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The Crisis in Abidjan

Posted on the 08 August 2011 by Prodenbough
"... for the innumerable acts of kindness, of hospitality and of friendship I have received, I am profoundly grateful. What has always impressed me over the years is the resilience and humor with which ordinary African confronts their many adversities. This book is intended as testimony to their fortitude."
- The State of Africa, Martin Meredith

I am living in a city that less than 4 months ago was in a state of total war. Ivoirians almost never refer to the war or the battle or the fighting. Instead, they refer to it as la crise (the crisis).

Hearing people’s stories about la crise is absolutely amazing. People here in Abidjan have lived through things more horrible than most Americans my age can imagine.

I already wrote about la crise once, when my friend Vincent contacted me back in February or March (that story has a happy ending… I recently saw him again here in Abidjan, where he is doing well). But I feel like I should write more, now that so many people have shared additional insights with me.

Here are some of the stories that I have heard while talking with Ivoirians about la crise.


“Côte d’Ivoire has been in state of perpetual war for a very long time, but before all the fighting was in the North. La crise was the first time we saw anything here in Abidjan.”

“This used to be a beautiful park, but it was bombed during la crise, and now it is ruined.”

“I used to run a bar, but it was destroyed during la crise, so now I’m trying to save up enough money to open up another bar.”

“The fighting was less intense in my neighborhood, so I had about 8 or so friends staying with me from neighborhoods where the fighting was more intense.”

“The fighting was pretty bad in this neighborhood. People are still afraid to return. There are a lot of abandoned houses.”

“We fled to my family’s small village during la crise. It was much safer that way.”


“I just got back from visiting a friend in the hospital. He was seriously wounded during la crise. The doctors still aren’t sure if he’ll make it…” (The friend passed away later that week).


“I took up arms and fought during la crise. It was awful. I stopped as soon as I could. Shooting people and watching them die before your eyes… it’s unimaginably horrible.”


“During la crise, all the businesses ceased to function. All the banks closed. People couldn’t get money from their accounts. Western Union transfers to Côte d’Ivoire stopped working, so people couldn’t even get money sent to them from abroad. Whatever money you had on you, in your house or in your pocket, was the only money you had access to.”

“The streets were deserted. Markets were empty. People were afraid to leave their houses.”

“Food got incredibly scarce, and incredibly expensive. People went hungry.”

“The most terrifying part of la crise was when you could hear the planes dropping bombs… when you could hear the bombs exploding from your house…”

“The only reason anyone ever left their house was to go get food, and even that was incredibly dangerous. I had a friend who was shot dead in the street while he was going to buy food for his family.”

“There were dead bodies in the street, but everyone was afraid to gather them. The bodies stayed there for days. Dogs began to gnaw on them. The stench was awful.”

“Dead bodies accumulated in the streets…”

“It wasn’t until after Gbagbo was captured that all the dead bodies were finally gathered up, and burned, en masse.”


“There was a woman who was fleeing from a dangerous neighborhood to one that was supposedly safer. She had her two grown sons with her. While they were fleeing, the military stopped them. The military decided that the two sons had to be killed, because they were young men. If they were not already fighting for the other side, they might soon decide to do so.

The military ordered the two sons to lie on a pile of dead bodies, where they were to be shot. The mother screamed at the military: ‘You are going to kill my sons before my eyes? And leave me here? What is to become of me, then? To become an old crazy woman, haunted by the murder of her sons?’ The mother threw herself upon her sons, and cried that if the military wanted to kill her sons, they would have to kill her too. The military, not wanting to kill an old lady, let all three of them go. They are lucky to be alive today.”


“There was one young man who had to go look for food for his family. He was stopped by the Gbagbo military. He was accused of supporting the Ouattara military. They put him in a truck. Then, the Ouattara military arrived. Shots were fired between the opposing military groups. The young man escaped, but he had been shot. He was seriously wounded.

He spent the entire day calling friends and family, telling them that he had been shot, that he was bleeding to death, that he was going to die, that he needed a hospital. The hospitals, like all the other businesses, had stopped functioning during la crise. Nobody knew where he could go to be healed, to be helped. He could have been saved, if the hospitals were functioning. He had family in America; he had the money. But his money couldn’t save him. He was shot early in the morning. He died late in the evening, in the street.”




“During la crise, all the families in my neighborhood came together and shared everything. We had only each other. It was kind of unifying.”

“No no, here in Abidjan, we are lucky. Other countries have wars that last for years and years. La crise only lasted several weeks in Abidjan. It could have been much, much worse.”


“Norbert, before you leave for the US, you should give me contact information for your friends in Ouagadouogu. There are rumors of unrest, of a coming coup d’état here in Abidjan. They’re just rumors, but they’re still worrisome. During la crise, I stayed in Abidjan. But if trouble starts up again, I’m getting the hell out of here.”

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