Militia Lines of Defense

Militia leaders have many titles, many costumes, many languages they speak with, depending on the occasion, crowd, and purpose, but usually one air of localized arrogance.

They use all means of brute power, religious, political, sectarian, ethnic, geographical, ignorance of their constituents and enemies, to defend something they feel they need to, against what they perceive to be an aggressor, purifying their land back to whatever ancestors they can come up with, glorifying themselves in historical and pan-futuristic terms.

They quote any religious text, put whatever guns they can find in the hands of dispossessed youths, set up roadblocks in the form of protective extortion, thrive in the midst of middling civil wars and curfews, intimidate rivals into forced submission or collusion, be it businesspeople, witch doctors, journalists, teachers. The sad reality is everything in Africa is raw, but the same methods apply elsewhere, just at different levels of sophistication and with different sums of money.

Maho Glohefi is one such leader. His base is in Guiglo, western Ivory Coast. He claims to have five-thousand young men under his command. His group is usually called FLGO, Front for the Liberation of the Great West, the Ivorian one that is, a cocoa and timber-rich jungle.

He has a square jaw and square face, a strong build, a piercing look, simultaneously in your eyes and in the distance, and many costumes to wear.

He says he used to be third assistant to the mayor in Guiglo. The mayor and other assistants fled this unstable area, caught near the front line of the Ivorian conflict, teeming with refugees, including former fighters, from Liberia’s own civil war.

Glohefi’s base is right behind UN offices. UN officials never have any teeth against such militia leaders. During a flare-up of violence, FLGO members took over their base, sending Pakistani peacekeepers fleeing, some of them leaving their guns behind.

Glohefi says his fighters also armed themselves with the weapons northern rebels left behind, when they were unable to pierce resistance by FLGO fighters and French foreign legion during their unsuccessful attempt to claim a greater swathe of the Ivorian cocoa corridor.

While the war was still going on, it was difficult to reach Glohefi, necessitating an exercise of gaining trust, through common contacts and the pandering of flattery.

I was with an Ivorian journalist and a French one. I’m a Franco-Dutch-American mix, and I’ve found it’s best to be completely honest about who I am, in as many details as possible. The boring effect has value of dissipation. In times of danger, involving weapons and hatred, I find dissipation to have a soothing effect.

We got stopped at one point by a cadre of local army commanders. During the fighting, their soldiers had fled, fearing that rebels had more witchcraft, and that their government bullets would be turned to water. But now their commanders were back in place, at least outside militia zones of influence.

One of them had a huge beard. We had Flag beer and cigarettes to share for such instances. When asked where he came from, the French journalist first said he came from the United States, then Belgium (he wrote for a Belgian newspaper), then admitted he was French, after all. Being a French journalist in Ivory Coast can be dangerous. Two of them, one who used a nom de plume, another who always played up his minor Canadian ties, were killed while investigating disappearances, of people and money.

Another of the military cadres laughed a midday beer-soaked laugh. He said France and Ivory Coast were like tongue and teeth. He said the teeth can bite the tongue, but that they remain in the same mouth.

Glohefi gave us long winded interviews, the full military parade, even though most of his boys wore flip flops. He kept on wanting to see us more, setting up new appointments over our day in Guiglo. We dared say no. One of the additional appointments was a meal; another was a talk with village elders, including some who had fled the Liberian war, but were from the same ethnic group.

And then, he wanted to see us one more time. We kept on kidding ourselves, he’d take us to a graveyard and make us dig our own graves. In the end, it was just to give us some money, a fairly large amount, probably about 200 dollars.

On the way back, we met a few of the Ivorian journalist’s relatives and gave them most of the money, and spent the rest on a small town celebration, going back and forth between maquis, drinking more Flag. On the way out, the next morning, the Ivorian journalist realized he had forgotten his wedding ring he had taken off in his hotel room, but luckily, everyone was still asleep, and we were able to sneak out a second time.

Back in Abidjan, I decided to send Glohefi a few of the pictures I had snapped up, but when my Ivorian partner came into my office, showing me one of my shots had made the front page of an Ivorian rebel newspaper he wrote for with a pseudonym, without him having warned me of this plan, complete with my car in the background, I decided it would be best not to pursue any personal contact with Glohefi for a while, and just write about him from a safe distance.

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