(Names have been changed by request)
I approached a small, Black newspaper yesterday, about submitting a short piece on the violence in Ivory Coast from an Ivorian point of view. I'd hoped to generate some genuine interest in our community, for the thousands of civilians left helpless and homeless amid the four months of fighting to unseat disputed president Laurent Gbagbo.
I'd been sitting most of Wednesday morning, with a group of African women: one from Liberia, one from Congo, one from Cameroon - and one (my friend, "Diane") from Ivory Coast, who was frantically using up her calling cards, trying to find her family.
Since the final and ultimately successful push to capture Gbagbo by the internationally backed forces of Allassane Outtara - she, and other members of her family here, have been writing their congressmen and calling any friends who might be able to assist them. I'd told her the day before, I'd be happy to post about it on my blog, and maybe we could get it run elsewhere.
So, in addition to my ongoing conversations with "Diane" since December, when I texted her from Africa to see if her family was okay (touched on those conversations in the still-waiting-to-be-published, Part 5 of the Africa series), I spoke to her cousin, "Lilly" in Massachusetts by phone.
This 48 year-old, naturalized citizen, born in western Duekoue, has been living in the United States for 24 years, travelling back and forth to see her family regularly - until now. Through tears, she related how her brother and sister had run away to the bush after they saw Outtara forces, knocking on doors and killing people with machetes and machine guns. After having been in constant contact with them up to December, she's not spoken to them since the day Gbagbo was arrested. She's not exactly sure where they are now. Her brother told her last Saturday, he's been in hiding, with no food - because he doesn't trust that the U.N. forces will protect him.
The most troubling thing for her though? Her mother - in her 90s and unable to run - is still in the village.
Me: "Is there any way at all for you to find out about your mother?"
Lilly: "I have a sister at home, but she cannot travel because she fears Outtara's people will kill her."
Me: "What would you like to see the United States do that they haven't?"
Lilly: "Send armed forces to stop the hurting of innocent civilians - to stop the killing! The U.S. should take a step back and see who's doing the killing. I want more people to help."
Me: "Why do you think it's going on? The killing I mean."
Lilly: "I believe the election was a fraud and there should have been a recount. Why didn't anyone want it?"
Me: "How does the U.S. silence on human rights violations in Ivory Coast make you feel?"
Lilly: "It hurts so-o-o badly. Some of us went to DC in the beginning, to protest the elections, but nobody did anything. I wrote to Sen.Kerry and others in congress and got no response, even though I have been working and paying taxes in this country for 24 years. I'm also afraid they will kill Gbagbo because no one knows where he is. I feel so helpless."
I thanked "Lilly" for her time. Though I already knew in my heart, that the U.S. wouldn't be sending any troops, or taking any steps back - I assured her that people here did care about what was happening in Ivory Coast. I told her as soon as I spoke with "Diane's" nephew in Dallas, I'd write it up and post it to the blog. She tearfully thanked me and we hung up.
Sitting there a little unsettled, I decided to go online so we could see what new developments there were. My first stop was Al-Jazeera (English), because together with the BBC, they seem to have a much better understanding that there is, in fact, a world outside of these United States (they also tend to report all sides). This is what I found: "Ivorian leader says Gbagbo will face charges."
As I started reading it aloud to the ladies (one laptop, small screen), my friend, "Diane" leaned over my shoulder and started to read along. When we got here, I could feel the horror rise in her voice with every word:
Amnesty International has warned that supporters of Gbagbo, even those who are suspected of supporting him, are at risk of violent reprisals from group's backing Ouattara.Eerily, the article pretty much confirmed what "Lilly" had just told me. "Diane" let out a low moan as she walked away, picking up the phone to begin her frantic dialing anew. The young woman from Cameroon, a nurse who'd been here for 12 years, told her, "Stop working yourself up. You're going to make yourself sick! There's nothing you can do from over here."
The London-based human rights group said in a statement that despite a call by Ouattara for Ivorians to "abstain from all forms of reprisals and violence", Gbagbo's supporters were being hunted by armed men in Abidjan, the commercial capital.
It said men in military uniforms have been conducting house-to-house searches in neighbourhoods for Gbagbo supporters in places like Yopougon and Koumassi.
Amnesty quoted a witness who saw a policeman belonging to Gbagbo's ethnic group being taken from his house on Tuesday morning and shot dead at point blank range.
She was right. Feeling a little helpless myself, I tried to at least get her mind off the article that I'd pulled up. I asked when her nephew would be calling and she jumped up and said, "Let me try to call him right now!" Reaching him, she gave me the phone and I introduced myself. I told him about the post, and also that I'd try to get it run in any paper that would take it, but there was no guarantee any of them would. I'd start with the local, Black paper here and see what happened.
Thanking me profusely for anything I could do to help, he said he'd forward some photos, videos and links to me via email to add some background (anxious to post, I used links that I'd been saving myself).
After we hung up, I went to the local paper's site, looking for a phone number. I figured I may as well call while I was there. A man answered saying, "Newspaper!" I introduced myself and asked what the procedures were for submitting a piece. I asked if I should send it to the email address in the masthead. He laughed and said no, that one wasn't right, and gave me another (which I won't print here).
He asked if I was a writer. I said yes, and began explaining the piece. He asked if I did any advertising sales and I paused, saying, "No, are you the editor?" Like Jekyll and Hyde, his voice rose as he said, "No, I'm the owner, and I'm a businessman! Don't nobody care 'bout no Africans in Ivory Coast! Niggas dyin' right here!"
Not sure why the conversation had suddenly gone south, I said levelly, "Yes they are, and I care, and write about them as well. But seeing as you're a newspaper and all, I thought you might care about running a local human interest, connection to what was happening to other Black folk in the diaspora." I told him I was putting him on speaker so the ladies could hear his decision.
Unabated, he continued with a string of profane vitriol that should have embarrassed any of the advertisers who fork over their cash for ad space to this purported "businessman." I don't know why I even thought he'd been listening from the start (like when I told him my name) seeing as he first thought I was a man (I do have a very deep voice - but really?). When I told him I wasn't, he then told me, "You need to stop tryin' to talk white! And y'all need to stop comin' down here tryin' to run shit, thinkin' it's nothin' but some cowboys down here - cuz we got some REAL niggas down here! I'm a businessman, and stories don't make money - ads do!"
I looked around the room mouthing, "What the hell??!!" But apparently, I was the only one in the place surprised. In disgust, everyone said at the same time, "Just hang up! He doesn't care." In that instant, the absolute success - of that "distance created, created deliberately" to which Baldwin referred here - was crystal clear to me and all I could do was shake my damned head (you can follow the second and third parts of Baldwin's discussion here).
"I'm hanging up now, Mr. "businessman," because you obviously woke up on the wrong side of ugly this morning and I'm not trying to join you. All I can say to you is - so much for us, caring about us." He replied, "If you care so much, get your own newspaper."
I sat there for a few minutes looking at my phone, utterly confused. I couldn't believe how virulently he didn't care. And what was all that, "comin' down here" mess?? Then it hit me - I'd called from my cell phone whose Maryland number I'd never changed. Obviously, there's still a lot of bile between northern and southern Blacks - just as there is, between northern and southern whites.
The vibe in the room had gone from 60-to-0 in a matter of those few minutes. Lively anticipation had been replaced by subdued, resignation and I felt terrible - for all of us.
Let's be clear, I'm not so naive as to think, that there isn't now, and hasn't been for some time, an equally fair share of lying, corruption - and yes, killing going on between both sides in Ivory Coast. Personally, I don't care on whose side you stand in these "killing fields." But I do care about the thousands of African civilians, whose lives still hang in the balance as the French - with a wink and a nod from the international community, to include the U.S. ("selective humanitarians" that we are) - installed a president in a supposedly sovereign nation, in order to better position themselves to exploit West Africa - yet again.
(For more information and photos, go to Abidjan.net and translate with Google or Bing translator)
Some links:Head-to-head: Ivorians on election dispute - 12/17/10
UN chief Ban rejects call for Ivory Coast troop pullout - 12/19/10
Neocolonial crisis in Ivory Coast is a part of imperialism's crisis! - 1/16/11
Africa Splits on Use of Force in Cote d'Ivoire - 1/24/11
Fears Ivory Coast Crisis Will Engulf Region - 3/22/11
France Rescues Japanese Ambassador in Ivory Coast - 4/7/11
UN forces 'corral Ivorian leader's defenders' - 4/7/11
France ‘the new US’ with Sarkozy as chief warmonger - 4/8/11
Ivory Coast standoff ends with strongman's capture - 4/11/11
Ivory Coast head-to-head on Gbagbo arrest - 4/11/11
Côte d’Ivoire/Ivory Coast (from Genocide Watch)
The Roots of the Côte d'Ivoire Crisis
And some things that make me go hm-m-m:
*Kosmos Rejects Bid for Jubilee Oil Field Stake - 3/10/11
SubSeaIQ - Offshore Development Projects (a little archived history) - 10/15/10
*Tullow Discovers `Major' Oil Field Off Ghana's Coast - 7/26/10
*The Jubilee Oilfield - Making The Right Decision - 10/17/09
*Anadarko Group Makes Oil Find - 9/17/09
Oil & Gas in Côte d'Ivoire - Overview