With no sign at present of an end to the political deadlock in Côte d’Ivoire, the country remains partitioned. The economic repercussions of the crisis are being felt in both south and north. In Abidjan and the south, where Laurent Gbagbo and his administration are still in control, in the face of regional and international condemnation and isolation, prices of key commodities have risen dramatically. In the north - long held by former rebels Forces Nouvelles, and providing the main support base for Alassane Ouattara, internationally recognized as the elected president - livelihoods are being crippled and basic services reduced to a minimum in regions which have been marginalized for decades.
“We’ve taken a big step backwards. You’d think this was 2002,” said Marie Laure N'guessan, a 28-year-old seamstress in the town of Ferké, 600km north of Abidjan, referring to the year when civil war broke out between the rebels and Gbagbo’s government.
Speaking to IRIN by phone, N’Guessan said people’s morale had been badly affected by developments over the past two months. “Life has become grimmer in the north. In the markets people don’t talk much any more. There is a certain sadness in people’s faces.”
In an attempt to increase economic pressure on Gbagbo and his allies, Ouattara supporters have launched a campaign aimed at paralyzing Abidjan by cutting off access to goods from the north. This has meant impeding the movement of trucks carrying merchandise to the south. “This is having very serious consequences on the population,” Kouadio Jean Bosson of the Convention de la Société Civile Ivoirienne, told IRIN.
“Many trucks are blocked. This is not done on a permanent, systematic basis. It is intermittent and the locations change. But there isn’t the usual to-and-fro between the north and south zones because of the transport problem, the risks involved. A certain fear has descended.”
“Prices of basic goods have risen. And people in the north are already very poor,” he added. Government figures from a 2008 study place four out of five northerners in a state of poverty, the highest proportion in the country.
Adama Timité, 28, a truck driver in the town of Mankono, said he had not worked since the beginning of the election crisis. “Yams, rice, millet and sorghum are beginning to rot in the fields. What little money I have is running out and I cannot go into the bush to truck out the harvests. Buyers have stopped buying and the pressure on us is growing by the day,” he told IRIN by phone.
“We’ve only managed to find transport to send our produce south in the last three days,” said Sali Koulibali, a vegetable trader in Katiola. “I hope it gets through. Some of my colleagues lost half of their produce over the last two weeks. Tomatoes and onions are going bad. People in the south need them and we cannot supply them. We are making a huge loss.”
The Ouagadougou peace accord signed by the main parties in March 2007 included a strong commitment to restore state services in the north and other areas held by the Forces Nouvelles. This included returning civil servant, teachers and health workers to strengthen and rebuild basic facilities which had fallen into disarray since the outbreak of hostilities and the de facto partition of the country. But such initiatives have been abandoned amid rising tensions and uncertainty.
Some 50 percent of health workers are now absent from their posts in rebel-held areas in the north and west, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“I didn’t get my pension last month and this month’s is also in doubt,” said Dramane Soro, a retired teacher in Korhogo.
“I am diabetic and cannot pay my medical bills. I have received no treatment for the past five weeks. The pharmacies are empty and the one the hospital has no insulin,” he said.
According to Bosson of the Convention de la Société Civile Ivoirienne, the blood transfusion service in Bouaké, the rebels’ capital, is no longer fully operational.
In this difficult context, health authorities, with the help of UN agencies, plan to vaccinate some 840,000 people against yellow fever in Béoumi, Katiola, Mankono and Séguéla districts. This follows a confirmed outbreak of the disease which is thought to have killed 25 people among 65 suspected cases. Laboratory tests have confirmed 12 cases of the disease.
Political tension has caused some forced displacement in the north, Bosson said.
“In some areas, such as Touba, some of Gbabgo’s supporters were chased away; some went to Guinea, because people’s attitude was ‘why did you vote for Gbagbo?’. Others were banished by the local authorities.”
Clavaire Kouamé, an agricultural adviser in Boundiali, told IRIN: “We live in constant fear. Many of my colleagues have left to take refuge in the south, because after the elections there were some serious physical threats. Now, I am very careful if I go out to the shops. There is a lot of mistrust amongst us.”
“We try to get by and get on with our neighbours, playing football or other games. But we are well aware that things could change for the worse any time. Our fate depends on what happens in Abidjan. When it’s calm there, it is calm here, but when things go off, things become much more strained and tense with certain people."
The extreme paucity of basic services in the north predates the current crisis. As an April 2010 UN Panel of Experts report on Côte d’Ivoire underlined, the Forces Nouvelles have proven more effective in collecting revenue from the general population than distributing this wealth in the form of service provision.
|In the regions controlled by the Forces Nouvelles, we continue to see the same pattern of abuses as before the elections, mostly attributed to unruly elements of the [the rebels’ military wing], who take advantage of their arms and military uniform to wreak havoc on the civilian population|
“Zone commanders are relatively autonomous and appear to retain a large percentage of taxes levied in their respective zones for their own purposes,” the report stated.
“No law in the north”
This delivery gap crucially extends to the sphere of justice, according to André Banhouman Kamaté, the president of the Ligue Ivoirienne des Droits de l’Homme’s (LIDHO) national executive office.
“There is no law in the north. The law does not exist because the magistrates are not there. The courts, beyond handing out identity papers, do not work. If you have a problem related to human rights, you cannot go and see a judge. The judge has no control over the police or gendarmerie, no power to take military commanders to court,” he told IRIN.
“The justice system is not legal, because people have to submit themselves to the Force Nouvelles' justice system, where the people have no legal training.”
Kamaté said people still bore the scars from what happened when the rebellion started in 2002. “The general sense of the population is fear, because during the war in 2002, people there were effectively taken hostage. Now, even though the curfew has been lifted, after 10 pm, everyone goes home,” he said.
Kamaté pointed to the ransacking of a house belonging to one of Gbabgo’s ministers during a demonstration in the town of Bondoukou, and the torching in Bouakou of a house owned by another Gbagbo supporter, as examples of the sporadic violence witnessed in parts of the north.
“In the regions controlled by the Forces Nouvelles, we continue to see the same pattern of abuses as before the elections, mostly attributed to unruly elements of the FAFN [Forces Armées des Forces Nouvelles – the rebels’ military wing], who take advantage of their arms and military uniform to wreak havoc on the civilian population,” noted Simon Munzu, the head of the Human Rights Division of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire or ONUCI.
“These include rape, confiscation of property on any pretext, the setting up of illegal roadblocks that infringe freedom of movement, and racketeering of road users.”
One new development, Munzu explained, is the emergence of groups of youths determined to enforce the civil disobedience campaign recently waged by Ouattara's camp by “setting up roadblocks, burning tyres, obstructing traffic generally, and threatening to use physical violence against those who appear not to want to heed the call to disobedience.”
“While we condemn human rights infringements committed by the defence and security forces of Laurent Gbagbo, we cannot turn a blind eye to the increasingly serious violations of economic, social and cultural rights that result from the forcible enforcement of the call to civil disobedience that has been issued by the Ouattara camp,” he added.
An evening power cut in Bouaké on 26 January sparked fears of an attempt by the Gbagbo administration in Abidjan to cut off electricity in all areas throughout Forces Nouvelles-held territory. But power was restored within hours - the outage explained by a technical problem.