Nervous residents of Abidjan are stocking up provisions and shopkeepers are bracing for possible riots as Ivory Coast heads towards a politically charged watershed on Sunday that could propel it towards peace or war.
On Oct. 30, President Laurent Gbagbo reaches the end of his constitutional five-year term in the world’s top cocoa producer, which was divided in 2002 by a civil war that shattered the peace in what was once one of Africa’s most stable states.
But elections originally scheduled on that date to choose a new president are not being held, peace negotiations are mired in political bickering, and fears of renewed violence and instability are putting Ivorians on edge as Sunday approaches.
Opposition ready to push resignation
Armed rebels holding the north, who cited fears of cheating to refuse to allow the polls in their zone, say Gbagbo will cease to be president after Oct. 30 and become just an ordinary citizen.
Some opposition youth leaders are threatening to call supporters out onto the streets of Abidjan on Sunday to force the president to step down. Residents, who remember violent rioting last year, are preparing for possible trouble.
“We’ve stocked up on provisions. If troubles begin, we’ll just shut ourselves up at home and we can last for a month,” said Habiba Traore, a mother of four children.
She said she had not bothered to enroll her children in school out of fear that political violence would shut classes.
The African Union, backed by the United Nations, has recommended that Gbagbo stay on as president with a new prime minister for up to a year until elections are held. This extends his political life in the face of the opposition demands.
“Everyone is getting ready. ... After Oct. 30, Gbagbo is no longer head of state or president. On Oct. 30, we are certain of one thing — we are at war,” said Bertin Kona.