France's future in Ivory Coast uncertainas thousands flee

14th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

ABIDJAN, Nov 14 (AFP) - Massive anti-French violence in Ivory Coast over the past week prompting mass evacuations has left a question mark over France's long-term presence in its former star colony.

ABIDJAN, Nov 14 (AFP) - Massive anti-French violence in Ivory Coast over the past week prompting mass evacuations has left a question mark over France's long-term presence in its former star colony.

"This time, it's too much. The break is serious. We will have difficulty starting up again. I am thinking about leaving the country," said Michel, the owner of a small packaging company in Abidjan which was partly destroyed by looters taking out their ire on the French.

Michel's story is a familiar one, with almost 4,000 French people having fled the western African country since Thursday, in response to the riots unleashed on November 6 after the French military virtually wiped out the Ivorian air force in retaliation for an air strike that killed nine French soldiers.

The thousands who have fled the attacks, rapes and widespread looting of French companies and houses account for the bulk of the expatriates who occupy decision-making and production posts in the local economy.

Ivory Coast, which has Africa's biggest French community of 14,000 people, of which 8,000 have dual nationality, was previously regarded as a success story of decolonisation, spared major violence.

A French-brokered January 2003 peace pact, intended to address root causes of a failed September 2002 coup in Ivory Coast which sparked a low-level civil war, also caused anti-French riots by the same hardline supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo, responsible for latest violence.

The peace pact has still not been fully implemented, leaving Ivory Coast divided into the rebel north and pro-Gbagbo south.

The violence at that time was nothing comparable to the new violence, French residents say.

"At the time of the Marcoussis peace accords, things heated up a bit. And there was a bit of looting," said one expatriate teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Those from the south saw France's hand in it.

"But it was not comparable with the last few days."

"This time it is much more serious, because everyone is fleeing, and not planning to return," said one diplomat, pointing to weariness at the lack of a solution to the country's problems.

Ivory Coast is attractive, with its industrial infrastructure and rich natural resources, especially as the world's biggest cocoa producer.

But many French have now said they simply could not come back here, thus raising questions about France's place as the country's leading economic partner.

Families in particular are unwilling to return, and even if they wanted to all the French schools have been looted and burned down.

"When you add it all up, along with the open hatred expressed by the patriots and a lot of people who are being stirred up by the radio and television, it's not surprising that for the first time ever a lot are hesitating to come back," said one French refugee.

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo says he is confident that "they, the French, will come back." But many French, currently in shock, are not convinced.

"We never believed we would see such barbarism," said one who took refuge at a military camp near to the airport.

© AFP

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article