For the last four months, rolling blackouts have plagued Côte d’Ivoire. At first blamed upon power plants that needed maintenance and thus creating a shortage of power, it’s become quite obvious and out in the open that power is being sold from Côte d’Ivoire to neighboring countries thus creating an artificial power shortage. People are assuming that this is in turn making some individuals quite wealthy while it completely ravages the economy and welfare of the Ivorian people.
Today, in Abengourou, the frustration finally realized itself in the form of a protest that turned in to a riot against the national electricity company. A huge number of more than 1,000 students gathered together to protest the cuts which are upwards of 12-16 hours a day. These electrical cuts in turn cut water service as well (water has been out for two days now) due to no backup systems for the water pumps. But with the cuts at night, the students in their final year of school have not been able to study for their end of year exams which are crucial to their being able to continue on in school. Here is a local student’s take on what happened as he saw it. It’s in French, but he talks quite openly about it.
This frustration played out in the streets as they eventually ended up hurling rocks at the offices of CIE, the Ivorian electricity company. They broke all the windows in the center of town office building and eventually had to be forced to disperse by the Ivorian military who shot tear gas in to the crowd and fired gunshots in the air. By the middle of the day the crowd was gone, leaving just the damage done to the CIE building and piles of rocks still in the streets that were slowly being removed as passing cars kicked them out of the way. Additionally, temporary blockades were erected on the rocks in and out of town by the students as they attempted to halt all traffic, but these too were quickly removed.
The anger is understandable. The power situation grows steadily worse, especially as it has been decided to allow the main city of Côte d’Ivoire, Abidjan, to avoid having any cuts whatsoever. While this is the most populous city with several million people, it is not where the money of the country is made. That is in the countryside where cacao and coffee is grown. These industries are in serious jeopardy as they are unable to produce their goods due to lack of power there while those in Abidjan are able to run their air conditioners all night long. The students in Abengourou are aware of all this and have grown so frustrated by the electrical and election situation that it’s understandable this is how they took action when in reality, the local CIE has no control over there being power or not.