Monday, April 11, 2011


Driving this afternoon the news declared that Laurent Gbagbo had been taken into some form of custody, either by the French ground forces who were denying the fact in outrageous accents, or by troops loyal to the elected presidential pretender, Alassane Ouattara. As a flippant aside, Gbagbo’s name might belong in a children’s novel or animated cartoon. “Gbagbo’s Bunker” springs to mind. But then when I recall that this man had been the cause of hundreds of deaths, perhaps such a book should best be avoided.

The violent debacle in Cote d’Ivoire is desperate and sad, and yet another illustration of a African nation’s failure to conduct itself in a way that is acceptable to a modern, democratic, accountable and peaceful set of standards.

Oh, they can blame it on the French colonialists, or (in other examples) on the British, or the Belgians, or the Italians, or… (insert name here.) But they are historically wrong. And especially in the case of the Ivory Coast.

Twenty-four years after the country established its independence from France I spent five pleasant and happy days in its embrace. (Thanks to her Majesty the Queen, and the itinerary of one of her frigates, namely AVENGER.) The first and last of those days were all caught up and entwined with social, political and diplomatic duties, but the middle three? Times spent in what could be surely called the Paris of Africa.

Countless times I took the inexpensive taxi from the ship’s berth into Abijan, the nation’s commercial capital. A ride of some twenty minutes, depending on the traffic. And each time led to a new and wonderful experience. The shopping. The friendly welcome. The cafes. The night clubs. The architecture and landscaping. And the restaurants. Ah! The restaurants! Whether it was a simple lunch or an elaborate dejeuner, the food and service was without fault. And for one who’s French was and is far from perfect, all those wonderful people, regardless of the color of their skin, spoke in a way that I could understand. And they were so proud of it! Proud to be African, and yet boasting of the cultural meld that was European. And this joining was seamless, and the economy was booming because of this international attitude.

Nearly twenty years on I weep for this wonderful country. It has all fallen apart. If I were to take a taxi to downtown Abijan tomorrow, I might not return. And why? Here I am going to abandon political correctness and look to truth and history for an answer.

Cote d’Ivoire has reverted to its seventeenth century experience of tribal colonialism and empire, when the Moslem Kong empire and other local, non-European nations vied for its lands.

In other words: The Ivory Coast has become African again.

1 comment:

Minnie said...

Fascinating, to hear about this from someone who's actually been there. All I see is filtered/edited by the news media. And I tended to agree with what you say. It's terribly disheartening, isn't it, seeing whole countries fall back into older, less democratic ways. I suppose one can only hope it will turn out to be a temporary aberration en route to a better future; but am not esp. hopeful!