COTE D'IVOIRE: Doh St Michel, “The land and my machete are my president”

Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
Men clearing brush with machetes in western Côte d'Ivoire
DUEKOUE, 26 April 2011 (IRIN) - Doh St Michel fled his village near Duékoué in western Côte d’Ivoire after gunfire erupted and farmers were killed on 28 November 2010, the day of the presidential run-off election.
Many displaced people who have fled to the Catholic mission told IRIN the assailants were supporters of the challenger, Alassane Ouattara, who had wanted to lash out at people seen as backing the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo.
Doh spoke of the farming he was forced to abandon, and told IRIN that regardless of who is in power, only a grower’s sweat and toil make it possible for him to support his family.
“We live off the land… We just want to get back to work so we can feed our families. We are not proud of staying here [at the Catholic mission] but we were scared of what we saw with our own eyes…We are not opposing anyone. Whoever is in power, he’s the leader.
“The only way we’re able to eat is by our own hands, our own might. It’s not the president who’s going to manufacture food for us; it’s our machetes [which we use to work the land]. We have nothing to do with these politics.
“Peace is the only thing we seek. Just to be left alone to go about our lives. Imagine - I’m a simple farmer who goes to the field to find cassava or bananas, and I get shot dead, for nothing. I’m innocent - I’m not affiliated with this or that president - the land and my machete are my president.
“During the years the father of our nation [founding president Félix] Houphouët-Boigny was in power, we never saw this - we were never victims of war. From 1960 [independence] all through the Houphouët years, we who were around during that period, we never heard this kind of weapon fire except on television.
“We are asking ourselves how we will be able to return to our villages… When you know you’re being watched by people with guns, all you have is fear…Living here at the mission, we are not at ease, our hearts are not at peace. Everyone wants to return to the village, but how?
“Maybe if Licorne [French peacekeepers in Côte d’Ivoire] or UNOCI [UN operation in the country] could put up a camp in each village for our security, we would get back to our work.
 “[To one day trust an Ivoirian army] we would have to be assured that our security would be guaranteed.
“We fled gunfire. Now, if someone says, ‘Go ahead, you’re going to return to your village’… return to the fire? That’s disconcerting. If the army of the new government would really convey to its soldiers and supporters to no longer shoot at just anyone, we would return.”

Theme(s): Conflict,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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