The Ivorian conflict has sent tens of thousands of people across borders to neighbouring countries. One of those neighbours is Guinea. The country still hosts thousands of refugees from old conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and indeed Ivory Coast. Here is the story of a new arrival: a young man from Abidjan who left his life behind – in order to save it.
It’s a breathtaking landscape: lush green, spectacular mountains. Guinea’s Forest Province could be a first rate tourist destination. And indeed, there are new visitors, just under 2,000 of them, according to the latest figures of the UN High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR. Yes: refugees, not tourists. So forgive them for not caring much about the sheer physical beauty of the place. They have other matters on their mind, chief among them the country from where they fled: Ivory Coast.
Mohamed Doucoure is young, has a little moustache and wears an impeccable white T-shirt and sports shoes. Yes, he is one of those Abidjan city slickers, who finds himself in this strange rural environment in remote Guinea. He was an economics student at the university in Cocody, a rich and luxuriant Abidjan suburb. But after the elections that Laurent Gbagbo lost, things started to go badly wrong, thanks to the actions of a violent pro-Gbagbo student organisation called FESCI. ‘They started ordering everyone who was not with them off campus. I fled and went to stay with my younger brother in Yopougon.’
In Yopougon, a huge and largely pro-Gbagbo suburb of Abidjan, life rapidly became unbearable under the reign of terror unleashed by Gbagbo’s militias, known as Jeunes Patriotes (Young Patriots, ed.).
“One day, two of our friends went missing. We found them, dead. One had a hole in his head. They had tried to burn the other. I have their pictures here, on my cellphone. And very close to our mosque, they killed an old man, just like that,” Mohamed continues.
"We had fear in our hearts and in our stomachs. We knew we had to run and save our lives. But there was a huge problem. Right in front of our house, the Jeunes Patriotes had set up a roadblock. They were armed with machetes and sticks. Some even had machine guns, the ones they call uzis. And they had these big headbands on that hid part of their faces. I tell you: I no longer recognised some of my old friends..."
"We were stopped and searched even before we could get into our own home! We heard gunshots, every night. And they would come and knock on our door: 'Wake up, wake up, we are now going to arrest you!'
Then, one night, they came for Mr Shaka Konaté, who was like a big brother to us. They took him in his own 4WD to another part of town, to kill him. And then we got a phone call. It was one of Shaka’s brothers. He told us: “I don’t care whether you are sleeping, sitting or walking. Get out – now. Because you’re next.”’
Read the 2nd part of this story on Tuesday