In Ivory Coast, ethnic violence in Bongouanou, two weeks before the presidential election

In Bongouanou, 200 kilometers north of Abidjan, after clashes between Agni and Dioula on October 18, 2020.

“The Dioula, that’s the problem”. Camouflage green bandana on his head, waste oil on his face, a young member of the Agni community, eyes bulging, shouts with machete in his hand his rage towards this ethnic group from northern Côte d’Ivoire, at a roadblock in Bongouanou, 200 kilometers north of Abidjan.

Around the makeshift barricade with tree branches, cans and scrap metal, a young man holds up a pickaxe handle to which he has nailed motorcycle chains. Another, visibly drunk, noisily scrapes a shovel on the ground, sparking sparks into the night.

Read also Ivory Coast: opposition withdraws from electoral process and puts pressure on Alassane Ouattara

The presidential election campaign of October 31 in Ivory Coast degenerated in Bongouanou into intercommunal clashes between the Agni, a local ethnic group considered close to the opposition, and the Dioula, Muslims from the north and known to be close to power.

At least two people have died in the violence in the stronghold of one of the opposition candidates, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, former prime minister of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo, whose house was set on fire.

Looted and burnt businesses

Ten years after the post-election crisis of 2010-2011, itself occurring after a decade of tension, fears of a new murderous explosion are becoming clearer, while around fifteen people died in August and September in ballot-related violence.

Sunday, October 18, around Bongouanou, multiple roadblocks held by young Agnis prevented traffic on the axes leading to this prefecture. Hundreds of residents fled on foot along the road, bags on their backs, bundles on their heads.

“We are afraid that it will continue”, explains Chantal, a hairdresser. “Our parents called us and told us to leave. We took a few things and the rest stayed at home ”, testifies a student of third, Serge Kouassi, who has already covered 6 kilometers.

Read also Ivory Coast: two weeks before the presidential election, the opposition remains mired in its procrastination

In the city, many shops and restaurants have been looted and set on fire, and several scraps of charred cars and motorcycles litter the streets. In some neighborhoods, hundreds of stones and broken bottles, which served as projectiles for both camps, litter the ground.

The clashes began Friday, October 16, when young supporters of Pascal Affi N’Guessan erected barricades on the roads, after the “Active boycott” of “Electoral process” for “Prevent the holding of any operation related to the poll”. Each community accuses the other of being at the origin of the violence.

“Ten years of power for the Dioula, that’s enough! “

“They were blocking the roads while we live off trade and transport. Afterwards, they looted and burned our shops, they burned our vehicles ”, ensures in the Muslim quarter Cissé Sekou, nicknamed the ” Commanding officer “, surrounded by hundreds of young people ready to do battle. He assures us that it is only after the Dioula have ” answered “, going to burn restaurants, kiosks and agni stores. “We are behind Ouattara. For the third term “, he chants, raising cheers.

Elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2015, Alassane Ouattara gave up running for a third term in March, before changing his mind in August after the death of his designated runner-up, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly.

Read also Ivory Coast: Alassane Ouattara, a presidential candidate campaigning ahead of time

Ivorian law provides for a maximum of two terms, but the Constitutional Council estimated that with the new Constitution of 2016, Mr. Ouattara’s term counter has been reset to zero, which the opposition fiercely contests.

200 meters from the Dioula district, on the side of the neighboring hill, in the Agni district, Clémentine Tanoa is sorry in front of her devastated maquis (restaurant): “The Dioula have come. They took everything, bananas, plates, appliances … We fled. “ The looters also targeted symbolic sites: part of Pascal Affi N’Guessan’s residence was set on fire.

Read also Presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire: UN calls for “peaceful and inclusive” election

Groups of young Agni now roam the city armed with machetes, knives, studded boards, axes, iron bars, slings … Many are tipsy, having abused palm wine alcohol. “The Dioula attacked us. We responded. We don’t want Ouattara’s third term. Côte d’Ivoire was not made for one ethnic group. The Dioula have been in power for ten years, that’s enough! “, says Lambert, a dam chief.

At the hospital, an employee speaks on condition of anonymity of a death toll of five – he does not know how many people have been injured. “The wounded are being treated, but they are let go immediately, because people from the other side can come and get them …”

The World with AFP

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