RealNews

How a Model Colony Slid to the Edge of the Abyss

The roadblocks in the government-held area of Ivory Coast are manned by professional soldiers; men in early middle age with neat uniforms, polished boots and good manners. They emerge from the comfort of hammocks or deckchairs beneath shady mango trees to check passports and passes and wave us through with a salute. Then, suddenly, you are in a different country. On the other side of the front line, the rebels at the roadblocks are young, many under 20. Some are in uniform, but others dress in whatever they have looted or designed. At one roadblock, a young man in a Russian fur hat with a swastika on his T-shirt has his arm round his friend, who wears an England football shirt. But round the necks and arms of all of them are magic charms; little stitched leather pouches or dried animal paws and feathers. Their roadblocks — 17 of them in the 40 miles from the front line to Bouaké, their headquarters — are made from looted school desks, old bedsteads or car wrecks. The young fighters argue among themselves. Some are smoking dope or taking other drugs. They enjoy demanding papers and examine them carefully, but it is clear that many of them cannot read. One gang wants to search the car, others question us or have their photos taken. They pose, brandishing their formidable weaponry and bandoliers of bullets, elegant accessories worn as necklaces, belts or bracelets. There seems to be no one in charge. Full Story

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