Sunday, November 07, 2004

Traitor Bédié

With the resumption of the civil war in Côte d'Ivoire, the war against the independent press and vast anti-French violence in the country's commercial capital, I've come to a conclusion. The country's former strongman Henri Konan Bédié should be jailed for the rest of his life for treason.

Back in the late 90s, Bédié was having difficulty maintaining his PDCI party's decades-long stranglehold on power; the country had been a one-party state until the early 90s. So as demagogues tend to do when challenged, he found a scapegoat: immigrants.

He invented a concept called "Ivoirité" or Ivorianess. "True" Ivorians were those for whom both parents were born the country. Or in many cases, the colony that became the country. Anyone not fitting that critieria wasn't a real Ivorian. Even if they'd lived all their life in the country. Even if one (but not both) of their parents were born there. In a country where a huge percentage of the population has some sort of roots elsewhere, it was an explosive concept. Until then, Bédié merely been a pompous windbag. Ivoirité is what turned him into a traitor.

It was also ethnically charged. The north of the country was where most people were affected by the Ivoirité. The north of the country is also the only area where Islam is predominant; the rest of the country is mostly Christian. Ivoirité was a xenophobic way of targeting the non-Christian part of the country.

Ivoirité was designed to target Alasanne Ouatarra and his RDR party. The RDR is strong in the north. It was deemed that Ouatarra wasn't legally an Ivorian citizen, despite him having an Ivorian passport. Despite the fact that Ouatarra was once prime minister of Côte d'Ivoire and acting president when the then-president Houphouet-Boigny was hospitalized.

Not surprisingly, northerners finally got sick of the harassment and a civil war broke out. Peace accords were signed in Marcoussis, France but the southern dominated parliament refused to pass legal reforms that would've given more equal treatment to northerners and chipped away at Ivoirité.

With northern rebels refusing to disarm as planned because of the lack of political reform, government forces launched unprovoked air raids on the north, in violation of the cease fire. And the civil war appears to have resumed.

And despite being overthrown in a 1999 military coup (which was later replaced by a civilian government), traitor Bédié remains free to act as an opposition leader and stir up the xenophobic pot even more as his country goes up in flames. All this started because he wanted to cling to power a little longer.


At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you on Bedie. Leaders like him are the reasons why many countries in Africa seem to be hellholes.

At 11:55 PM, Blogger Kenya A. Hudson said...

The concept of "ivoirite" was not invented by Bedie. It was used by President Houphouet-Boigny in the latter years of his rule when his own grip became tenuous. Houphouet-Boigny used it to mobilize his followers whereas Bedie took the next logical step and used it to marginalize his enemies.

At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Respectfully disagree with you, Kenya. The concept of "ivoirite" was first deployed during Bedie's presidency. It's generally understood to have been "invented" - at least for political use - by two of his advisors: Noel Nemin, the head of the constitutional council, and Faustin Kouame, the justice minister. It's probably true that "ivoirite" was being discussed in Abidjan nationalist-academic circles before then. But Houphouet had nothing to do with it.
- peace, Siddhartha Mitter

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Even if it was actually conceived during Houphouet's reign, it main active USE was during Bedie's reign, mainly to marginalize Ouatarra (Houphouet's prime minister) and his supporters.


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