Côte d’Ivoire: Patricide

Cote d'Ivoire Coup
An Abidjan man reads Le National's comments on the Lome peace talks, Nov. 5, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

No armed insurgency in West Africa has generated such media, political, and diplomatic attention as the ongoing crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, which began when rebels staged an abortive takeover of Abidjan on Sept. 19 and occupied the cities of Bouaké and Korhogo. There have been solidarity visits by representatives of different nations, and a special Economic Community of West African States summit called within 48 hours and attended by 11 of the 15 heads of state and the representative of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. There has been an unequivocal condemnation of the coup d’état by several heads of state, and offers of support from friendly nations, including the provision of military and logistic support.

Why all this attention?

In an opinion piece for Abidjan’s L’Inter (Oct. 4), J.M.K. Ahoussou offered an answer: “Côte d’Ivoire alone accounts for 43 percent of the gross domestic product of the Monetary and Economic Union of West Africa, it is the major shareholder in the West African Central Bank, has the largest fishing and seaport in West Africa, and is the major electricity supplier to her neighbors. Such a nation cannot be allowed to go down the drain.”

As government troops struggled in early October to retake the cities occupied by rebel forces, there were fears that the Ivorian crisis would have a ripple effect in the subregion. The fact that Côte d’Ivoire is home to many African immigrants led commentators to wonder what would become of the 2 million Burkinabes, 2 million Nigerians, 1 million Malians, 500,000 Senegalese, and the Ghanaians, Guineans, Liberians, and other immigrants living in the country.

“We should pray to God that Côte d’Ivoire does not slip into a conflict that will have a disastrous effect on both countries and the subregion as a whole,” Burkina Faso’s Minister of Security Djibril Y. Bassolé said in an interview given to Sidwaya Quotidien of Ouagadougou (Oct. 4). Bassolé, whose country has been accused by the Ivorian government of sheltering the Ivorian rebels, wondered aloud on a radio program if his country could receive the 2 million Burkinabes living in Côte d’Ivoire should the situation degenerate.

Other commentators saw a hidden agenda behind offers of help from the country’s former colonial master, France. “France, not knowing who was or could be behind the rebels, came in to ensure that an ‘anti-French’ would not take over the government,” wrote Boubakar Sy in Sidwaya Quotidien (Oct. 4). In an editorial for Ouagadougou’s Journal de Jeudi (Sept. 26-Oct. 2), Semba Diallo wrote, “The reinforcement of the French troops in Côte d’Ivoire is...another intrusion of Paris into African affairs....The colonial masters want to consolidate the Ivorian success.”

That success, characterized by a cocoa-coffee boom, job opportunities for young graduates trained in France, and housing plans for all citizens in the 1970s and early ’80s, was such that nobody cared to examine lurking dangers, wrote Alfred Dan Moussa in Abidjan’s Fraternité Matin (Sept. 27): “Côte d’Ivoire was so stable that she slept off. She lost the instinct of preserving herself.” Many have also postulated that Côte d’Ivoire has not been able to get over the death of its first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a man of great political clout who encouraged massive immigration from neighboring countries and gave voting rights to all immigrants until 1990.

“Ivorians find it very difficult to turn a new page of their political history since the death of Houphouët-Boigny,” wrote Abou Abel Thiam in Wal Fadjri (Sept. 20).

Though economically successful, Houphouët-Boigny neglected to solve the fundamental problems of ethnicity and nepotism that were eroding Ivorian society. Now, in their thirst for power at all costs, his successors and other politicians have been creating interethnic tensions. The concept of “Ivoirité,” created by ousted President Henri Konan Bédié to differentiate “real” Ivorians from “fake” ones, is a case in point.

Still, Ivorians never dreamed they would get to a place where countries such as the United States and France would be sending in troops to evacuate their citizens. In the words of Georges Aboke, director of the Ivorian national television channel RTI, during a Sept. 26 presentation, “We brought ourselves where we are today due to our carelessness.”