Amputee Ivorian war veteran fights for compensation
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It’s been a year and a half since Ivory Coast’s post-election crisis ended, but many former soldiers are still waiting for the government to compensate them for the injuries incurred during the conflict. Our Observer, who served in the armed forces that supported now-President Alassane Ouattara, describes how the conflict has turned his life upside down.
Moustapha Touré before his injury, when he served in the Forces Nouvelles (“New Forces”), loyal to President Alassane Ouattara.
It’s been a year and a half since Ivory Coast’s post-election crisis ended, but many former soldiers are still waiting for government compensation for the injuries incurred during the conflict. Our Observer, who served in the armed forces that supported now-President Alassane Ouattara, describes how the conflict has turned his life upside down.
The government is currently carrying out a nationwide survey of former soldiers involved in the post-election crisis. The aim is to establish the exact number of soldiers who took up arms between December 2010 and April 2011, and identify the injuries they suffered during the conflict. The number of wounded soldiers is currently estimated at 100,000, but experts believe that the real figure is much lower. According to Bertin Kouassi Yao, an advisor to the Minister of Defence and the coordinator of the project, the survey should be completed within “a month”.
Alongside this survey, a new government body has been set up to work on disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration of former soldiers. Created at the end of August by President Ouattara, this organisation is intended to replace the current veterans infrastructure. Since the first crisis in Ivory Coast (2002 – 2007), there have been a number of “disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration” (DDR) programmes, but none of them have produced any real results. ONUCI, the UN force in Ivory Coast, is involved in this new government body, which is not yet operational.
"I had to take the train to Burkina Faso to get treatment […] I soon realised that I’d have to fend for myself"
Moustapha Touré comes from Odienné in the north-west of Ivory Coast and now lives in the west of the country, in Man. He was a soldier in the Forces Nouvelles (“New Forces”), a former rebel group that supported Ouattara after the results of the presidential election were disputed by outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo. The Forces Nouvelles arrived in Abidjan at the end of March 2011 and after two weeks of intense fighting defeated the pro-Gbagbo forces.
I joined the army in 2002 because I felt it was my duty. Under the command of Zacharia Kone, the Forces Nouvelles were fighting Laurent Gbagbo’s soldiers and as I’m from the north myself [where the Forces Nouvelles were based], I knew I had to get involved. The Forces Nouvelles were fighting for us and they needed men.
I knew how to drive so they put me behind the wheel of a 4x4. The fighting lasted for about a year. Then came the cease-fire, and after that a period of disarmament. During the years that followed there was some fighting but it was within our own camp, in the north. Aside from that, things were relatively calm.
During the presidential election in November 2010, I was sent to the southwest region of Soubré in the southwest, where we were tasked with ensuring security and making sure that the electoral regulations were being respected. When Gbagbo refused to accept the election results, our commanders told us that we were going to have to take military action. In February 2011 we went to Danané [in the west] and it was there that the first shots were fired. Pro-Gbagbo mercenaries from Liberia fired at us when we tried to attack one of their positions. From then on, we moved around from town to town. We were involved in some very violent confrontations with the opposition forces. On one occasion we lost 20 men in a single battle.
"I was shot in the thigh and the doctors decided to put my leg in a cast"
At the end of March we made our way to Bloléquin [in the west]. On the day we arrived there, I was put in charge of rounding up civilians to bring them to a safer area. By nightfall I had gathered together around 100 people but as we were short on vehicles we organised for them to spend the night at the local police station. A truck was due to come the next morning to collect them. We were positioned about 100 metres away, keeping watch over the station. At 4 a.m. we were attacked by armed militias. We’d all been half asleep so they took us completely by surprise. While we were trying to retreat I was shot in the thigh. One of my fellow soldiers picked me up and carried me away from the fighting on his shoulders. I was one of the luckier ones; at least four soldiers were killed that night.
I was driven to a hospital in Odienné. But the hospital didn’t have any means of treating the wound in my leg. Due to the war being waged outside, they could only offer patients very basic care and eventually the doctors decided to put my leg in a cast. I stayed there for a month before my superiors decided I ought to go to Burkina Faso to seek treatment. So my mother, my girlfriend, and my younger brother took me by train to Ouagadougou. It was a nightmare: the journey took 62 hours and I had to pay for the entire trip.
Our Observer photographed some of his friends in Man who, like him, are former soldiers waiting for compensation from the government for the injuries they suffered.
"My foot had rotted and my nerves had been permanently damaged. There was nothing they could do except amputate my leg"
In a small town near the capital, I was treated by Italian doctors who worked for a Christian organisation. As soon as they took my cast off they told me they would have to amputate my leg. If I’d arrived a few weeks earlier they might have been able to save it and I might have been able to walk again. But by this point it had become a question of life or death. My foot had rotted and the nerves were permanently damaged. My mother was against the amputation – I‘m her first-born son and it was a terrible blow to her – but the doctors had no choice.
During the six months that I was there I didn’t hear from any of my commanding officers; they knew where I was, but they didn’t even call to see how I was doing. I soon realized that I would have to fend for myself, but this wasn’t easy. As I didn’t have enough money to pay for the operations I needed, I kept asking to be discharged from the hospital so that I could go back to Ivory Coast. The doctor repeatedly refused, saying that my wound hadn’t healed yet, but in the end he gave in and agreed to discharge me. My plan was to go and see my commanding officers, in the hope that they would take pity on me and offer me some financial help.
"My former commanders pretended not to recognise me"
I got back to Man in September. I saw my former commanders several times but they’ve all ignored me. To this day they pretend not to recognise me. And on the few occasions when I’ve been able to explain the situation, my requests have always been refused. On one occasion I approached one of the former commanders and he asked me what I wanted. I told him that I wanted to be independent but for this to be possible, I needed money. He replied: “You were destined to be like this!”
Fortunately I have some acquaintances who, out of pity, help me out financially from time to time. My brother, who is in France, sent me some crutches, but what I really need is a prosthetic limb. I have three children of my own and I’m now responsible for the children of one of my brothers who was killed in the war. I can’t afford to send any of them to school this year.
"My name has been put on the register but nothing’s come of it yet"
Several government organisations have come to Man to carry out a survey of the victims of the war. They came to my house and my name has been put on the register. But nothing’s come of it yet. I contacted the military authorities in Abidijan to ask them to help me pay for a prosthetic limb. They asked me for a lot of medical documents for their files but that was five or six months ago and I haven’t heard anything from them since. And I’m not the only one in this situation.
All I want is some farming equipment that I can use to work my parents’ land. This would enable me to earn a living. My disability wouldn’t be a problem; if I had machines I’d be able to manage.