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What are the causes of the Ivorian stalemate?

April 5, 2011

By Fiorenzo Conte

This post builds upon the observation that Sabine made to a previous post about the crisis in Ivory Coast. In the comment Sabine urged us to look beyond a simple tragedy-of-the-commons approach and to keep in mind other factors. This post aims to scrutinize two of these “other factors” responsible for the current situation.

1. An ugly competition and issues of pride between two individuals. I agree that the rivalry between the two key players play an enormous role however I think that such crisis came about because the opposition between the two candidates is mirrored in a polarized society. Daniel Balint-Kurti illustrates this point on African Arguments:

As international bodies try to grapple with the messy situation, they should bear in mind that they are not just dealing with rival leaders, but with a population divided by years of toxic politics and propaganda.”

The results of the elections are for example being also contested in Benin, yet there are not signs that a social upheaval could follow. The reason could be that the society is not as much polarized and fragmented along political parties lines as in Ivory Coast.

2. A long history of opposition between the North and South. What I found interesting is how this division was created by an historical socio-economic process.

During Houphouet’s 33-year rule, settlers were encouraged to move to the southwest to farm cocoa. The wave of immigration into the southwest made Ivory Coast the world’s dominant cocoa producer, allowing the country to become a regional economic powerhouse. However, as land became less available, the Bétés and other indigenous groups grew increasingly resentful of the incomers. Indigenous groups linked their fears of take-over of land by foreigners at the local level with a fear of a political take-over at the national level by the “foreigner” Ouattara. It should be noted that in Ivorian villages, the term foreigner or etranger, refers to anyone from outside the area – whether from another country or simply another area of Ivory Coast. By this token, those from central or northern Ivory Coast were as distrusted as those from Burkina Faso, a source of millions of immigrants in the country.” (Balin-Kurti).

A competition for land and economic resources was used by political figures to stir fears of a political take-over by foreigners narrowly defined not only along national but also along ethnic lines. This long history of opposition between North and South is clearly a cause of the stalemate in Ivory Coast. The issue at stake now is how can Ivory Coast recompose such fracture of the society.


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