BÉOUMI, IVORY COAST: When his house went up in flames, there were still two people inside, said carpenter Desire Zouzou Kouame.
The two elderly women who perished were his aunts.
“Everything burned,“ he said, standing outside the ruins of what used to be his family home in the centre of Ivory Coast.
In all, 10 people died and another 83 were wounded in three days of inter-community violence in the small town of Beoumi.
The clashes set the local Baoule tribe against the Dioula — or Malinke — who are originally from the north.
Inter-community violence is common in the Ivory Coast, a country with several dozen ethnicities among its 25 million inhabitants.
According to witnesses, this time a dispute between a Malinke taxi driver and the Baoule driver of a motorbike taxi degenerated into a pitched battle in the town and neighbouring villages.
On Thursday morning at nine, Kouame, recalls seeing a crowd of Malinke armed with cudgels, machetes and shotguns. Kouame and his family are Baoule.
“They started shooting and I ran to the house,“ he said. “I was able to warn my cousin, who got out with her two children.” He was wounded on his back when he went back to try to get his elderly aunts, he said.
Once the mob had left, he returned to the blazing building and managed to pull out the charred bodies of his two aunts: 95-year-old Zouzou Wo Ngo and 75-year-old Juliette Yobouet.
“We lost everything,“ he said.
Just about all the flames left intact were a few blackened kitchen utensils.
‘It’s not over’
The village teacher was also attacked and his house burned down.
“They attacked him with machetes and shot him twice in the legs,“ said a villager. “All that because he is a Baoule.”
Hundreds of soldiers and gendarmes have been deployed across the district to prevent any more clashes, but the tension is still palpable.
There are those among the rival communities who still clearly want to fight.
“It’s not over,“ murmur the youths.
In a Malinke district of Beoumi, there was the same sense of loss — and the same desire for revenge.
“They came to burn down our mosque,“ said Abou Ouattara, a local sports teacher. “So we had to defend ourselves and we went as reinforcements.
“If there’s oil on the fire today, it’s because they started to bring out real weapons (guns) to shoot at us,“ he added.
“Before it was punches or cudgels,“ he said. But then they came armed.
“What do we do? We can’t wait for them to slaughter us like cattle. They tell us to leave Beoumi — and go where?
There are still members of the Malinke community missing, say locals and at least six vehicles are burnt out.
‘Harmony has been broken’
Each of the two communities are holed up in their districts, the market is closed and so are all the shops and petrol stations. Some of the shops and houses around the market were looted and burned.
Local transport has also been disrupted and army patrols move up and down the roads between the burnt-out cars.
It is a sad state of affairs, being told they don’t belong, said Adama Traore, a Malinke. “But we knew that, sooner or later, it was going to happen.”
“The harmony has been broken,“ said Raphael Brou Kouame, a 76-year-old retired civil servant from the Baoule community.
“We can no longer get along — at least the young people from the two sides. There are clashes all the time.
Often the clashes are over property disputes but also transport.
Locally, there have been long-standing tensions between taxi drivers, most of them Dioula from the north, and of motorbike taxis, who are local Baoule.
Recent local elections only served to exacerbate the divisions, said Brou Kouame.
But reconciliation can only come once they have managed to calm down this latest dispute, said Nanan Barthelemy Angoh, surrounded by local Baoule dignitaries.
“We have no other choice, but to make peace because we can’t go back home because we too are Ivorians and this here is Ivory Coast,“ said Adama Traore. — AFP