"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

3.29.2011

Is Cote d'Ivoire headed to genocide?

No. At least, I don't think so.

Senam Beheton has a very interesting post on possible parallels between Côte d'Ivoire today and Rwanda in 1994. He draws the parallels, then reaches the following conclusions:
All of the above, will occur if everything stays the same. While I am happy to see the FRCI’s successes, I would like the world to understand that we have been here before. Gbagbo is boxed in militarily and politically. He has no way out. He is literally a prisoner in Abidjan with nowhere to retreat in Ivory Coast and dwindling options outside of the country. He is an historian and knows what happened to Charles Taylor, Samuel Doe, Dadis Camara and the like. It is only a matter of time till forces loyal to Mr. Ouattara take control of the whole country. What happens between now and then is up to all of us. I don’t know what the trigger will be for UN and French Licorne forces currently in Ivory Coast. The UN and France were in Rwanda. Both were sorry for their reluctance to protect civilians. They will have a do-over. I hope they make the right decisions this time for humanity sake.
Now, I know a lot about Rwanda, but I am by no means a Cote d'Ivoire expert, so take my opinions here with that grain of salt in mind. I think Beheton makes some very interesting points here, but am not sure that this will lead down the path to genocide, even if things continue to go horribly wrong. Which they will. The international community's refusal to take this crisis seriously or do anything about it beyond inadequately funding the response to the humanitarian crisis is appalling. Like Rwanda in 1994, this crisis is the result of a previous series of crises and longstanding tensions that were allowed to fester for decades with little attention from the outside world.

But I digress. In order to think more about this, I'd like to consider a few points of difference between the Rwanda situation and what's going on in Côte d'Ivoire today. This is not in any way to diminish the human suffering or seriousness of the Côte d'Ivoire crisis, but rather to help us think clearly about where this mess is headed:
  • Exiles aren't invading Côte d'Ivoire & northerners control territory. Both Rwanda and Côte d'Ivoire have significant ethnic cleavages (whether constructed by colonizers or based on religion), but Côte d'Ivoire is different from Rwanda in that the base of power for the northerners (almost all of whom back Ouattara) is in the country rather than outside in a neighboring country. Furthermore, the two sides in this conflict are much more segregated by location than were Tutsis and Hutus Rwanda. Northerners control their territory and have done so for about a decade. I think this makes a real difference in how the fighting will play out. In Rwanda, massacring Tutsis was relatively easy for the Hutu extremists because Tutsis lived next door. In Côte d'Ivoire, while there's certainly a high concentration of northerners in Abidjan and other urban centers, most northerners are in the north. Those who are not can at least try to flee to the north, whereas Tutsis in Rwanda had few options for escape.
  • Côte d'Ivoire is richer than Rwanda. The cocoa industry and Côte d'Ivoire's importance as a regional economic power means that a lot more people have an interest in seeing stability and a political solution to the problems there. France has pointedly taken a back seat to ECOWAS and the African Union through much of this crisis to avoid being seen as a neo-colonial power pulling the strings (which is exactly what Gbagbo wants France to do). But if things get really nasty, I think we'll see France become increasingly involved.
  • Ivoirité is not Hutu Power. Ivoirité is a nasty ideology that developed in Côte d'Ivoire in the mid-1990's as a means of excluding northern Muslims from the country's political space by labeling them as "foreigners." While it's true that Côte d'Ivoire does have a large foreign population (workers come from all over West Africa to provide labor for the cocoa plantations), Ivoirité was not really aimed at them; it was aimed at Ivoirian Muslims and involved an explicit political goal, namely, excluding Ouattara from running for president in 2000. While there are lots of nasty manifestations of the ideology, as far as I know, we have not yet seen the use of Ivoirité to justify mass slaughter of Ivoirian Muslims in the same way that Hutu Power ideology was used to justify the killing of Tutsis. There's a qualitative difference; Hutu Power was always about eliminating Tutsis from the face of the planet, whereas Ivoirité has been about more subtle forms of discrimination and exclusion. That may be changing as we speak, but I imagine it will take some time.
Cote d'Ivoire experts and interested observers, what do you think? Do I have this completely wrong? Is Côte d'Ivoire headed for genocide if action is not taken quickly?

UPDATE: Beheton has posted a very thoughtful reply here.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Phil said...

Hi Laura,
I am also optimistic that genocide will be avoided, but I think you have understated the Ivoirité bit.

Charles Ble Goude has been calling for Gbagbo's "Young Patriots" to effectively take the law into their own hands. Thousands of mostly unemployed and illiterate youth have signed up to join the army. Roadblocks have been set up to weed out "foreigners." Mosques have been burned.

There are videos circulating on facebook and youtube that show supposed rebels being beaten and burnt alive. Search "Des innocents brulés vifs." There are reports that people have been beaten to death just for wearing an amulet (associated with northerners).

State TV is more or less encouraging this. In one recent report an anchorman was smiling as pictures of dead rebels were shown in the background. He remarked that they were "culled like little birds."

I have friends in the Yopogoun neighborhood who are effectively imprisoned in their home. They are from the north and they live with a Malian family, making their situation especially grave.

I don't think a genocide will happen, because the UN force, however toothless they may be, is much larger and as you point out there is strong economic interest here. I also agree that northerners have somewhere to flee, a fact that has already been in play as over 1 million people have left Abidjan. Finally, I think that the rebel forces are much stronger than anyone thought previously. They are now making their way towards Abidjan, having taken Duekoue yesterday.

I am very concerned, however, that Gbagbo, with his back against the wall, will make a desperation move and that could be very bad.

As I'm writing this I'm reading the most recent UN report and wow, more bad news.

"The UN peacekeeping mission in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) has released a statement saying forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the country's incumbent leader, opened fire on civilians in Abidjan on Monday, killing about a dozen people.

The organisation said that in another incident, a group of pro-Gbagbo youths put a tyre around a young man and burnt him alive in the Riviera area of the city, and that another group "savagely attacked" two UN staff."

"The world body is also investigating allegations that 200 African nationals, from Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea and Togo, were killed near Guiglo, southwest of Duekoue."

Ugh.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 11:41:00 AM

 
Blogger Performance Consultants said...

Well it is nice to find optimistic views about the Ivory Coast issue, but the reality is a genocide IS occurring as we speak!

What really qualifies as a genocide? More than ten people, a hundred? The current number is 462 but I can tell you right now, it is more like 2,000 people dead...bodies just haven't been found yet (or will never be found).

Folks are being killed left and right ( let's not rely on that 400 dead figure, it's more like in the thousands at this point).
We all know how unreliable statistical data is in this type of climate (multiple areas are no longer accessible to the media or even citizen, even within Abidjan...let alone in the bush).

The divide is deep: religious and ethnic! folks are being killed-tortured and burned alive. Those folks have relatives:
what do you think their reaction is going to be (more revenge killings of course!).
At this point, the hate is escalating exponentially.

Muslims are being executed inside mosques, I don't know if we're looking at the same story but let's be realistic here. It is already a blood bath, the numbers haven't matched Rwanda yet but all the ingredients are there.

Gbagbo has mobilized more supporters, everyone in both camps are heavily armed...the "Invisible Commandos" are skilled in killing (since they didn't put down their weapons since 02) and they are infuriated by the Abobo-Adjame and other killings by the Gbagbo regime.

Both camps (actually there are more than two camps...but I won't even get into that) have been enemies for ten years, so this last series of events were just added motivation for a civil war.

An interesting angle is that, rumors has it, the rebels aren't even associated with Ouattara's camp. They just hate Gbagbo: his murderous regime and what he stands for: xenophobe, anti-Muslim, power hungry.

The only fast solution is the immediate departure of Gbagbo from power (voluntary:which he won't do or involuntary: he has to be eliminated).

Yes, but the genocide already started!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 12:09:00 PM

 
Blogger texasinafrica said...

Thanks for the info @Charles.

@PerformanceConsultants, I have no doubt that many more people have died that has so far been reported, but deaths in and of themselves do not constitute genocide. Something can be really horrific - and involve ethnic violence - and still not meet the technical definition of a genocide. I don't believe that in any way diminishes the horror or unacceptability of what is going on, nor does it excuse the international community from not doing anything about it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 1:49:00 PM

 
Blogger texasinafrica said...

Sorry, Phil, of course I meant you. Not sure where I got "Charles!"

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 1:49:00 PM

 
Anonymous Joshua said...

My strong opinion is that there is so little relationship between the situation of Rwanda in 1994 and the situation of Cote d'Ivoire today that it is a grave mistake to try and draw excessive parallels between the two. What is going on in Abidjan and the rest of the country is not RPF versus Interahamwe/FAR redux. Using Rwanda ’94 as a template for thinking about Cote d’Ivoire 2011 obscures more than it illuminates.
On the most basic level, Rwanda was (and is) poorer, more isolated, and more compact geographically than Cote d’Ivoire. Rwanda also had (and has) a political culture based on strong centralized control and a somewhat frightening obedience to authority. In contrast, Cote d’Ivoire is wealthier, better educated, trades frequently with neighboring African states and the rest of the world, and has had a chaotic political history involving shifting regional and ethic alliances. Cote d’Ivoire is cosmopolitan compared to Rwanda.
Moreover, Rwanda had only two ethnically-identified communities, one quite small relative to the other, each with an armed force claiming to act in the interest of that community. In contrast, the “Northern” and “Southern” blocs of Cote d’Ivoire are more equivalent in size and far more heterogeneous in composition. Each rather fuzzily defined bloc contains multiple cultures, identities and languages. Outside of those ethnicities (for want of a better term) closely allied with either Ouattara, a northern Djula, or Gbagbo, a southwestern Bete, there are many others. Many members of these ethnicities preferred Henri Konan Bedie, a south-eastern Baoule, who lost in the first round of elections and threw his support behind Ouattara (so much for the great North-South political split). Nor is there an absolute division between Christians and Muslims (I have a good Northern friend who is a Christian pastor, and I used to live among ethnically Southern Muslims) and both of these global religions have complex relationships with the country’s many traditional religionists.
All this means that narratives of “genocide” will be much harder to articulate in Cote d’Ivoire than Rwanda. But massacres are going to happen; are happening now. Just because this isn’t a repeat of 1994 on the other side of the continent doesn’t mean that horrendous violence is not going to continue and likely increase.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 3:42:00 PM

 
Anonymous Joshua said...

Another point…

I think that if there are lessons to be drawn from Rwanda, they relate more to the actions of outsiders than to similarities between the two countries.

First, we should beware of bureaucratic and political inertia on the part of the international community. There is a reluctance to really engage with an increasingly terrible situation. I admit that in this there are certainly comparisons to the situation in 1994.

Second, we should be wary of lionizing the “righteous victor” following the end of the war. I would strongly urge everyone following the events in Cote d’Ivoire to keep in mind that although Laurent Gbagbo is the undeniable villain of this piece, there is no clear hero.

Although the majority of the violence against civilians has come from Mr. Gbagbo’s militia’s and troops, there is no reason to think that the Front Populaire or other pro-Ouattara fighters will act with restraint towards Bete and other Southerners when the inevitable fall of Abidjan comes. Quite the contrary, based on their actions in the FP-controlled North.

Allassane Ouattara is now the legitimately elected president of Cote d’Ivoire, but in the past he has never acted as a restraining influence on the more militant members of his coalition, and he is unlikely to do so now. If Mr. Ouattara or any of his supporters engage in human rights abuses, they should be held as accountable as Mr. Gbagbo and his allies.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 3:48:00 PM

 
Anonymous Phil said...

@texasinafrica re: charles, you are probably still trying to correct Ted Nugent

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 4:03:00 PM

 
Blogger texasinafrica said...

@Phil, you have no idea... :)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 7:10:00 PM

 
Blogger Chimaobi said...

My 2 cents:

I just now spoke to a contact who has mother + family in CI and things are certainly looking more grim from the inside. Regular civilians, northerners or not, are fearing for their lives in the streets of Abidjan (this, to me, confirms what was mentioned above about there being more than two camps).

Anarchy has set in (for a while actually), at this point it looks like a game of 'who's got bigger guns'. I see few parallels with Rwanda or Burundi to be honest, this is large scale political turf war and not deep-seated hatred based on ethnic/historical constructs.

If a leader/hero figure emerges and takes out Gbagbo, then sways the heart of the young and unemployed we will have a very tragic situation in store.

Damn arms suppliers are having a fieldday.

In any case, not a genocide - but a massacre.

Friday, April 01, 2011 6:01:00 AM

 
Anonymous CHILD OF GOD said...

I DONT KNOW IF ANY OF YOU GUYS ARE IVORIAN BUT FOR MYSELF GENUINELY SPEAKING AS AN 100 % BLOOD IVORIAN, OUATTARA CAN NEVER BE PRESIDENT OF IVORY COAST AS LONG AS THERE WILL BE AN ALMIGHTY GOD REIGNING FROM THE ABOVE. THIS MAN SUPPORTED BY THE FRENCH PRESIDENT NICHOLAS SARKOZY AND HIS ALLIES ARE COMMITING GENOCIDE IN IVORY COAST KILLING ANY IVORIAN THAT IS NOT JOULA(JOULA ONE OF THE MANY ETHNICITY IN IVORY COAST),KILLING INNOCENT CHILDREN, WOMEN AND MEN. ALL THAT FOR THEIR OWN SELFISH PURPOSES OF THE COUNTRY'S RESSOURCES. NOW IS THAT WHAT THE WHOLE WORLD CONSIDERS AS THE RIGHTFULLY ELECTED PRESIDENT. IN FIRST VIEW WHEN THE RESULTS OF THE ELECTION CAME UP IT WAS LAURENT GBAGBO WHO WAS ON TOP BUT ALASSANE WOULDNT ACCEPT AND WHEN THEY TOLD HIM THAT THEY WERE GOING TO RECOUNT THE VOTES HE REFUSED AND SAID THAT HE HAD WON PERIOD. NOW WHAT KIND OF MAN IS THAT. HE HAS NO FEELINGS OR WHAT SO EVER FOR ANYONE BUT HIMSELF. HE MUST NOT FORGET THAT JUSTICE EXIST AND FOR ALL THE IVORIANS WHO DIED GOD WILL SURELY, AVENGE THEM AND VERY SOON. PLEASE PEOPLE DO NOT BE CONFUSED BY THIS MAN HE IS JUST AN INTRUDER THAT WILL SOON GET HIS OWN PLATE OF JUSTICE SERVED IN HIS FACE.
JEHOVAH, MY REDEEMER LIVES

Monday, May 16, 2011 7:35:00 AM

 

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