Ivory Coast Political Rivals United in Fear of Hunter Magic
Ivory Coast's rival political groups may not agree on much, but everyone believes that traditional Dozo hunters used their magical powers to fend off security forces during last week's post-election clashes.
Police had come to the home of politician Alassane Ouattara to separate his supporters who were fighting with backers of new President Laurent Gbagbo on Thursday.
Six of Ouattara's supporters died in the clashes with security forces outside his home, prompting him to seek refuge in the neighboring home of the German ambassador.
Dressed in burlap trousers with amulets strapped to their bodies, the Dozos' appearance alone is formidable. When a dozen Dozo hunters joined supporters of Ouattara's Rally of Republicans (RDR) party to defend his home, security forces went running.
"The police arrived with (Gbagbo supporters). They threw teargas grenades against the RDR, who responded with stones. The (police) fired some shots.
"Then the Dozo, who were crouched in the grass, lashed out brutally. The police screamed for help and ran away. They knew that the Dozos' mystic powers aren't imaginary," said Guillaume Soro, a Ouattara supporter.
An estimated 40,000 Dozo hunters live in Ivory Coast, mostly in the northern savannah regions. Ouattara is also from the north.
In many Ivorians' minds, the Dozo hunters can make themselves bulletproof, can turn invisible when in danger, and can use amulets, potions and chants to deal with the spirit world.
Ouattara's supporters said the Dozo did not need to fire their homemade guns. Gbagbo's supporters said they did fire some shots, but agree that the Dozo's magic was the real weapon.
"The Dozos ran up firing, they weren't afraid. The police had to hide because they knew it was pointless to fire. The Dozo chased them through the streets, screaming: 'Come on, come on, we're waiting for you!'" recalled 26-year-old Honore Gaumon.
"The police are Africans, they cannot deny mystic powers of the Dozo. Everyone knows they are protected from guns, knifes and machetes," said Kisito Kacou, 35.
Gaumon and Kacou are Ebrie, one of the ethnic groups opposed to Ouattara, whose supporters had taken to the streets Thursday to demand a re-run of the presidential race he was barred from.
They live near Ouattara's home and saw the police run.
Retired police officer Benjamin Gaumon, also an Ebrie, does not deny the Dozos' powers -- although he says the police ran away because they were not authorized to fire their guns and they needed to find back-up.
Despite their famed powers, the highest-profile Dozo in Ivory Coast was hospitalized Wednesday with a head injury. Former military ruler Robert Guei's special adviser Balla Keita is a Dozo hunter, but he was injured during the mass protests that ousted Guei.
After Guei seized power in December last year, Dozos around the country took up the task of maintaining law and order, prompting Gbagbo to comment at the time: "My country governed by Dozos, I cannot accept it" -- -- ABIDJAN (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)