April 8, 2011 / 12:53 PM / 8 years ago

Life, of sorts, goes on in Ivory Coast's main city

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A two-day lull in fighting and an easing of the curfew are bringing the cowed residents of Abidjan slowly back out onto the streets.

Women draw water in Abidjan April 8, 2011. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

But few believe the shattered city that was once the economic jewel of West Africa will see normal life any time soon, even when a four-month power struggle between presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara and rival Laurent Gbagbo is resolved.

“Just give us food to eat and water to drink and wash with. The rest can come later,” said laborer Guy-Rogier Bolou at a market in the northern Yopougon suburb.

Market may be too grand a term for the paltry offering on display Friday.

Tiny sachets of drinking water, barely more than a couple of gulps, are on sale alongside the omnipresent packs of manioch — ground cassava, an Ivorian staple food.

No fresh vegetables or fruit are to be seen, while meat and fish have long been absent from the diet of many Abidjanais.

An abandoned blue saloon car by the market stalls, a hole from a sniper’s bullet through its windshield, is testimony to street battles that have turned many neighborhoods into ghost towns, with most people hiding out in their homes.

Samira Ouattara — no relation to the presidential claimant — holds up a tiny plastic bag containing an onion, a single chili pepper, a pack of cigarettes, a couple of spoonfuls ground manioch and a sachet of peanut paste.

“That cost 2,000 CFA today — double what it normally would be,” said the 27-year-old, adding that she and her friends were supplementing rations for their families with sweet potato leaves scavenged from fields on the outskirts of the city.

Two thousand CFA — about $4 — doesn’t seem much, but it can be a full day’s salary for the lucky few with jobs and still getting paid.

All those interviewed had watched or heard of Ouattara’s televised address to the nation late on Thursday, urging the EU to drop sanctions on Ivorian ports and appealing to commercial banks to re-open their branches.

In a speech aimed at persuading Ivorians to try and get on with their lives, Ouattara used his own TCI television channel to promise that his parallel government was doing all it could to bring restart basic services — even as Gbagbo and his allies remain bunkered in his heavily guarded downtown residence.

Sibrinah Coulibaly, 34, whose business selling fish was destroyed by looters who smashed his refrigeration equipment, said he was still confident for the future.

“We’ve had it worse than this — 2002 for example,” he said of the all-out civil war that left the country divided in two.

“I believe we can pull ourselves out of it this time ... It’s up to all of us Ivorians to work together.

Editing by Louise Ireland

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