Laurent Gbagbo is currently surrounded in his presidential residence in Abidjan by forces loyal to the Ivory Coast's internationally recognized leader, Alassane Ouattara, who has decided to wait for Gbagbo, his family, his close advisers, and a couple hundred pro-Gbagbo fighters to run out of food and water and cede power. A dramatic scene, for sure, but one that's a bit hard to imagine given that many news outlets, in describing the situation, write that Gbagbo is some variation on "holed up in an underground bunker," without elaborating. This bunker, people, is no ordinary bunker.
Most of what we know about the bunker comes from Guy Labertit, a longtime Gbagbo associate and former African affairs adviser for France's Socialist party who says, in interviews with the Associated Press and The New York Times, that he visited Gbagbo's palace several times. Here's what we know about the place where Gbagbo is making a last stand:
- It has a moat. Gbagbo's sprawling compound is located on a peninsula and surrounded on all sides by a natural moat--what the AP calls "Abidjan's glassy lagoon."
- It has two levels The "first basement" is a "place of culture and comfort," Labertit tells the Times, with a "grand ministerial meeting room" often used for Cabinet gatherings and a library/lounge with books "in their original Latin, befitting a former professor like Mr. Gbagbo" (Gbagbo taught history). Gbagbo often addresses the Ivorian people people from the library, the AP says. The photo above shows Gbagbo in his palace last year, but it's unclear which room he's in. The basement's second level, the Times explains, houses the palace's plumbing.
- It has a secret passage. The second level is also home to an underground tunnel to the French ambassador's residence that Ivory Coast's first president built so he could take refuge with the ambassador if there was a coup, according to the AP (the Ivory Coast is a former French colony). But before you imagine negotiators shuttling back and forth in the secret passage in the dead of night, you should know that the passageway has been blocked off for some time now. It was Gbagbo himself who sealed the tunnel off with a metallic slab after accusing France of supporting a rebel group that tried to oust him in 2002. The AP notes that some of the fighters from that rebel group are now backing Ouattara and assaulting Gbagbo's residence.
- It has communications equipment. From his bunker, Gbagbo has delivered a national address and given interviews to French television and radio stations.