Stacks of glittery blue, orange and burgundy kente cloth fill Charles Bezou's roadside shack. He used to earn more than $100 for one of his hand-woven bedspreads, often purchased by French women who lunched at the airy bistros of this beachfront community.
But five months into a civil war that has divided Ivory Coast in half and killed thousands of its people, Bezou is lucky to sell a bedspread for $20, and sometimes lets them go for as little as $5.
At the handicrafts cooperative down the road, artists pound out shiny brass lampshades, pineapple-shaped napkin holders and figurines of African women carrying babies on their backs and firewood on their heads. Before the conflict, these artists received dozens of orders every week; now they sell a few items a month.
"One year ago, our country was a place for African artists. We were a symbol of what Africa could be without war and with good leaders," said Daramane Oueddrog, 22, who stood amid hundreds of musty-smelling brass bracelets, heart-shaped jewelry boxes, crosses and plates. "Now there is war, the leaders are fighting. Now we will be a nation of beggars."
An attempted coup on Sept. 19 by rebels seeking to overthrow President Laurent Gbagbo escalated into months of chaotic violence. Ever since, the setbacks suffered by artisans have been duplicated in countless corners of the country, from rural cocoa fields to the high-rise office buildings of Abidjan. In addition, Ivory Coast's neighbors are reeling from the effects of the war, illustrating how political instability sends shock waves across a continent struggling to promote itself as a place to do business, economists and other analysts say.
"A threat to Ivory Coast is a threat to all of us," said President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.
Ivory Coast was once a symbol of African economic triumph, a place where even poor villages deep in the jungle had electricity and water, where the commercial capital, Abidjan, boasted sparkling skyscrapers, glitzy chocolate shops and French bakeries serving glazed fruit tarts and butter croissants. The country's independence leader and first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, welcomed foreigners and the business that came with them. He encouraged people from France, the country's colonial ruler, to keep working and living here. Until recently, French residents numbered more than 20,000.
Immigrants from other African countries were welcome, too. They worked in the fields of the world's largest cocoa producer or supported families back home by laboring as guards, gardeners, cooks and housekeepers for the well-to-do of Abidjan.
But with 40 percent of its export earnings coming from two crops -- cocoa and coffee -- Ivory Coast has always been at the mercy of foreign markets, a volatile economic situation that made political stability as precarious as it was precious. Houphouet-Boigny's policies -- and the advantages of one-man rule -- largely kept the country on an even keel.
But his death in 1993 and the collapse of cocoa prices changed everything. The ensuing decade has brought economic decline and political upheaval. The average Ivorian's annual income declined from $760 to $630 between 1997 and 2001, according to World Bank figures, and the military seized power in 1999.
Democracy was restored in 2000 with a disputed election that brought Gbagbo to the presidency. A southerner and a Christian, Gbagbo was accused by many in the mostly Muslim north of exploiting ethnic and religious divisions. The Sept. 19 uprising failed to topple him and left the north in the hands of rebels calling for his resignation.
Today, the country teeters somewhere between war and peace. A cease-fire has largely held despite sporadic reports of fighting, but a French-brokered peace plan has yet to be implemented.
An unmistakable casualty of the war has been the economy. Fighting prevented raw materials from the north from making their way to the businesses and ports of the south. Ivorian businesses have shut down, and foreign firms have fled. Last week, for example, the African Development Bank sent home 1,000 well-paid executives from its Abidjan headquarters. Two weeks ago, thousands of expatriates working for the African headquarters of Nestle packed up and left.
The ripple effect is visible in Abidjan among businesses that catered to affluent foreigners. Upscale Vietnamese and French restaurants stand empty. Delivery giant DHL Worldwide Express has let half its employees go. Ivorians who earned decent wages working in the leafy villas of the rich now have no money to send to relatives in rural areas.
"After this war, we will never remember the Ivory Coast how it used to be -- a hospitable, friendly, wonderful business place," said Kwame Pianim, chief executive officer of New World Investments Ltd., a brokerage firm based in Ghana. "Everything there has gone down, and the economy with it. It sets a bad example for foreign investment in Africa."
Ivory Coast's neighbors, particularly landlocked Mali and Burkina Faso, are suffering, too. Gold and cotton from those countries is normally shipped to port by rail, but with northern Ivory Coast under rebel control, the railroad is no longer running.
Authorities in Burkina Faso estimate their country lost nearly $30 million in revenues and customs duties between September and December. Rerouting exports from Mali through Burkina Faso to Ghanaian ports will cost an extra $130 million, according to Malian officials.
Both countries have taken in thousands of refugees from Ivory Coast, many of whom originally went there from Burkina Faso or Mali in search of prosperity. They are without work, and they need health care, shelter and food, in already impoverished economies. In Ouagadougou, the Burkinabe capital, thousands are living in a soccer stadium as they wait to be absorbed into the local economy.
"This has an impact on the people of Burkina Faso because we are interdependent economically," said Stephane Planchot, 38, a French teacher at a public school in Ouagadougou. "These are the people who worked in the cotton and cocoa plantations of Ivory Coast, and now they are back in Burkina Faso looking for work."
During the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which celebrates the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca, most Muslim families slaughter a goat to honor God. This year, many Ivorian Muslims can't afford a goat.
"This moment is very hard for us," said Lawale Fataye, a butcher who came here from Nigeria. "It's hurting us, the country and now God."