The Magic Stone

As the fight between "internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara" and "Ivory Coast's entrenched strongman" Laurent Gbagbo see-sawed,  Ouattara's forces captured a key military obective of the Magic Stone.

As rival forces of Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara pursued their battle for Abidjan on Sunday, a small group of pro-Ouattara soldiers went to the northern entry point of the port city intent on destroying a roughly cut block of stone on a pedestal.

"This is the stone erected when Laurent Gbagbo came to power, to put Abidjan under his spell," explained Lieutenant Daniel Dodo as soldiers took turn to bash away at the monument with a mallet.

"Red is symbolic, they say human blood is needed to give power to the amulet," said Dodo, who like many pro-Ouattara troops wear a black tee-shirt with the French words "battalion mystic" -- "mystical battalion" -- on the back....

As in other African countries, belief in magic remains widespread in Ivory Coast, where Christianity and Islam sit alongside traditional belief systems. ...

"This is what is bringing unhappiness to Ivory Coast," said Denis Gonhdene, a 46-year-old local in the Yopougon neighbourhood, and one of a crowd of around 200 who came to watch it being knocked down.

"They (those who built it) hold its secret," said Gonhdene "But we have removed the secret to be able to have peace."

Meanwhile, on the physical plane, the French defense minister claimed Gbagbo had 1,000 troops while Ouattara, backed by UN gunships and armor, had 2,000. Gbagbo at first looked to lose, but he his forces have counterattacked in recent days making Ouattara's installation less than foregone conclusion.

"It looked like Ouattara had a strong military capability going forward," said a senior western diplomat who could not be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. "But once they tried to stop the fighting, they showed their weakness."

One of the weaknesses shown by the "internationally recognized" president's forces was the propensity to massacre people. CBC News reported that Ouattara's forces were accused of killing 1,000 people in a single neighborhood in Duekoue city. Most of the victims were killed either by gunshot or machete. But it is not as if Gbagbo's men are always better. They are sometimes as bad as the new president's  and this fact has led to streams of desperate refugees fleeing both for any place of safety.

The Red Cross on Saturday said at least 800 civilians were killed in inter-ethnic violence in a single neighbourhood of the city in recent days, while the Roman Catholic charity Caritas said the number exceeded 1,000.

Red Cross spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas said delegates from the Ivorian Red Cross had visited Duekoue on Thursday and Friday to gather evidence and saw a "huge number of bodies." ...

Meanwhile, local youths armed by Gbagbo in anticipation of the rebel attack are now marauding in the streets of Abidjan.

Residents say they are afraid to leave their houses. Stores and homes are being ransacked across the city, though it's unclear whether the looters are acting under orders or simply taking advantage of the power vacuum in the streets.

One of the reasons for the equal-opportunity brutality is that the same soldiers are often fighting on both sides. They just switch uniforms depending on who is paying this month. The Christian Science Monitor interviewed Liberian mercenaries who regaled them with stories about committing atrocities for one faction and then the other. "Liberian mercenaries returning from western Ivory Coast tell the Monitor that they recently fought for both sides in Ivory Coast's civil war, killing civilians, raping women, and destroying villages as they went." They were surprisingly cheap. For $1,500 per brute you could get as much violence as you could possibly want. And then you could renege on the deal and get even more brutality out of the enraged mercenary, as he retaliated on whoever was available. Kind of like buy one take one, no interest payments, eat all you want.

One commander of a unit of more than 30 Liberian mercenaries who returned days ago from Ivory Coast, Karmo Watson, says he was approached by a go-between for forces loyal to Ivory Coast President-elect Alassane Ouattara called "Colonel Mark" in December with an offer of $1,500 to fight for Mr. Ouattara.

When he wasn't paid after arriving in Ivory Coast months ago and fighting in another nation's battle, he and his men went on a rampage.

“I killed people. I burned villages. After that I got wounded," says Mr. Watson. "I did it because [recruiters] lied to me. $1,500 US. They said they would pay me when we got there. I came back with nothing. I came back with sickness. I came back screaming, cold, crying.”

Johann Hari, writing in the British left wing newspaper the Independent believes that if the Security Council were really worried about "humanitarian issues" they would look no further than Africa.

The war in the Congo is the deadliest war since Adolf Hitler marched across Europe. When I reported on it, I saw the worst things I could have ever conceived of: armies of drugged and mutilated children, women who had been gang-raped and shot in the vagina. Over five million people have been killed so far – and the trail of blood runs directly to your mobile phone and mine.

The major UN investigation into the war explained how it happened. They said bluntly and factually that "armies of business" had invaded Congo to pillage its resources and sell them to the knowing West. The most valuable loot is coltan, which is used to make the metal in our mobile phones and games consoles and laptops. The "armies of business" fought and killed to control the mines and send it to us. The UN listed some of the major Western corporations fuelling this trade, and said if they were stopped, it would largely end the war.

So why don't they look at Africa?  Is it because nobody cares about blacks killing blacks or UN helicopters killing blacks in Africa? Because it pushes all the wrong buttons? Because we know the UN is doubleplusgood, Iphones and Facebook are doubleplusgood, Europe is at least plusgood and George W. Bush is not involved?  Why everybody knows that war for oil is bad, but war for Facebook, for cellphones -- now there's something worth fighting for.  Why should anyone give a damn about Africa? The reasons for war are always at least partly magical. In the West this magic is called "talking points".

Hari should ask himself if it's just the "armies of business" that are indifferent. Jesse Jacskson or Keith Ellison or the Left don't seem care either. Louis Farrakhan has been on about "Brother Khadaffi". What about Brother Karmo Watson? Nope, it ain't their thing. There are lots of rallies to support Palestine, to close the prison in Guantanamo or to pull out of Afghanistan or Iraq. But when was the last time you ever saw a rally to get the French out of the Ivory Coast? Or to stop the genocide in the Congo? Come to think of it, where there ever any rallies of note back in the 1970s denouncing the Killing Fields in Cambodia? The reality is that nobody gives a damn about the poor and the oppressed unless it relates to some kind of domestic political agenda in the West.

Palestinian and Islamic causes are powerful in the West because there is big money behind them.  Brother Louis remembers Brother Khadaff because the Brother Duck of Death loaned him 8 million bucks. The Copts, the North Korean masses, and the African poor in general don't have lobbyists and therein lies the difference. They will get no attention either from the "armies of business" or the mandarins of the Left. Lobbying and PR is the real magic stone of whose existence the people of the Ivory Coast are unaware. "They (those who built it) hold its secret," the Ivorian woman said. I will whisper the secret to her. The secret is pay to play.

"When beggars die there are no comets seen;

The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."

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