Ivory Coast: A summary
Greetings to all.
My name is Lynell Marchese Zogbo. I am an American citizen living and working in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory
Coast), West Africa. I want to share with my family, friends and whoever else who will listen what is
happening in this country and what has happened in the last few days. This is my own point of view. I
am married to an Ivorian and we have two children, a boy 18, currently in his freshman year of college in
the US and a daughter in 9 grade, attending the French school here in Abidjan .
I began working in this country in 1972 with a Christian organization in a small village in the forest with no
running water, no electricity, no car, no telephone. For over 30 years I have been a linguist (Phd from
UCLA with a doctorate on one of Ivorian language families, 1979) working on/in and through languages
here. I have lived in other African countries: 2 years teaching in University of Ilorin, Nigeria, 2 years in
Lome, Togo. I have been a researcher at the Unversity of Abidjan (81-82). I have worked as a
translation consultant for the past 20 years for an international Bible translation organization. This has
allowed me to travel extensively in West Africa and work in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia
Mali and Togo, as well of course, Ivory Coast where we have made our home for the past 16 years.
We have been through some agonizing days from many points of view and I want to share my
interpretation of the facts. These will certainly not “jive” with what you hear on the news (especially what
filters through the French and British news services). These are the facts to the best of my knowledge.
Certainly they show a pro-free unified country and an anti-rebel sentiment. But let it be known, my
husband has never been active in any political party since we have been married (20 years in April,
As most of you know, Ivory Coast has been a divided country since September 19 , 2004. The country
was attacked from the outside by “rebels” which include Ivoirians of many ethnic groups (The main
leaders were from the north, but they were joined by at least 2 people from the center: 1 Bete (Dakoury)
and one Baoule (who now goes by a Muslim name) and many, many foreign fighters. Those confirmed
are from Burkina Faso, Liberia, Mali and Guinee (This does not mean these governments condoned this
rebellion, though some certainly have. It means people came from these countries to fight either for
money or for the cause.) We know now however that these people were trained in camps in Burkina
Faso and many logistic decisions were taken by lvorian leaders living in Ouagadougou (taximen have
offered to show me where when I go to that place on business trips). Ibrahim Coulibaly, one of the rebel
leaders, lived in and commanded from Ouagadougou, before going to France (where he was arrested for
having arms in his expensive hotel room). Sources of financing and other military backing remain to be
determined with certainty, but the following have been mentioned: Saudi Arabia, Libya, France, Burkina
Faso, Liberia (Charles Taylor) and possibly other African nations.
Among one of the claims of the rebels was that the government of Gbagbo disfavored the north and
favored his ethnic group the Betes. Many foreign papers and news agencies picked up this “hot story”,
almost pushing for another ethnic genocide (“this will become another Ruanda”, they said). From the
beginning of this government, this has not been the case. Gbagbo carefully put in place an incredible
balance between the three major ethnic groups in this country : the Akan (from which the former
president Bedie comes) with the appointment of Affi Nguessan as prime minister, the Senoufo (peoples of
the North), with the appointment of Mamadou Coulibaly (no relation to Coulibaly above) to the head of
Parliament (head of the Assemblee nationale). His wife Simone-Ehivet Gbagbo, a senator, is from the
south (which has been classified by some as Akan). Gbabo himself is Bete, of the Kru group. Of course
his major men came from his party but they were ethnically balanced. He also put an old “right arm” of
the father-founder Houphouet-Boigny, Fologo, as head of the economic council. This man is a Christian
Senoufo from the north.
There have been many attempts at peace talks. After yet another attack by unidentified elements, on Jan
25 2003, agreements were made at Marcoussis in France. Though some thought this was France
playing the role of peace-maker, many perceived these as the French forcing their own solution on
Ivoirian problems, with the agenda of removing the president Laurent Gbagbo or at least weakening his
power. I have talked personally with a Catholic priest very high up in the Catholic structures who
attended most of these peace talks. He confirms that in France the Ivorian president was treated with
disgrace, and it was clear that the intention was simply that we would not return as president. The
president of the National Assembly walked out of these Marcoussis talks in disgust. Koffi Annan was
present at the talks and though looking very ill at ease, sat by Chirac, as Chirac read the terms of the
“agreement”. I turned to my Ivorian husband and said the Ivorian people will NEVER accept these terms.
That was at 10 PM. Before long we heard the noise of angry Ivoirians attacking the French schools, an
event that affected our children by the thousands. Parents separated from children. Wives separated
from husbands, followed by a more permanent exodus. To give some idea, the French high school near
our house had 3000 students before Marcoussis and as of last week had around 750. French troops
were increased and there are now over 4000 French soldiers here to serve as a protection to French
citizens and to ensure that the peace agreements are respected. At times we felt like a city under siege,
as French tanks took over the schools a few blocks from our house and drove around the city. There is
not even one Ivorian family, that has not been seriously affected by this war, and this includes all the
mixes of Ivorian-burkinabe, Ivorian-French, Ivorian-American families.
Suggestions were made again and again for the president to change the constitution by presidential
decree without going through the proper channels. The goal of this faction/coalition is to allow the
candidacy of Allasane Ouattara favored by France and some Ivoirians, but whose nationality is
questionable (though born in IC, he has roots in Burkina Faso and gained a scholarship, was married in
the US and has bought property in IC under his BF nationality; but no presidential candidate can hold a
foreign passport or hold 2 passports ). President Gbagbo has said and has continued to say that the
constitution can only be amended by referendum and this can only be done when the country is reunified.
Peace talks have continued and various agreements have been made between the military heads of both
sides. The government and rebel factions signed a cessez le feu in July 2004 and disarmement was to
begin on October l5, 2004. ECOWAS and UN troops have been here for many months. They too are
here to see that the peace agreements are respected. Despite these statements, the Ivorian people have
the feeling that they have already taken sides. If this is not true, they need to show that they are for
justice and liberty. They need to make investigations into the crimes perpetrated in the rebel zone. This
rebellion should have been condemned by the UN instead of being maintained (the UN and ECOWAS
armies are stationed in front of the Hotel du Golf to protect the rebel “ministers” of government (who live
there in luxury! ). Their participation in the government was imposed by Marcoussis and accepted by the
Gbagbo government in the name of peace and reconciliation.
October l5th has come and gone. Several political parties boycotted the government of reconciliation and
then most sadly rebels openly declared they would never put down their arms. Despite the fact that the
legitimate government of Ivory Coast (based in Abidjan), accepted at the request and under pressure of
Marcoussis a new Prime Minister, Diarra, from the north, this man too was unable to bring the rebels to
reason. The rebels openly defied the President by declaring that despite all the agreements, they would
not disarm until the constitution is changed (to allow Ouattara to run for president).
Since the war, incredible but verifiable stories have come from behind rebel lines, many from those who
have fled for their lives, have seen with their eyes their loved ones killed (I will not stop to speak of the
stabbings, slaughter by machetes, people having their throats slashed, these details will eventually come
out once the country is reunified) and having lost everything, live as refugees the best they can in the free
zone. More terrifying incidents have been reported as late. When I was on vacation in North Carolina,
the Asheville newspaper (!) reported 150 people practically cooked to death in a metal container in the
north of Ivory Coast (an act carried out by the rebels). Northern Christians who I know and work with and
who have chosen to stay in rebel held territories (travelling back and forth to work on the Bible translation
in their languages) have told me personally of having almost lost their lives, of mass graves, of
unspeakable fetish practices (body parts are removed from cadavers), of a virtual reign of terror, of
eyewitness accounts of non-Ivoirians being put in charge of town leadership, etc. These stories will
eventually come out once the war is over. The rebels are under more and more pressure as some
neighboring governments to the north are blocking their passage and dealings (getting food, supplies,
etc.). Charles Taylor is no longer giving a helping hand (though his emissaries are still participating).
There is infighting within the rebel camps. The situation in the north is by all accounts desperate.
Nevertheless the Ivorian government is asked to sit and wait, which it has done for two years.
When the rebels attacked the 19 September, 2004, they were very well equipped with rockets, heavy
arms, tanks, etc. The Ivoirian army had nothing. When the legitimate government appealed to France to
honor their military treaty of defense (to support in the case of attack from the outside) they sent troops to
“keep the peace”. They did not help the government oppose and win over the foreign-sponsored and
Over the last 2 years the legitimate Ivorian government was able to get arms and when the rebels said
they would not disarm, it was decided to reunify the country by force. What the world needs to know is
that the majority of Ivorians support this tactic. It is the outside forces (France and UN) who are against
this move. The majority of Ivorians support this because they do not want their country divided. Many
rebels have either left (if foreign, seeing it is a lost cause) while much of the northern population has
quietly turned against the rebels. Thus it was with great joy that Ivorians learned that the Ivorian army
attacked strategic rebel military points by air all around the country—in Bouake, Korhogo, Seguela and
Man. This was to liberate and reunify the country and there was hope and joy everywhere.
Unfortunately, during these raids, 8 French soldiers and one American (a civilian who worked for rice
development) were killed. The Ivoirians are saying this was an accident that occurred during their
operations. We have no way of knowing and may not know in our lifetime what exactly happened.
Last year rebels "mistakenly" killed 2 French soldiers, but there were no repraisals. The bodies were sent
to France and the incident was closed. However, in this case, within hours, Jacques Chirac, President of
France, ordered the immediate destruction of the entire air force of the country of Ivory Coast!
During these raids carried out by the french military, some Ivorian civilians on the ground were killed,
many injured as well as partial or total destruction of the presidential palace at Yamoussoukro
(the home of the father of the Ivoriain nation, the loved Houphouet Boigny). This is one of the
most important of the very few historical buildings in the country (independence from France only came, if
it came at all, in 1960!!!!)
Ivoirians of all political, ethnic and social backgrounds reacted with shock to these attacks. The majority
of the population in the Free zone believe that the French, by destroying their main defense, acquired
through much sacrifice over the last two years, have openly sided with the rebels. They are horrified
that the French would do so much damage to the Ivorian government and their country. Then news came
that the French had taken control of the airport. Within minutes of the news, thousands and
thousands of unarmed people took to the streets in protest. There was chaos and many uncontrolled
elements as well, as anyone can imagine. A general call was made to come out and liberate the airport
from foreign (ie French control) through peaceful protest. This was an unarmed march. People were told
to not attack foreigners. The call came at 11 PM at night and people left their homes on foot from all the
quartiers of Abidjan and went towards the airport. The French army (who now says its “only” job is to
protect French citizens) sent helicopters out and fired on unarmed protesters walking across the
bridge, trying to get to the airport. I myself have seen the pictures of these people who were shot. I have
heard them give their story. At least 4 people died, many, many injured. That night the Presidential
palace was also sprayed with bullets, apparently by French forces. This last incident may not be
legally linked to the French yet. But there are no airplanes in the country even as I write this that are not
in the hands of the French… In outrage, some elements attacked French homes, French schools,
French businesses. The head of the Young Patriots, Ble Goude, gave explicit orders to not attack any
French as did all Ivorian authorities appearing on TV. But needless to say, chaos reigned. The French
schools were burned. Every paper, every computer, all equipment was carried off on the heads of
thieves. Many innocent French citizens were attacked and their homes ransacked. French businesses
were attacked. All white people had to stay in doors for fear of their lives, even non French (since it is
hard to distinguish). This is deplorable and deplored by all true Ivorian citizens, again and again on TV,
According to unofficial but very reliable sources, as of yesterday, no American home was attacked and
when a crowd (I believe armed) came to SIL (where there were Ivorians, 1 Canadian couple (Leitch), 1
Bristish citizen (Helen Wilson), and Reinier de Blois (Dutch, UBS), the Ivoirians told the visitors there were
no French there and the gang left. Many French are being evacuated. We have several friends (mixed
couples, mixed kids) who were picked up by French helicopters and taken to the BIMA (the French
military base next to the airport). They went there out of fear for their lives. We have spoken many times
with them by cell phone and they say there are many traumatized (whose homes were broken into). One
woman near the French school lost all her earthly goods. Despite my own fear, I know these are
uncontrolled elements, some outright thieves who have nothing to do with liberating their country. Others
unfortunately have given vent to their anger and hatred (Abidjan is full of refugees. Where I work every
family has extra people staying with them, now for almost 2 years because they cannot go home. Some
have watched their fathers being shot by rebels, others had to interrupt university carriers, due to the war,
there is enough evil to see where this hatred and will for revenge come from)
Yesterday the French took 48 huge military tanks and stationed them around another Ivorian symbol: the
Hotel Ivoire. Also with the news that the Presidential Palace had been showered, the word was passed
on TV, radio, and street telephone for people to come out in mass unarmed peaceful protests. Hundreds
of thousands went out to serve as human shields for the president in front of his house and surrounding
all these tanks. In a later press conference, after a meeting between the French and Ivorian military
called by the head of Parliament (Senate, National Assembly), Prof Mamadou Coulibaly, the head of the
French army Poncet announced that the goal of this deployment (48 huge tanks in the middle of a hotel,
residential area very, very close to the Presidential palace) is not (as it would seem to most Ivorians) to
get rid of the Ivorian president and to install their own choice of president (very recently other African
presidents have been ousted by French manipulation), but to ensure the safety of its citizens. On TV, in
front of the whole world, this head of French forces in Ivory Coast said that one of the tanks “mistakenly”
took the road towards the presidents house (not knowing the way to the hotel!) and that the head of the
Ivorian army Doue showed that tank the right road ! This is not hearsay. I heard this myself from his
mouth on TV!
President Tabo Mbeki from South Africa is arriving in the country this morning, arriving in the Frenchified
airport, which used to belong to Ivory Coast. All international flights of any kind have been stopped.
Some French have come on TV to say they are not part of Chirac’s decision and they said they will join
the Ivorians as they always have, in peaceful marches to the airport to welcome the South African
president. Some Europeans I know have gone out to join in this. The group of French wives married to
Ivorians gave a very powerful statement, to the effect that since the war they have not backed France’s
position and that this new activity is an outrage and return to colonialism. French with signs “Shame on
Chirac” will be going out in the streets. There are no more attacks on the French, as far as we know. This
leads to believe that these incidents of attack of innocent French were by uncontrolled elements.
If anything, what this has done is create more support for the present president, breaking down more
barriers. Baoules (traditionally supporters of the former de-posed president) have come on TV to ask for
people to support the government. One group after another: doctors, businessmen, French people,
Lebanese people, religious leaders (including Muslim) have come on TV asking for public support against
this French intervention. These announces are interspersed with anti-war video clips (songs by local
artists), some promoting the Bible, reconciliation, and Christian love. As I am writing this, the great friend
of Bible translation in this country, Bishop Ake, read a statement from all the bishops of Cote d’Ivoire
condemning the French actions . He said that the French were the first to Christianize this country and it
is the French, brothers in Christ, who are invading the country. He is appealing to his French
counterparts (the Catholic church in France) to intervene. Other Christian leaders (evangelical) have also
come on TV.
We await and pray that the intervention of the South African president will be positive. Even Stephen
Smith, the journalist who writes for Le Monde and who has been up to now very pro-rebel, when asked in
an interview on French TV, if he thought the French should depose Gbagbo, hesitated and said
something like this would not be wise. Because he knows that the popular opinion supports their
president (elected in difficult circumstances, but nevertheless the elected, sworn in president of this
country). What in God’s name gives the French government to decide who will be president here. As the
signs said “Shame of Chirac”. The highest authorities of the Catholic church here in RCI have now
condemned him by name in public.
If you are a Christian please pray. If you are a political activist, please write someone. President Gbagbo
is a university professor of history. He was a political opponent for over 20 years, militating in favor of a
multiparty system. He never once took up arms, but opposed the system through peaceful marches. He,
his wife Simone and his son were held in jail for two years for marching against a civil order. He was
raised as a Catholic, attended seminary and during his campaign on TV, was shown playing Christian
hymns on a keyboard. I worked at the University with Simone while her husband was in exile in France.
She attends regular prayer meetings with Christian senators once a week in front of my eyes (I would
rather not put in writing where). During the celebration of two hundred years of the organization I work
for, she sent a representative with l.000.000 CFA (a little over $2000) earmarked for Scripture production
at a new Centre d’Edition. One of the government programs is decentralization, enabling the regions to
have their own budgets and their own programs for development (agriculture, AIDS work, etc.). My
husband, a technician in agro-alimentaire, has been part of a delegation several times to go to the Ivorian
“white house” and explain his vision of agricultural development, showing pictures of his own project in
Daloa. These people are not the devils the press makes them out to be. Whatever their political
leanings, they are upright God-fearing people who did not ask for the rebels to attack this country.
May whoever reads this account have as they say in French “a pious thought” (that is “say a prayer”) for
this situation, this country, all the peoples gathered here who do not want to leave (at least 27% of the
population are foreigners). Even people from neighboring countries who left because of the war have
come back and don’t want to leave again. Gbagbo said jokingly, “yes, we are the only country in the
world at war where it is good to live” (le seul pays en guerre ou il fait bon vivre).
I have been in the house now for 3 days, according to directives of the American embassy. We are safe.
We feel safe. If the French go one step further to remove Gbagbo, however, I fear there will be a
bloodbath. And then it may be too late. Our daughter is at the home of friends very close to our house
where we feel there is a little more security.
We all also stand amazed at the UN and Koffi Annan, wondering how they can vote sanctions against the
Ivorian government while the rebels violate the rights of people everyday and from the beginning of this
war. I know the world does not hear much about this country, but one day France will know that it is not
dealing with a colony and that time is pretty much here (even though for the moment they control the air,
the airport, and the ground).
Pass this on to anyone you think might be interested. I have already written to the American ambassador
here. Again I repeat it is my own viewpoint, but I feel I am on the ground, not being attacked so far, and
have some understanding of the history and mindset of this people. They are so pacific in normal times,
but I think the limit has been reached.
Thank you and God bless.