Toulépleu is normally a bustling market town close to the border with Liberia. Today it is strangely calm, the roads are mostly empty and there is no buzz even though it is market day. Some of the most brutal battles in the final days of the political crisis in Côte d’Ivoire took place here.
Just off the main road Eugénie Oulé is wandering through her house. It was clearly once an imposing, five-room concrete house. Now all that remains inside are charred beams and broken bits of crockery.
Shock is still etched on her face. On April 6 a gun battle broke out in the village. Eugénie fled with her children as soon as she heard the first shots. But her husband, a customs officer, remained as he had a bad leg and could not run. When she returned she learned about the ghastly fate of her husband.
‘They shot him in his bed, he couldn’t run away,’ she says holding in her hand some buttons from his uniform she has found in the rubble. ‘Then they dragged the mattress outside and burned his body on it.’ She has also found the empty cartridges.
There are still scorch marks on the ground outside her house, a constant reminder of her husband’s grisly end. She still finds it difficult to talk about it, stares with vacant eyes.
The children are in Liberia with her husband’s second wife but she felt the need to come back and is staying with friends. Their only source of food is their monthly WFP rations of rice, beans, corn soya blend and oil.
The préfet of the region, Abdoul Diarra, is sitting at his improvised office, a desk on a terrace; his office was completely looted. According to him about 35 percent of the town’s population of 30,000 has returned home. He remembers that in April the town was completely empty.
‘It felt like a ghost town. There is of course still fear about security now, but people also have fears about where to sleep and what to eat,’ says Abdoul Diarra. ‘We feel very isolated here; it is even difficult to pick up a mobile network here. I have gone to the border myself to try and encourage people to come back.’
His presence at the border may have had an effect; more people are coming back every day from other areas of Côte d’Ivoire and from Liberia. WFP is responding to this unexpected number by reducing rations so as to reach more beneficiaries.
‘It is the beneficiaries themselves who asked me to suggest this solution to WFP,’ says Abdoul Diarra. ‘I feel very encouraged by this, sharing our assets is an important step on the road to reconciliation.’