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Tiffany Lane/MEDILL

Gilbert Lohoua (right) said he cannot reach his family in the western Ivory Coast and fears they may be killed.


Ivory Coast power struggle, violence prompts protest in Chicago

by Tiffany Lane
May 18, 2011


While most of the world’s attention was focused on Northern Africa – uprisings in Algeria, Egypt and now Libya – other parts of Africa have been in turmoil.

Unrest in the Ivory Coast brought about a protest in Chicago this week.

“We want freedom in our land!”

Protestors chanted the words of independence for the country’s former president, Laurent Gbagbo, to be released from prison and restored to power.

Gbagbo refused to step down from presidency during months of violence after a November 28 run-off election against rival Alassane Outtara. Reports vary on casualties, but the latest figures say 3,000 have been killed, and about a million people displaced.

U.N. and French troops were in a 15-day conflict with Gbagbo and he was finally arrested on April 11, when he was forcibly removed from his home.

“The French soldiers and U.N. soldiers will help Alassane rebels to push the election freedom away,” said Sekre Kouakou, organizer of the rally. 

The rally organized by a non-profit group that supports Gbagbo and gathered Tuesday at the French Consulate on North Michigan Avenue.

Kouakou is from the eastern part of the Ivory Coast and has been a U.S. citizen for five years. 

The dispute stems from an act after the election, when the Electoral Commission of the Ivory Coast missed the deadline to declare election results. The official papers were taken away from an official who was about to read them on live television.

On Dec. 2,  election officials declared Outtara winner. However, the Constitutional Council, which has final authority in elections,ruled this illegal and voided about 500,000 votes from areas loyal to Outtara, making Gbagbo the winner.

Under a 2007 peace deal, the United Nations is supposed to confirm election results. The U.N. in turn rejected the council’s declaration of Gbagbo as the winner.

So how does this dispute find its way to Michigan Avenue?

Gilbert Lohoua, a Chicago resident from the western part of the Ivory Coast, said he is unhappy about what he sees as outside interference.

“France has no place in this situation,” he said as he stood outside its consulate in Chicago, site now of two protests. 

“This is the matter of the Ivorian people,” he added. “We don’t want anyone to get involved in the presidential election.”

Lohoua, a U.S. citizen since 2005, said he has been unable to get in contact with his siblings and other family who are still back home.

“I don’t know if my family got a chance to flee the country or if they got caught,” he said.

Lohoua said his town has been one of the hardest hit in the conflict.

Another protester, Patrice Beda, from Abidjan, the former official Ivory Coast capital, said the French have incentives to interfere in the nation.

“Why do the French have such interest in the election? Because they want oil.”

According to the World Factbook, the Ivory Coast produced nearly 59,000 barrels of oil a day in 2009, ranking it 60th in world oil production.

“It’s a win-win situation. The French get what they want and Outtara gets power,” Beda said. “That’s what happens in African countries.”

Lohoua said he wants Gbagbo to be freed from prison and all the killing to stop.
The Chicago protestors said they will meet about once every two weeks in front of the consulate urging action.

“We will demonstrate until they free our president,” Lohoua said.