The Politics of "Othering": Will Ethnic Polarization Destroy Cote d'Ivoire?
The historically peaceful and prosperous West African nation of Côte d'Ivoire has been embroiled in an ongoing civil war for the last 12 years. Formerly a French colony, Côte d'Ivoire has a turbulent history of colonization, ethnic divisions, coup d'états, and faulty democratic institutions that have culminated in explosive civil disputes that continue to divide the country in half today. At the center of this war is a mix of grievances from various ethnic groups, and the one that rises to the top is the question of who is really Ivorian. The second President of Côte d'Ivoire, Henri Konan Bédié, created the notion of Ivoritié, an idea that was used to separate the true "Ivorians" from those who were foreigners or children of foreigners. This notion of "true citizenship" was problematic to the northern population of the mostly poor plantation workers whose parents or grandparents were immigrants from places like Burkina Faso or Mali. They felt that their "people" were being marginalized and excluded from any political participation, particularly because in 2000 the Ivorian Constitution was amended to require both parents of a presidential candidate to be born in Côte d'Ivoire. This new constitutional amendment resulted in the disqualification of Alassane Ouattara, who represented the hope of many northerners for equal political participation and social treatment. Now, almost 15 years later, Ouattara, a Muslim Northerner whose parents are from Burkina Faso has become President. After a year of violence, he has inherited from former President Laurent Gbagbo a country divided into two, rebel groups, and a laundry list of human rights violations from not only the former President's camp but his own as well. With revenge seemingly high on the political to-do list, both Gbagbo and Ouattara's team of rebels have caught the attention of the international community with their threats of violence, suppression of the populace, or coup d'états.In this thesis, I intend to show that public displays of Presidential ethnic solidarity are problematic, and unless leaders embrace an overarching national consciousness that does not staunchly represent ethnicity, Côte d'Ivoire will descend into perpetual chaos. I intend to investigate this problem of xenophobia and civil war in Côte d'Ivoire using an analytical lens that draws on historical material as well as psychological insights and case study methods. I intend to give a historical background of the nation, its history of colonization, ethnic divisions, coup d'états, and faulty democratic institutions. This information will serve as a foundation for my next level of analysis, which will specifically deal with how xenophobia is constructed in the minds of citizens. This is where I will draw from the insights of psychologist Frantz Fanon. He has written about how xenophobia becomes alive in the minds and souls of post-colonial Africans, and how xenophobia can potentially be avoided. Next I will look at a case study about a nation that has had to rebuild after a catastrophic genocide. Rwanda is the quintessential horror story of the extreme results of prolonged ethnic polarization. I would like to look beyond the genocide and focus on what the country has done to move past its horrific past, and how they are working to unify their nation, not as Hutus and Tutsis but as Rwandan people.In the end, I will demonstrate that first xenophobia can come from the state, leaders can actually manipulate feeling of hopelessness into feelings of xenophobic rage, and these feelings of xenophobia can benefit the faulty leader as they attempt to monopolize power within a nation. Leadership matters and Côte d'Ivoire is stuck in a leadership trap of epic proportions. I contend that reforms in terms of political transparency are needed in Côte d'Ivoire. The people of the nation are not voting along the lines of who has a proven record of selfless performance, who will turn the economy around, or who will make education more accessible. Ivorians are today voting along ethnic lines, resulting in leaders who do not always put the population first, and whose cabinets are not always interested in what is best for the country as a whole. I argue that a new vision of leadership is needed for Côte d'Ivoire, leadership that does not represent the ethnic polarization that has gripped the country historically. If not, Côte d'Ivoire will suffer a perpetual cycle of civil conflict and violence.
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