Ivory Coast Conflict: Africa's Colonial Past Rearing its Ugly Head, Again

By Mukazo Mukazo Vunda

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 30, 2002

President Gbagbo
Ivory coast was often described as an oasis of calm in West Africa, a country with a buoyant economy, notwithstanding the mid eighties when the economy went on a downhill tumble, a trend similar in all African countries.

All seemed to go wrong for the country when the Spiritual Father, first president of Ivory Coast, Félix Houphouet Boigny, passed away and was succeeded by then President of the parliament Henri Konan Bédié in 1994, who was unanimously elected as President of the republic a year later.

Since then, various players have appeared on the country's political platform and contrived to create an explosive situation by polarizing the country's ethnic mix for personal gain, especially between the mainly muslim north, and the christian south.

In a saga reminiscent of others which have played out on the continent, Zambia under Chiluba in particular, Bédié began a policy of marginalization and discrimination against northern immigrants and their descendants in a bid to stop his political opponents, directed against the large number of Muslims in the North from Burkina Faso in particular.

The tactics engendered by Bédié were continued by General Guei, the man who led the coup that overthrew him in 1999, culminating in the barring from contesting in parliamentary elections on nationality grounds of Mr. Alassane Dramane Ouattarra in December 2000, which led to street violence in the capital, Abidjan.

A former prime minister, Mr. Quattara is a member of Ivory Coast's northern community where millions of immigrants from neighboring countries were encouraged to come to work on Ivory Coast's extensive cocoa and coffee plantations, to which the country owed its early economic success. He denied these claims, stating squarely that his parents were of Ivorian descent.

Over a week ago, much of the country was turned into a war zone when what are described as "well organized rebels" took control of major cities in the mainly muslim north. Coming right after the government of President Laurent Gbagbo decided the late General Robert Guei's 1,000 military recruits in 2000 were surplus to requirements, the motivation for the rebellion was clear. The government was quick to accuse General Guei of masterminding the attacks. But, a day after the uprising started, his dead body was found in the streets of Abidjan, with members of his family denying he had anything to do with the attacks, claiming he had been assassinated by government troops.

As doubts also grow over Mr. Ouattara's involvement with the rebels, after it was disclosed that he was in his house in Abidjan when they first made their move, unprotected from a mob which forced him to flee to the French Embassy, many are now speculating that the rebels, and whoever may be behind them, are simply playing on the religion based north-south split in Ivory Coast. They do not even seem to be northerners, but have taken the north because they feel they are assured support by a community bound to be supportive of government opposition.

Those of us who are familiar with the human condition of tribe, and the haphazardly demarcated territories known as African countries will be struck by the inevitability of the Ivory Coast tragedy. All things considered, Africa should indeed be happy that such culminations have stayed somewhat limited.

Though this may seem like an understatement when the human toll in the trouble spots of the continent is considered, one must acknowledge a dangerous state. Africa as it is today is always an accident about to happen, and as such, Africans should be thankful that worse hasn't happened already. The Ivory coast incident should serve as an eye opener.

Worse may be upon us, and it is time to wake up to this reality before it is too late. Ignoring the issue is perpetuation of a situation experienced as repressive by many, and as repression goes, an abnormal outcome soon awaits. Worse still is the now evident fact that players unknown to us could always use this mess to control our very lives.

In regression, for the sake of making a point clear, the question of why it is possible for an African leader to invoke what is at base an absurd allegation, to marginalize others on basis of race, and create circumstances ripe for opportunists to take advantage of, should be perused again.

The simple fact is that Africa's republics are not representative of any ethnic group. The borders are lines drawn at random, sometimes splitting tribes into two, even three different nationalities. With the tribes within these border lines blown up to preposterous numbers, sometimes including dialects of major tribes as tribes themselves, claims as made by Ivory Coast leaders are hard to verify, and I am sure there are still many among us who are still wondering whether there is truth to these allegations.

On the other hand, it is hard imagining a ruler who has run out of options against formidable opposition invoking such an absurdity, if everyone or at least the majority in that country is of the same tribe. Likewise, rifts between opposing candidates could hardly culminate in a tribal blood bath, but would be restricted to the feuding individuals and their supporters, if all in the republic were of similar ethno-cultural origin.

The present African situation clearly portends danger, and if we have had enough of our present misery, then let every instance we call the name of our respective republic serve to remind us that we haven't seen nothing yet.

Wherever there is smoke, there is fire, and it makes no sense blowing into the smoke to put out the fire. Solving effects is useless if the cause stays intact. Tribalists, nepotists, favoritists, corrupt, conniving leaders, rebels, etc., who abuse the present African affliction to promote their own agendas deserve to get their due, but as long as the cause is not tackled, there will always be someone to abuse the situation. Ignoring this issue, or doing so in order to maintain a present advantage is burying our heads in the sands. History bears witness to the fact that abusing or ignoring a weak African situation by Africans has brought but transient gain to a few, and non whatsoever to the majority of Africans, and I would be surprised if the results would be different for any group on this planet which became this wayward.

This last piece will not be received well by many, but a truth as this, also known by our ancestors, no longer needs to be suppressed. It should not serve as reason for resentment, but self-examination.

Now, more than ever, it is evident that conflicts on the continent are instigated by foreign, mostly western powers, right down to what may outwardly seem like purely ethnic-dispute-based conflagrations in Nigeria, the DRC, etc., with the need to have control over our human and natural resources as the motivation. Still, we must acknowledge complicity by Africans themselves, since, in such cases, it does take two to tango.

Who, then, are these guilty parties?

The pattern in most African countries suggests that, rather than randomly chosen individuals, modern day collaborators seem to always have their tribe in common. It then seems correct to conclude that those who wish to appropriate Africa's human and natural resources have resorted to a new form of indirect rule which doesn't involve puppet rulers, but whole tribes or groups whose mentalities are congenial, if not oblivious of the ultimate price playing to western interests holds for them, a lack with culture as the source.

Confronting such groups with the error of their ways by simply exposing them would be a way of changing this situation. However, the best way of removing the leverage that the imperialistic forces, or any future opportunist may have on us through this modern form of indirect rule is to divide the tribes into independent states while retaining unity for mutual benefit in a federal model. Isolated like this, alone in their respective republics, economic decline that misconduct of this nature brings will be faced by the group alone, rather than everyone else. This will kill the problem at source, enabling African people's aspirations for higher heights to have more prospect because of less impediments.

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