Dishes and cups scorched brown by flames, and ragged tarpaulin clinging to charred wooden frames litter Nahibly camp for the displaced in Duékoué, western Côte d’Ivoire, after an attack that highlighted persistent tensions in the region.
A crowd of between 500 and a thousand men armed with machetes and clubs stormed the camp on 20 July in an apparent revenge attack for the killing of five people in the area hours earlier. The attackers killed six people, wounded dozens, and forced more than 5,000 mainly Guéré camp residents to flee from the country’s last remaining camp for displaced people.
“The events in Duékoué, including the collective blame and mob justice, underscore the need for a concrete reconciliation process, as well as the restoration of the rule of law and state authority across the country,” Bert Koenders, the UN Special Representative to Côte d’Ivoire, told reporters on 27 July.
The attack, blamed on ethnic Malinkés and traditional hunters known as Dozos, was the second in about six weeks in the restive western region. On 8 June, armed militia killed seven UN peacekeepers and more than a dozen civilians in the Para area near the Liberian border.
Some of the people who fled Nahibly later found temporary refuge at the local Catholic mission in Duékoué town, at the mayor’s compound, and in the surrounding bush. Around one thousand of them have been accounted for, some of whom have opted to return to their homes despite the insecurity.
Most of the people in Nahibly come from villages around Duékoué, where many of their houses are roofless and overgrown with weeds since attacks by supporters of the then opposition candidate, Alassane Ouattara, on 28 March 2011, which marked the start of intense fighting with the backers of ex-president Laurent Gbabgo when he refused to concede an election defeat.
“Our security is not guaranteed. Despite being back here, I’m really afraid, imagining how I would escape with my young children in case of an attack,” said Basil Mohoké, 42, a father of three who returned to his village after Nahibly camp was razed and now lives in his brother’s house as his own is roofless. “The government does not care about us - if it did, we wouldn’t be massacred.”
Ethnic rivalries, old disputes over land, and new ones over politics have turned western Côte d’Ivoire into a tinderbox. Mistrust and enmity between ethnic groups have often degenerated into explosive bouts of violence that have recurred due to the lack of concerted efforts to reconcile communities, restore confidence and address grievances.
Land disputes are often triggered by broken sale agreements, failure to enforce land laws and ethnic differences. Over the years, the Guérés, who are originally from the west of the country, have sold their land to people from outside the region, like the Malinkés and traditional hunters known as the Dozos from the north, as well as others who migrated to work on cocoa plantations in western Côte d’Ivoire.
|IRIN Film: In Search of Stability (July 2011)|
Political dissension has exacerbated land disputes, with the Guérés - mainly pro-Gbagbo - at loggerheads with the Malinkés, who supported Ouattara in the bitter election tussle that saw him take power after Gbagbo was arrested in April 2011.
“Today, the problem here is a political one, because everyone has his favourite politician,” said Freddy Fortuné Gbahouo, a Duékoué resident whose house was destroyed during the election violence. “This village is a Gbagbo stronghold. The problem is that those who worked for us before [on the farms] - the Dozos - are now carrying arms. This is the only fear - my farmhand is now armed.”
The former residents of Nahibly still face worrying insecurity because their attackers also live in the area. Camp manager Anne Léon said the insecurity is impeding aid delivery to the returnees, many of whom are also afraid of going to their farms.
Tens of thousands of armed men who fought in the 2010-11 post-election conflict have not disarmed, the army has not been reformed, and many of the fighters of the Republican Forces (FRCI) of Côte d’Ivoire, who backed Ouattara, do not always obey the military chain of command.
The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire estimates that 60,000 to 80,000 former fighters need to be disarmed, but the government says the figure is much lower - around 30,000.
A reconciliation panel set up in 2011 has not yet started work on the ground, while the arbitrary arrest and detention of mainly Gbagbo supporters is causing mistrust and fear among civilians.
There are worries that the violence - which see-saws depending on which community has the political upper hand and thus more fighting power - could turn into a cycle of killings. “These killings trigger reaction, awaken old rancour. Those who suffer now will one day react,” said René Hokou Legré, the head of the Ivorian Human Rights League (LIDHO).
“We should stop killing each other, [so as] to be in the right frame of mind for reconciliation. But as long as we are still fighting each other, we are giving reasons not to start the reconciliation. We have not sat down and started talking about this problem. We need to see the signs that we are resolutely committed to the reconciliation,” Legré told IRIN.
Côte d’Ivoire’s economy is slowly improving and life has largely returned to normal in Abidjan, the commercial capital, and other towns. In June, the Paris Club agreed to cancel the country’s $1,771.6 million debt under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative.
However, Legré argued that a return to stability in the country depended more on a robust revival of trust among Ivoirians rather than economic recovery.
“The solution to Côte d’Ivoire’s problems is not entirely through economic revival, it is mainly through social reconstruction and reconciliation. For this to happen, there should be sustainable peace, but those conditions are not yet in place.”