One Million Strong
As fighting intensifies between forces loyal to the two men who both claim to be Ivory Coast’s rightful president, thousands of young supporters of the contested incumbent say they will join the army to “liberate” their country.The would-be recruits are responding to a call that many fear increases the likelihood of renewed civil war, and a growing humanitarian crisis, following November’s contested election.For almost four months, Ivory Coast has been paralyzed by a political tug-of-war between disputed President Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, internationally recognized as president-elect.In Abidjan, the chant and response at the army’s headquarters Monday morning went: “We’re ready to kill. Those little rebels are going to die. Would you like a Kalashnikov rifle?”Hundred of Thousands of men — most young, but some older — and a few young women gathered to enlist in the armed forces. Known as Young Patriots, they are followers of Charles Ble Goude, the man they call their streetwise general. He is the fiery youth minister in Gbagbo’s government.
At a mass rally over the weekend, Ble Goude urged his Young Patriots to sign up, asking: “Are you ready to fight to liberate your country?”Thousands of his supporters said yes. “Let’s free our country,” they chanted.”We don’t lead the country with militia. We don’t need to kill people that we want to lead. My appeal is to the Young Patriots for them to be enrolled in the army to defend the country,” Ble Goude says, adding that many are rushing to enlist.”I ask all the youth of Ivory Coast, who feel able, who are ready to die for their motherland, who can no longer accept the humiliation suffered by Ivory Coast, to present themselves to the army chief of staff, in order to free our country from these ruffians,” he says.Jo Nicole, 23, is one of the few women to join the thousands of men who answered Ble Goude’s call and lined up Monday to join the army. She says she’s doing it for her young son.”I’ve never taken up arms in my life, but we’re suffering,” she says. “Our country has been attacked by rebels and terrorists. We need to free this country. I’m not afraid. I’m going carry a [Kalashnikov] and liberate my country.”