If we ever needed proof Laurent Gbagbo has completely lost control of his army, it’s the latest developments in Abidjan. Armed fighters reportedly broke into the Novotel Hotel late on Monday, seizing five hostages and making off with them before the French army could get there. Surely Gbagbo wouldn’t be that stupid? By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
According to reports, troops that are nominally aligned to Gbagbo fired their way into the Novotel Hotel in Abidjan, looking for either money or hostages. They managed to make off with five hostages, according to the French news service Europe1. The former is the likelier at this stage, given that Gbagbo has been financially hamstrung by a series of bans and sanctions, meaning he cannot pay his de facto mercenaries.
Reuters said, “Five people, including at least two French nationals, were seized in Abidjan on Monday as fierce fighting spread across Côte d’Ivoire's main city, French Europe 1 radio said. The men were abducted from a hotel in the city's business district as troops loyal to Laurent Gbagbo fought forces supporting Alassane Ouattara's rival claim to the presidency.”
Dozens of foreign journalists have been staying at the Novotel. They are now understood to be holed up in one room, unable to move. Two helicopters are reportedly hovering above the hotel, protecting it from any further attacks. Reuters further reports two UN helicopters also fired on a pro-Gbagbo army base in Abidjan.
In truth, nobody really knows what is going on. The Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire invaded Abidjan on 29 March, and it has been mayhem since. Nobody dares venture out on the streets, not even residents. The only people out are the FRCI and Gbagbo’s bodyguards, the Republic Guard, who are fighting each other in an increasingly ugly battle for control of the west African country’s economic capital.
And now Abidjan is in absolute chaos. Nobody is in control and help is virtually impossible to come by. The most logical conclusion to this latest development (logical in a civil war, free-for-all situation) is that Gbagbo has lost control over the situation in Abidjan. He may have been making a play for civil war all along, but he understood the need to maintain appearances with the west if he hoped to ever get them on his side. Firing on journalists and taking hostages is the dumbest order he could have given. It would simply be astonishing if the attack on the Novotel Hotel was in fact ordered by Gbagbo.
To spice things up, nobody seems to know where Gbagbo himself is now. According to reports, a lot of the fighting in Abidjan is now centred on the area around the presidential palace, but it’s highly unlikely he is still there. Not after the United Nations passed a heavy-weapons ban on Gbagbo’s army. He would have been smart enough to calculate that somebody would get frisky and unload a heavy machine gun at the FRCI. The first place the French and UN gunships would go looking in response would be the presidential palace.
This situation is the worst thing that could have happened to Côte d’Ivoire and once again we say it was entirely avoidable had Gbagbo relinquished power in terms of the election result. And he wouldn't have had any chance from the beginning had the nations of Africa, South Africa included, not supported him, openly or covertly. Especially South Africa’s foreign policy has let the people of Côte d’Ivoire down badly. One hopes President Zuma, as leader of the country that purports to be a leading power in Africa, learns something from this desperate debacle, and do so fast. DM
- Ivory Coast: Massacre in the west, siege in the east in Foreign Policy;
- U.N. helicopters fire on Gbagbo army camp – witnesses in Reuters;
- French in Ivory Coast urged to gather for safety in CNN International;
- Deux Français kidnappés lundi à Abidjan in Europe1;
- At least two French nationals abducted in Abidjan – radio in Reuters;
- Ivory Coast: UN threatens air attacks on Gbagbo forces in BBC;
- Live blog on Côte d’Ivoire in France24.