ABIDJAN, April 10 (Reuters) - For many of the combatants in Ivory Coast conflict, magic counts just as much as military might.
As rival forces of Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara pursued their battle for Abidjan on Sunday, a small group of pro-Ouattara soldiers went to the northern entry point of the port city intent on destroying a roughly cut block of stone on a pedestal.
“This is the stone erected when Laurent Gbagbo came to power, to put Abidjan under his spell,” explained Lieutenant Daniel Dodo as soldiers took turn to bash away at the monument with a mallet.
“By knocking it down, we are liberating Abidjan,” he said as a final blow of the mallet sent the stone block crashing to the ground.
From inside the pedestal, soldiers pulled out dirty rags of red cloth which Dodo said had been treated with a spell by a fetishist from the tiny Central African island state of Sao Tome.
“Red is symbolic, they say human blood is needed to give power to the amulet,” said Dodo, who like many pro-Ouattara troops wear a black tee-shirt with the French words “battalion mystic” — “mystical battalion” — on the back.
No official comment was available on the origin or meaning of the stone monument, which had been almost hidden from view in the long grass between two lanes of the urban motorway going to central Abidjan.
As in other African countries, belief in magic remains widespread in Ivory Coast, where Christianity and Islam sit alongside traditional belief systems.
Local residents needed no convincing of the stone’s mystical power.
“This is what is bringing unhappiness to Ivory Coast,” said Denis Gonhdene, a 46-year-old local in the Yopougon neighbourhood, and one of a crowd of around 200 who came to watch it being knocked down.
“They (those who built it) hold its secret,” said Gonhdene “But we have removed the secret to be able to have peace.”