Refugee fights lonely battle for justice in his homeland

Post Date: Apr 3rd, 2011 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Sayed is a Vision First member since 2009 and was interviewed by SCMP as he campaigned outside the Rugby Sevens

A political refugee from the Ivory Coast who is seeking asylum in Hong Kong is on a one-man crusade to highlight injustice in his strife-torn country and to publicise what he says is Beijing’s financial backing for an ‘evil regime’. The man – who wants to be known only as Sayed because of his close links with the Ivory Coast government’s bitter rivals, the Rally of the Republicans party – came to the city nearly three years ago as an asylum seeker when threats were made against his life in his homeland, where he worked as an organiser and leader for the party’s youth branch. He says China is only interested in the Ivory Coast’s natural resources, not its people. Sayed’s campaign comes as Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo – who refuses to leave power after losing the presidential election, despite international pressure to do so – reels from mass defections among his soldiers and security forces. Yesterday, gunfire, explosions and the sound of heavy weapons could be heard in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city and economic capital, as forces supporting Gbagbo’s rival, Alassane Ouattara, who won the presidential election in November, stormed the city. ‘I just want to show what is happening in my country. The Ivory Coast is being ruled by a dictator,’ the 31-year-old said, referring to Gbagbo. ‘I want to educate people and let them know what the situation is like there.’

CIA World Factbook – Ivory Coast:

Ivorian protest
Ivorian protest

A civil war began on September 19, 2002. Although most of the fighting had ended by late 2004, the country remained split in two, with a rebel-held north and a government-held south. Fighting resumed over the impasse on the election results when Gbagbo refused to step down and opposition forces now control at least 80 per cent of the country. Gbagbo had delayed the election six times from 2005. Since then the violence has escalated and more than one million people have been displaced. The situation worsened last week when at least 800 people were killed in the western Ivory Coast city of Duekoue, the International Committee of the Red Cross said. Fighting has continued in Abidjan between forces loyal to the UN-recognised President Ouattara and Gbagbo. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Hong Kong said there were only two asylum seekers from Ivory Coast in the city. Sayed decided to protest and raise awareness about his country’s crisis because of the international community’s continued focus on Libya and other Arab countries. Sayed started a petition to highlight the crisis, with more than 2,000 signatures, and he protested outside the French and US embassies over his country’s plight. He is also angry at Beijing. ‘China has no interest in the Ivory Coast or its people,’ he said. ‘They are only interested in our natural resources – it is the world’s largest supplier of cocoa. They don’t mind funding the evil government regime there because it gives them more influence.

The relationship between China and Ivory Coast is unjust, because China continuously uses its veto rights to stop Security Council resolutions which are supposed to stop the violence in my country, such as a resolution for an arms embargo.’ As well as cocoa, the Ivory Coast has large untapped oil resources. China has promised about 46 million yuan (HK$54.5 million) to the West African state. Ivory Coast authorities described the gesture as a fulfilment of a concessionary loan made by China at a China-Africa summit in Beijing in 2006. The Ivory Coast’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that China had given millions to the country to finance projects. China gave more than 300 million yuan for construction in the political capital, Yamoussoukro, when the country experienced it’s first rebellion in 2002. China is also financing a new parliament building and presidential palace. ‘Why is China funding a dictator like Gbagbo? It’s because they’ll reap the benefits later,’ Sayed said. ‘China wants to tap our raw materials to sustain its own industries.’ China has long denied accusations of new colonialism and it has repeatedly said it would not attach any strings to its investment in Africa. China’s investment helped it and Africa, and China attached great importance to Africa because of Beijing’s commitment to developing countries, Liu Youfa , vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, told, a news portal under the State Council Information Office, in February. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki has warned African governments over sinking into a colonial relationship with China. Mbeki said the continent must not reduce itself to being a supplier of raw materials in exchange for China’s manufactured goods because of the unequal relationship this will create. Victims of war: The current fighting in Ivory Coast has left this many people displaced: 1m
(This article by John Carney appeared on 3 April 2011 in the SCMP)