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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « Ils nous envoient leurs déchets en Côte d’Ivoire et puis après... »

by François Wandji, special correspondent

Ivory Coast: “They Send Us their Garbage, and Then What … ? ”

Translated Sunday 22 October 2006, by Patrick Bolland

West Africa. In Abidjan, still suffering the consequences of the offloading of the toxic contaminants of the Probo-Koala, the people on the street are angry against the rich countries and against the callousness of the local leaders.

Abidjan, the Ivory Coast megalopolis, one of the largest coastal cities in West Africa, was laughing at its miseries, singing songs mocking the war or the avian flu epidemic. But now Abidjan is furious, furious and worried at the unloading of a sizeable cargo of toxic waste, which arrived in the tanks of a Greek ship, with an all-Russian crew, under a Panamian flag: the Probo-Koala. This last catastrophe has demoralized the city and made it lose its usual good humour.

While in normal times, Abidjan television-viewers watch Brazilian and Mexican soap operas, the population today is incensed by the direct TV retransmission of parliamentary information sessions, during which, top officials, like the minister of transport, Innocent Anaky Kobena, or the environment minister, Jacques Andoh, or the general director of the harbour, Marcel Gossio, appear in front of the national hearings.

For the first time, the desire to understand what is happening unites poor and rich, politicized or not, supporters of President Ggagbo and supporters of the political-military opposition. The various political parties feed the polemic on a daily basis, showing that their leaders are not the guilty ones, and demonizing their adversaries. But, those maneuvers don’t work. Abidjan wants the heads to fall, the big shots, those really responsible! Last week, the popular neighborhood of Abobo was plunged into a spectacular uprising. A tanker-truck that had come to the commune to empty a sceptic tank was thought to be coming from the ship to discretely pour more toxic waste into the water-system. The driver was beaten up, before he could even explain, and barely escaped death.

Abidjan is afraid of rain. Rain infiltrates into the water-supply system allowing several cubic metres of the “death mud” to surface, most nauseous when it reaches the open air. From now on, with each tornado – and it’s the season of tornados – people are fleeing from the neighborhoods, more or less close to the 17 sites where the toxic products were identified. Because the strong smell of sulphur induces vomiting, gives severe headaches and nose-bleeds. Messages coming down from the government says that the worst is over that the risks of dying are minimal at more than 200 metres form the dump-sites – these do little to relieve the panic. All the more so since the government of national reconciliation, headed by Charles Konan Nabby, has become entrenched in internecine warfare between the ministers coming from the president’s party and those opposed to the rebellion, don’t know much more than the population as a whole.

So an official press release from the coordinating operational unit of the national plan to oppose the toxic products calls on the population, “to find the sites where the products were off-loaded and to accelerate the process of decontamination”. “Don’t hesitate to mention anything abnormal”, according to the statements included in the newspapers. And it’s true that it was the vigilance of a baker that one underground tank containing toxic contaminants was discovered.

The Abidjan population is sure about one thing: their government reacted much too late, since all the political energy was concentrated on after-31-October – when the presidential elections were supposed to take place, and which finally won’t be happening, since the deadlines for disarmament and identification of opposing factions, part of the peace plan, haven’t been respected. Most Abidjanis are also very suspicious of the barricades that have been set up on numerous main arteries of the capital for several days – which are also causing the middle class to react.

The people in the streets are also angry with the West, despite the humanitarian aid provided by France, Japan and the United States. “They send us their shit, and then they come and save us. It’s a joke!”, a mother cries out in a collective-taxi. “Our politicians have stopped stealing money from the people, now they want to kill them!”, William, a hairdresser, shouts. “And then”, adds his friend Sékou, eyes glued to his television screen, “They’ll be driving around in the Mercedes bought with the dirty money. Everyone here is sure that there’s corruption and big money involved in these contaminated products, money accepted by the big-shots who decided to ‘sacrifice their own brothers’.”

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