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Longer, analytical article.  Cote d'Ivoire: The "Ivoirite" crisis: Xenophobia as patriotism

Summary & Comment: Extremist leaders and an ethnicized media use "patriotism" and "Ivorian-ness" to expel foreigners. In the name of Ivorian patriotism "Ivoirite identity politics" has led to politics of exclusion and ethnic cleansing by both the ruling party and the rebels, according to author.

Author: Teke Ngomba Date Written: 16 November 2004
Primary Category: Western Region Document Origin: Teke Ngomba
Secondary Category: Human Rights Source URL:
Key Words: Cote d'Ivoire, crisis Ivoirite, patriotism, xenophobia,

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The Ivorian crisis: Xenophobia as patriotism  

The UN Security Council, on  Nov. 15, 2004, voted unanimously (Resolution 1572) calling among others things, for an immediate 13-months arms embargo on the Ivory Coast. Resolution 1572, further stipulates that, individual sanctions such as,  financial, diplomatic and travel bans, will be meted to persons who call publicly for violence, and threaten the process of national reconciliation in Ivory Coast. The Resolution, also calls on the Ivorian government, to put an end to all programmes on the media, notably  on television, which calls for violence and ethnic hatred.  

The French Ambassador to the UN, Jean Marc-De La Sabliere, said by adopting Resolution 1572, the UN "showed proof of maturity". Phillipe Djangone-Bi, the Ivorian Ambassador to the UN, descriobed the Resolution as "unfair", but added that, Ivory Coast will proceed to apply the resolution, since it is a"responsible menber of the UN". The African Union has called for the immediate implimentation of the resolution. Guillaume Sorro, a key ex-rebel leader, has also welcomed the resolution as a move in the right direction.  

The Resolution, elaborated by France, and co-signed by seven other countries of the UN Security Council, notably the USA, was submitted for deliberation, barely hours after the air raid, Nov.6, of French peace keeping soldiers in Ivory Coast. Nine French soldiers died after the air raid, while more than 30 others were wounded. 

France deemed the attack "pre-meditated" and in response, Jacques Chirac, French President, ordered the immediate destruction of all miltary planes of the Ivorian army. Jean Pierre Rafarrin, French Prime Minster, declared that no one kills a French soldier and goes free, while President Gbagbo's governement said the French attack was a violation of Ivorian soverengnty.  

In this stalemate, violent anti-French demonstrations escalated in Ivory Coast, after calls for such demonstrations by the governemnt-controlled media, and Les Jeunes Patriotes-a  pro-Gbagbo youth movement backed and supported by the Ivorian govenrment. Consequently, French natuionals in Ivory Coast and other foreigners, were and are still, targets of assaults by these patriotes. As a result an estimated 65, 000 foreigners, mostly French, have left Ivory Coast since Nov.10, 2004.  

The situation in Ivory Coast has rapidly deteriorated to an extensive degree. What began initially as pure political instabiltiy, tirggered by the entry of the military into Ivorian politics, has turned out to be a well-calculated ethnic and identity-based political process.

The Ivorrian crisis, has its roots in the ethnicization of Ivorian politics, the concurrent polticization of the media and the misconception of Patriotism. Each camp in the Ivorian crisis-Gbagbo's, the main opposition  political parties, and the ex-rebel forces, claims to be much more patriotic than the others. In these claims, Ivorian patriotism, in the current situation, has come to mean excluding non-Ivorians from Ivorian politics, and treating them as the cause of the country's problem than as part of its reconstruction. Thus, xenophobic acts have come to be seen as patriotic in Ivory Coast. As a result, when Les Patriotes, in collaboration with loyal journalists, go on state TV and call for the chasing out of non-Ivorians, they are deemed by their supporters as being patriotic.  

Last year, Burkinabes were the targets of xenophobic violence in Ivory Coast. This year, it is the French. Abdoulaye Wade, President of  Senegal, said in January 2001 that  "These days in Ivory Coast, citizens of Burkina Faso, are treated, worse than black people in  Europe". Wade's statement, though widely criticized, indicated the problem of Ivory Coast. Houphouet Boigny, former Ivorian Predient, instituted during his reign,  an "Open Door Policy", that opened the doors of Ivory Coast to thousnads of foreigners. Untill recently, Ivory Coast was a West African Island of peace, with Ivorians, living peacefully with non-Ivorians.  

Under former President Henri Konan Bedie, "Ivoirite" or "Ivorian-ness" entered Ivorian political diction. Bedie instituted this as a tactic to prohibit some polticians, notably,  prominent northerner, Alassane Ouattara, from standing as president during elections. Terrritorial division along ethnic lines therefore occured in Ivory Coast between the mainly muslim north, where most of those considered foreigners live, and the mainly Christian south. 

Under the "Ivoirite" concept, and by governemnt definition, any one whose parents were not born in Ivory Coast - both parents to be precise - is regarded as a foreigner. This working definitioin of an Ivorian, estimates Sayre Nyce of Refugee International, renders about 30% of Ivory Coast's 16 million inhabitants foreign and thereby, subject to hostility. "Ivoirite" has led to the adoption of identity politics, politics of exclusion and the politics of ethnic cleansing by both the ruling party and the rebels - all in the name of Ivorian patriotism. Defending Ivory Coast from foreigners!  

The situation is worsened by the Ivorian media that has been cowed, ethnicized and politicized by both camps. In flagrant violation of journalistic norms, the Ivorian media has adopted partisan journalism as a principle. The effects of such journalism as we saw in the 1994 Rwandan genocide can be blood-curdling. In this ruse, even "pure" Ivorians have been victims (along side non-Ivorians) of physical assaults and eviction from their homes and lands.

Economically, the cocoa sector, Ivory Coast's main export, dependent on thousands of foreign workers, is witnessing a calamitous decline in production.   Michel Barnier, French Foreign Minister, said on Nov.15, 2004, that the situaton in Ivory Coast is still "extremely preoccupying".

Resolution 1572, if implimented, can help to bring order in Ivory Coast. But before it can be effective, several initiatives, need to be implimented. The Ivorian crisis is persisting not becasue of the presence of foreigners in Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast continues to wallow in the strife in which it finds itself today because of mistrust and greed among the key actors. That is why the Accra III accord, which called for disarmament and political reforms, cannot be effected.  

As a result of mistrust, the ex-rebels have insisted on politco-judicial reforms, notably concerning Ivorian nationality and eligibility to contest the presidential elections before disarmament. Gbagbo's government has insisted on the reverse that peace in Ivory Coast is not contingent on the departure of foreigners or the resignation of Gbagbo.

Before there can be any real national reconciliation and lasting peace in Ivory Coast, the governemnt should defuse the "Ivoirite" challenge and impliment political and legislative reforms, in a bid to clear up this ambiguity.  Further, Ivorian national unity can only be consolidated by an unpartisan and objective media.  

"Ivoirite", started under Konan Bedie, has dug its roots deep into the Ivorian soil; and now it is yielding fruits of discord and hatred. Until this tree is uprooted, Ivory Coast will continue to go down toward the abyss of self-destruction.  The current situation in Ivory Coast teaches the hard lesson that unless Africans start to learn from history (such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide)  today's island of peace may become tomorrow's no-go-area.  

Ivorians, in thier quest to achieve peace, have been influenced by some extremist leaders and an ethnicized media to believe that patriotism consists of sending away foreigners. They are considered, de facto, the cause of Ivory Coast's problems.   Xenophobia, has unfortunately, become a synonym for patriotism in Ivory Coast. Until this misonception and trend is reversed, Ivory Coast will continue to witness civil strife.

"Patriotism", has been twisted to fit the biased positions of each camp in the Ivorian crisis. Since Ivorians claim to be very patriotic, they should get this right : it was Mark Twain, who observed that, "Patriotism consists of supporting your country always, and your government, when it deserves it". Xenophobia taken as patriotism is not only condemnable- it is unpatriotic.    

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