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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November 2004, 16:18 GMT
Analysis: Ivory Coast's hate media
We take a look at the role of the media in the riots in Ivory Coast during the past 10 days.

French gendarmes fire tear gas to disperse protesters in Abidjan.
The protesters heeded televised calls to take to the streets

It would be easy to think that the last few days of anti-white violence, and explosive protest throughout the streets of Abidjan, have been the product of chaos.

Yet there is strong evidence to suggest that the supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo, who reacted so strongly to the French destruction of the Ivorian air force near the beginning of this latest crisis, have been receiving firm orders on how to behave.

National television and radio has been broadcasting fervent, not to say feverish, messages calling on people to take to the streets.

On occasions, the messages have strayed from the motivational to the incendiary.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan demanded what he called "hate media" be stopped immediately.

Monday's UN Security Council decision to impose sanctions on Ivory Coast was even more explicit.

It demanded "that the Ivorian authorities stop all radio and television broadcasting hatred, intolerance and violence".

It also announced that anyone "who incites publicly hatred and violence" will have their bank accounts frozen and will be stopped from leaving the country.

So just what has been flooding the airwaves and television screens of the country in the past few days?

Protest radio

President Laurent Gbagbo's opponents have frequently claimed that he has installed a system of parallel government in which the army is seconded and sometimes supplanted by militias, and in which the government of national reconciliation is bypassed by shadowy advisers.

President Laurent Gbagbo
Gbagbo called for calm, but the media did not
When the French peacekeepers destroyed the Ivorian air force, it was obvious that the Ivorian armed forces did not have the resources - nor perhaps the desire - to respond.

Instead, a flurry of radio and television broadcasts called on ordinary Ivorians to take to the streets.

Charles Ble Goude, the leader of the Young Patriots, whom the UN accuse of being a militia, sprang into action, making an impassioned broadcast calling on the Ivorian air force to "retake the airport", which had been seized by the French.

Tens of thousands of young men and women surged towards the airport, only to be beaten back by French soldiers and helicopters, at the cost of several lives and hundreds of injuries.

It was these people who then turned their attentions to French and other white citizens.

Days of looting and occasional violence have forced thousands of Westerners to flee the country.

Words of war

President Laurent Gbagbo later made a televised speech calling for calm.

But the television surrounded that appeal with repeated broadcasts by former Prime Minister Pascal Affi Nguessan, the head of President Gbagbo's FPI party, to stop the French military "using any means necessary".

Another speech that was played and replayed was National Assembly speaker Mamadou Koulibaly.

He said France's actions were equivalent to a declaration of war.

When French tanks and armoured vehicles massed at the Hotel Ivoire, a luxury hotel not far from the state television and the presidential residence, state media implored Ivorians to form a human shield around the president.

According to the radio, the French tanks were intending to oust President Gbagbo.

Again, thousands of people responded to the call, and again, hundreds of people were injured and at least 10 died.

State television showed report after report showing wounded men and women in graphic detail, accompanied by commentaries denouncing France.

Other programmes invited pro-Gbagbo leaders to give their opinions - and exhortations.


Sometimes there was a religious dimension to the speeches - which is particularly significant in a country split in two by a war that many have portrayed as the largely Christian south against the largely Muslim north.

Protesters descend on Abidjan's Hotel Ivoire
State media urged Ivorians to protect the president
One woman called on all Christians to mobilise, as "Satan has attacked the country".

In the last few weeks, there has been no room for dissenting voices in the state media.

All opposition newspapers have been either destroyed or banned in the government-held south.

When the Ivorian armed forces launched air attacks on 4 November, the head of the television station, Kebe Yacouba, was sidelined in favour of a hardliner.

Although officially he has not been replaced, Mr Yacouba was insistent he bore no responsibility for what would be broadcast in the days and weeks to come.

Silver Nebout, one of President Gbagbo's communications advisers, was at the television station on the morning Jean-Paul Dahily was brought in to replace Kebe Yacouba.

"In this time of crisis, it is important to manage information," he told the BBC.

Over the last couple of weeks, information has been managed in one direction and often with very precise objectives in mind.

For many in Ivory Coast, the "hate media" that Kofi Annan railed against are reminiscent of Radio Mille Collines in Rwanda, which in 1994 called for - and got - genocide.

In Abidjan, some people are already calling the state radio "Radio Mille Lagoons", after the lagoons that dot the southern, government-held half of the country.

Ivory Coast is still a long way removed from what happened in Rwanda.

Nevertheless, state radio and television are unquestionably a powerful weapon in a crisis which is frequently being fought through decidedly unconventional means.


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