Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Identity, Security and the Renegotiation of National Belonging In West Africa: Reflections on the Cote d’Ivoire Crises and its Repercussions on the West Africa Region

15–16 May 2003, Dakar, Senegal

Number of visits: 2589

Many of the conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa have issues of nativity or citizenship as defining characteristics, as certain groups (be they ethnic, religious, gender, age or class based), communities or regions feel marginalized, under-represented, or denied their rights. From the recent conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, to the conflicts that occurred in Mali, Northern Ghana, Nigeria, Southern Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia (the list is long) and the Rwandan genocide, questions of belonging, and of the rights and entitlements that go with civil citizenship (as opposed to ethnically, racially, religiously or other identity based forms of belonging) are posed at the national or local level, if not at both levels. The question of belonging to a region is also clearly posed in most of the recent conflicts.

This is well exemplified in the current crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. With the three million people originated from of Burkina Faso, and the millions of others from Nigeria, Mali, Benin, Ghana and other neighbouring countries in this country, the repercussions of this crisis on the national economies and political dynamics of Burkina Faso, Mali, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Guinea, Benin, Togo and other countries of the region are extremely important. The flow of migrant labour to work in the cocoa and coffee plantations of Côte d’Ivoire was well organised by the French colonial administration, and at independence maintained by the Ivorian government, at least for the first few decades. Other factors also contributed to maintaining the flow, as Côte d’Ivoire was experiencing what was for some time considered its ‘economic miracle’.

Apart from the importance of the size of the immigrant population in the country, the numbers of people who were born to immigrant parents, but on Ivorian soil, are also extremely high. The question of when an ‘immigrant’ becomes a ‘native’, raised by Mahmood Mamdani (e.g. in his book Citizen and Subject), is therefore very relevant here too.

The position that Côte d’Ivoire occupies in the region is also very important. Regional integration efforts under the auspices of the West African Monetary and Economic Union (UEMOA) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are currently running the risk of being significantly hampered, as both the relationships between the communities and between the states of the region are riddled with tension, and the fledgling economies further shaken. Peacemaking in Liberia, and peace-building efforts in Sierra Leone are complicated by the greater possibilities that the crisis offers to mercenaries and armed groups to move around. The prospects of a return to a smoother economic and human development path and to democracy are thus made much more distant, unless an acceptable political solution is found to the Côte d’Ivoire crisis. Equally serious are the fractures in Ivorian society itself, as ivoirite (‘Ivorianness’, or being Ivorian) is sometimes reduced to being from a few specific ethno-linguistic groups of the southern half of the country only.

Post-conflict transition (understood here as the simultaneous reconciliation and reconstruction after conflict) involves a certain amount of renegotiation of the relations between groups, generations, genders and regions that may lead to the redefinition of identities, and the definition of new bases for citizenship and belonging, whether to local communities, or to nations. This raises questions of identity, rights, justice and power, as well as that of the nature of the public sphere and its transformation, that may or may not be along democratic lines. The groups involved in the struggles for peace, of which the renegotiation of belonging is a part, include women’s and youth groups, religious confraternities, trade unions and various movements for rights and meaningful lives. The debate on ‘Ivorianness’, or ‘Ivoirite’ (being Ivorian), for instance, preceded but is also very much posed in the current civil war in Côte d’Ivoire, even though the underlining issues are much more complex. That is also one of the main issues that keep coming up in the peace talks, the recent talks held in Marcoussis, close to Paris, being the best example.

The Nordic Africa Institute and CODESRIA have therefore commissioned a number of scholars to write short ‘think-pieces’ or empirically based analytical papers on the Côte d’Ivoire crises and its implications for the region. The commissioned scholars are among the most eminent and the most knowledgeable on Côte d’Ivoire and / or the issues raised by the current crisis. A conference will be held in Dakar on 15-16 May 2003 to discuss their papers with policymakers from Côte d’Ivoire and the region, and to plan for further research activities. The papers of the conference will be revised and published by CODESRIA and NAI.

The main objective of the project is to contribute to the search for peace, and to attempts to put West Africa back on the path of sustainable democratic and human development, through research and the reflections of scholars who, for having worked on Côte d’Ivoire and/or the region, are very knowledgeable about the issues behind and in the crisis and the stakes of the conflict.

The Specific objectives include:

i) Bringing the community of African scholars and their colleagues, particularly those of the Nordic and other European countries, together to reflect on how to better understand the crisis confronting Côte d’Ivoire and the region, and enter into a dialogue with policymakers and civil society organisations and donors of, or working towards the restoration of peace and development in Côte d’Ivoire and the region.

ii) Drawing lessons of this crisis for the purposes of prevention of other crises and conflicts, both in the region and in other parts of Africa, and make policy recommendations.

iii) Publishing and disseminating the reflections of scholars who are very knowledgeable about the region on the current crisis with a view to sharing the lessons of the current crisis with other scholars, policymakers and civil society organisations confronted with similar issues elsewhere;

iv) Defining an agenda for further research and for a policy dialogue between researchers and policymakers on the issues of security, and national belonging in Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa.

This project is based on four basic assumptions:

a) there is a substantial body of knowledge on the societies and social dynamics of Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa that can help explain the root causes of the conflict;

b) this body of knowledge is, for most of it, in forms that are not easy to use for policymaking or conflict resolution purposes;

c) the scholars who have been working on the country and the region have accumulated a lot of expertise and are perfectly capable of sifting the most important lessons in relatively short “think-pieces” that, put together, can be extremely useful for policymakers and for other actors in government, civil society, and aid agencies, and for the media.

d) The scholars are willing to contribute to the search for peace and assist the reconciliation and reconstruction processes in Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa with their knowledge and expertise.

March 31 2010