The Liberation in Question
by Jean-Francois Kouadio
Abidjan is indescribable tonight. All thieves, out-laws and maladjusted people that the quasi-informal situation of the Coup d’Etat has excited, are at their coward’s task. Acts ordinarily repugnant to moral principals are suddenly legalized. Isn’t the constitution, fundamental law suspended by the new head of State, the colonel major Roger Guéyo?
Like a swarm with no reference point, the population of Abidjan has suddenly become crazy. The law of the nature has replaced that of the republic. Automobilists are stopped and dispossessed from their cars. Shops said to be owned by members of the other-thrown Democratic Party are burnt down. Street corner stores belonging to Mauritanians are looted and demolished. Better not be a foreigner living in Abidjan this night! Foreigners are said to be friends of Baziana, the deposed president, who was facilitating the stretch of their monopoly in the vital sectors of the economy. They have kept the Ivorians in bondage! They are so important in the informal trade sector that their strikes always paralyze Abidjan. And who lifted them so high? Baziana, through some cloudy bribery ways! The citizen is deeply embittered against the foreigners. Such event needs to be properly celebrated! Stones are thrown on the roofs of neighbors belonging to Dieudonné Baziana’s ethnic group; just to inform them that they are no longer in charge. Abidjan is completely unrecognizable. Some noisy horns, some strident whistles, some drums punctuate the infernal atmosphere emblazing Abidjan. Those who are still in the bars, drink their brains out to celebrate the fall of Baziana.
But soon some armed soldiers in fast running 4 X 4’s start to patrol the streets. An order has been given to them to force the population back into their houses. This message comes from the new masters of Ivory Coast. Gun shots can be heard from everywhere. It is a real rout! People run in all directions, trying to flee the streets. They would surely continue the celebration in the intimacy of their bedrooms. Meanwhile, out in the quasi-deserted streets, insurgents are still shooting in the air. Soon no vagabond cat dares pull its head out to sniff the smell of the military boots; the only ‘authorized stench’ tonight. One would have said a civilian coup d’etat was in progress, since the soldiers are only using brand new 4 X 4’s. No military vans or trucks are visible in a single street on this night torn by the sinister presence of the squaddies. The insurgents are really the masters of Abidjan; and they intend to prove it to those who are still wandering in the streets in spite of the orders.
In the upmarket suburb of Cocoville, as in most residential areas, the supermarkets are being looted. The professional robbers who have anticipated the insurgents’ arrival are in a hurry, busy fulfilling their shameful task. One must speed up, coup d’etats do not happen everyday, it is now or never to fill one’s throat. Here, in the cellar of the most stunning supermarket of Abidjan, thieves rip open boxes of first grade champagne. They drink; they pour the priceless wine over their heads, their bodies and onto the floor. Some wish they had more than one stomach to ingurgitate so much gratis wine. Damn! Unhappy, they break the remaining bottles. Those who prefer clothing are not less busy doing justice to themselves. And that is simply legal, since Baziana and his acolytes have as many suits and pants as there are days in a year! So the theft of one night is like a drop in the Pacific Ocean compared to the systematic looting institutionalized by Baziana and his clan. There, a bunch of more ambitious looters, carry away some laptops. What can be more legitimate than that, if up to now Baziana had confiscated the I.T  in his bedroom? If for once, thanks to the liberation, a computer is available, why should one hesitate to learn by getting one of these machines? One should really get a move on. The future belongs to those who are computer liberated! Then don’t forget to make a turn at the jewelry and get some Rolex; even Time was confiscated by Baziana’s team. They must therefore get themselves some expensive watches and be up to date (and on time!) for future battles. In a corner of the store reserved for home appliances, clever robbers work in teams. Four of them are carrying imported bed sets, couches, sofas and armchairs. Before today none of them had such furniture – such luxuries. Most of them slept on the floor or on some hard hand made stools at their dinner tables. Baziana was really selfish! The muggers even dismantle the doors and the windows of the supermarket. In the looting crowd, some voices say:
“Please, someone lend me a screw driver. I need to unscrew this door, my wife and kids will be proud of me tonight …”
“Do not touch this jacket, asshole! I saw it first …”
“Hands off, bastard! This yellow cap is mine. I’ll offer it to my girlfriend for her birthday …”
Or “who is the son of a bitch who took the left foot of this pair of moccasins? Shit! The dickless bastard stole it before I did …”
Some end up quarrelling while others agree on a fair exchange of the loot. In a single queue, or in disparate bunches, looting men women and children disappear in the darkness. The striking procession looks like that of Rwandan refugees fleeing an imminent attack. Suddenly the impact of a noisy car’s brake followed by some gunshots breaks the rhythm of the rushing looters. The soldiers who have just disembarked at the supermarket’s parking lot are ferocious, enraged.
“Hey you there?!” roars the first insurgent who jumps from the queue of parking Nissan Patrol cars. His terrifying shout is followed by a burst. The shot harvests a dozen running looters. Some of those who do not fall, quickly get rid of their luggage and save their skins. Two minutes. That’s the time the insurgent need to clear the vicinity of the supermarket. Walls riddled with bullets, broken boxes scattered on the parking floor, home entertainment units abandoned on the sidewalks, shoes, mattresses, and glasses … all of them, mingle with a dozen dead looters perforated on various parts of the body. The most zealous soldiers empty their guns on some dead bodies to make double sure.
Once alone, the squaddies go through the store with a fine tooth comb. They carry away the rest of the stock and retire from this macabre night which the African trooper has once again stricken. They leave happy to have done their Christmas shopping without spending a penny.
Unlike the bunch of loonies who are still rejoicing in front of the evident decline of the Ivorian economy, the European expatriates who have already predicted the chaos, are hurriedly leaving Abidjan. They can be seen in compact queues from the Angoulvant Boulevard heading to the international airport. Their procession is as impressive as it is catastrophic. There’s no peace in Abidjan. The extreme brutality of the political and juridical militia did not spare them.
Very often bored infantrymen are released like a swarm from their camp to recover imaginary taxes from European companies. They stop a European at the traffic light and ask him to prove (on the spot) the origin of the wealth that authorizes him to drive a brand new German motorcar while the average citizen of Ivory Coast lives in the direst misery.
“Yes sir. I know most poor people cannot afford supper in the shantytowns. But how’s that my fault?”
“I agree, Mr. WhiteMan. No doubt that it’s not your fault. I accept that. But
it is surely the fault of your father or your grandfather, the colonizer!”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I say! The colonizers have ruined our country!! Now, since you are one of their descendants, our poverty is therefore directly – or indirectly – linked to your past.”
“Mrs. Officer, I really struggle to identify my violation of the law. Please assist.”
The poor European, who has just fallen into the net of the political and juridical militia, is at pains to explain his innocence in the colonization of Ivory Coast. But he is surely naïve not to suspect the evil intentions of the squaddies whose only aim is to dispossess him of his brand new Peugeot 607 sports; the car à la mode.
“Your offence,” continues on the soldier, “is that you still have not shown the receipt of your car.”
“Jesus Christ!” exclaims the Frenchman. “That’s the first thing I did when you stopped me, sir. I have already shown you the vehicle’s license as well as the insurance sticker!”
“Hear me out, mister. The receipt of your car is different from the car’s license and other insurance papers.”
“Good heavens! Do you understand French, sir?” The French expatriate is now quite rude, upset by the lack of cultivation of the squaddy.
Soon, the corporal, whose adrenaline streams up to his poorly irrigated brain, runs out of patience. He shakes his AK47 to load a bullet. He then performs a noisy bark that uncovers an abundant flood of drool between his dirty teeth. He literally spits on the driver’s nose.
The French expatriate instinctively wipes his watered face.
“Get the fuck out of this car right now or you are dead meat!” roars the soldier.
The man opens the door of his car and gets out without saying a word. He shows the attitude of someone who has understood that persisting in a chat with an idiot gives migraines.
“Walk ahead, thief! You are a fucking colonizer and an economic criminal. Your bill will be very salty, my friend. I will teach you how bad it is to exploit the Ivorian in his own country! I am sure the colon does not pay his taxes. Am I right, fucker?”
The Frenchman lifts his palms to his head as a sign of surrender. The corporal escorts him to the military truck that will carry him away to the soldiers’ camp. Once there, his fiscal status will be checked and checked. Nearby another soldier leaves his partners massed on the sidewalk and eagerly jumps on the seat of the Peugeot 607. The squaddy cannot hide his admiration. He whistles instinctively in front of the jewel that the bravery of his colleague have in a few minutes acquired. Sometimes the squaddies, who also act as policemen, would undertake an I.D. book check patrol and make this an opportunity to rape foreign prostitutes living in precarious neighborhoods.
A story in one of the daily newspapers, The Independent, says it all: two days back a militiaman was visiting a prostitute. He told the prostitute that he was not caring a small banknote. No, he claimed to have a ten thousand C.F.A note. And his tone was so docile and cooperative that he managed to convince the prostitute to allow him to quench the thirst of his burning gonads before finding some change for a five hundred C.F.A bill; landed cost of the shameful operation. Unexpectedly, at the end of the operation, our soldier who, in fact, was not carrying even a cent, started to frighten the prostitute. But he shouldn’t have tried this one. The shameless whore screamed so loudly that the entire neighborhood got alerted; and our squaddy, busy fighting, did not have enough time to get dressed before the alerted crowd gathered in front of the brothel. In panic the coward rushed outside naked, his leaking tool, obviously freshly retreated from her fetid canal, hanging in the wind like a bell. Never in the young history of the shantytown have people laughed so much. According to the newspaper, the worthless soldier managed to escape through the interminable labyrinth of the shantytown. But, unfortunately for him, the exasperated and shameless prostitute who had confiscated his pants, got his I.D. book published in the papers.
Indeed, at the end, the squaddies were right when they promised radical change of Ivorian society. This attitude has no precedent in the country’s history; it is therefore clearly innovative.
1 Information Technology, computer science.
2 Overthrown president