spokesman Don Mello announced, that they had managed to pay 62% of public servants, making it sound like a success.

For a somewhat contrary point of view Radio Netherlands Worldwide has a piece today with a bit of talk about Gbagbo’s financial position.

UPDATE: Ivorian reggae singer Alpha Blondy’s hit song Wari Bana:


Reuters analysis

I just read what I think is the best analysis so far on the post-electoral Ivorian crisis. It’s an article by Tim Cocks and David Lewis of Reuters  entitled SCENARIOS-Ivory Coast heading back towards civil war?


Here are some possible scenarios in the weeks ahead:


With daily AK-47 assault rifles and heavy weapons fire booming through Abidjan, and clashes erupting in various places across the country this week, a return to all out civil war is looking increasingly likely.


It is not clear whether Ouattara is ready to sanction a full-blown rebel advance, as it would taint his credibility if he came to power. Nor is it clear the rebels would succeed if they mounted any such offensive.

But analysts say Gbagbo’s forces may be spread thin if clashes are opened up on enough fronts and he risks defections if losses within his ranks start building up — as they seemed to do this week, with a number of deadly ambushes in Abidjan.

A military source says increasing numbers of soldiers in the Ivorian military are deserting, by switching their phones off and going into hiding. A few are defecting to the other side.



Ivory Coast’s crises have a habit of fizzling into a slow burn neither war nor peace stalemate — as has been the case since 2002-3. In this scenario, no side makes much progress and the frontline doesn’t move much from the existing north-south one, with armed men on each side looting what they can from a rapidly shrinking economy.

But previous such stalemates were possible because negotiations held out the hope of a resolution eventually. That now seems impossible since Gbagbo effectively tore up the peace process by refusing to accept the poll results.



Analysts see this as extremely unlikely unless his own life is in danger. Gbagbo has shown that he is more than willing to watch his country implode economically and head back to all out civil war if it will keep him in power.