Vol. XXIII, Issue 2 (Spring 2016): Ivory Coast and the Ebola Virus Revisited
Olayemi Akinwumi (South Africa)
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In this issue of Africa Update, Francis Sogbo revisits the crisis that erupted in Ivory Coast in 2001. The piece is timely because Simone Gbagbo, wife of the ex-president, now a jailbird, failed to have her own prison sentence tossed out during a recent appeal. The trial of ex-President Gbagbo - a self-proclaimed, pan-Africanist, who turned pan-Africanism on its head by engaging in exclusionary, divisive, ethnic politics - continues in the Hague. Gbagbo’s rabid ethnic chauvinism was a far cry from what one expects of a trans-continental, pan-Africanist, and only the extremely gullible and ill- informed fell for his empty slogans. He built his political platform around a narrow, xenophobic, ethnic- based constituency incapable of meaningful coalition building; underestimated the wide support of Alassane Ouattara - and the impact of his electoral campaign on various regions of Cote d‘Ivoire across ethnic and religious boundaries; miscalculated the shrewdness, commitment and military capability and determination of Soro Guillaume and the New Forces; bit the hand that saved him from defeat in 2002, namely, France, undermined his support from women by his regime‘s assassination of unarmed female protesters; and transformed some university students into paid thugs and indisciplined gangsters. He encouraged his wife to create a band of assassins and a Duvalier style 'tonton macoute‘ and undermined regional support by xenophobic campaigns against West Africans from at least six countries - whilst hypocritically promoting himself as a pan-Africanist. By associating himself with fanatic rabble rousers such as the so-called Young Patriots - who started to believe their own irrational, xenophobic rhetoric, he erased all legitimacy for statesmanship, and destroyed the massive political capital that he had accumulated a decade earlier. By utilizing the services of indisciplined mercenaries, committed to Charles Taylor -style mayhem, Gbagbo forever destroyed his political legacy. Sogbo gives us an illuminating overview of the civil war generated by multifarious forces in the region in this episode of recent history.
The piece by Casely Coleman in this issue, highlights the need for community engagement in dealing with pandemics, in this case Ebola. The epidemic has been subdued and victory parties continue to celebrate its demise, but even so, we should note some of the variables that facilitated the eventual defeat of the deadly virus in Sierra Leone. Coleman’s insider view on the phenomenon is very welcome and the role of Plan International applauded.
Professor Gloria Emeagwali
In their bid to hold on to power, leading Ivorian politicians devised undemocratic means to disenfranchise their political and ideological opponents. Events that had caused wars on the African continent in the past were ignored, and lessons were not learnt from the wars that ravaged Sierra Leone and Liberia. The interplay between these, and other socio-cultural, ethnic, religious, economic and educational factors threw the nation into two major devastating wars, 2002-2011. The result was obvious: Côte d’Ivoire, the hitherto “paradise” and a paragon of peace in Africa, suddenly turned into a troubled state.
I do not intend to suggest, by the use of the word ‘paradise’ that everything was perfect with Côte d’Ivoire, before the outbreak of the civil war. Some countries in the region were, and are still engaged in conflict resolution. A typical example is Liberia which, though it came out of its one decade of civil war, is still struggling with the process of rebuilding. Côte d’Ivoire’s neighbors, notably: Mali, Liberia, Ghana and Guinea were not as economically strong as it was. Becoming independent from France since 1960, Côte d’Ivoire became a repository of political and economic stability. This status enabled it avoid the myriads of pitfalls that shook other African countries that had difficulties managing problems of decolonization. Also the country is gifted with natural resources such as ivory, coffee, cocoa, diamonds and petroleum. Consequently, the country attracted many nationals from across the continent, notably, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. Many of these people enjoyed citizenship over the years under the rule of Félix Houphouët-Boigny.
A former French colony, lying in the heart of West Africa, Côte d’Ivoire had the peace it enjoyed due to the dynamic, mythical and charismatic leadership of its post- independence leader, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who believed that la paix n’est pas un mot, c’est un comportement (peace is not just a word, but an attitude). It was within the context of this personal concept that the former president made Côte d’Ivoire a prototype of peace in the entire continent of Africa during his regime. Relatively speaking, the country was doing well with its sound economic as well as its sophisticated infrastructure, to the extent that its capital - Abidjan was nicknamed Petit Paris (little Paris). It is therefore on this premise that I used the word paradise to describe the pre-civil war Côte d’Ivoire. To tell an Ivorian two years prior to the uprising of the war that the country would find itself in the state it was in 2002, would have sounded absurd to him. Yet Côte d’Ivoire found itself in a crisis situation.
In her editorial on “Côte d’Ivoire (pt.1)”, Professor Emeagwali described the pre-civil war Côte d’Ivoire as “a model of stability and political tolerance”. She continued further to say that Côte d’Ivoire was “a world’s leading producer of cocoa and became a major economic engine in the West African region,” and finally asserted that Côte d’Ivoire was a “West African success story.” Indeed, until a few years ago, the idea of Côte d’Ivoire, a once stable country, being fought over by both government and rebel forces, with the international community intervening to protect their interests, would have been funny and unthinkable. But that was the reality we were faced with.
If Côte d’Ivoire found itself in a conflict situation, then the argument can be made that lessons were not properly learnt from Liberia’s situation. Indeed it was reported that mercenaries were recruited from Liberia by both Gbagbo and Ouattara’s forces. Ivorians loyal to Gbagbo, who sought refuge in Ghana, were caught carrying ammunitions. My concern is that if lessons are not properly learnt from Côte d’Ivoire, there is the likelihood that civil war may break out in neighboring countries in the region. This assumption is predicated on the fact that one of the main causes of the war --- the claim to political power on the basis of ethnic labels, is a common dynamic in African politics. In her New and Old Wars, Mary Kaldor (2007, p.85) argues that “pressure for democratization leads to increasingly desperate bids to remain in power, often by fomenting ethnic tension”. This observation can be viewed in the same context as the wise saying, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The taste of power and the subsequent desire to maintain it sometimes compel leaders to devise means that are inimical to the nation. At worst, they open politics up to claims based on cultural identity.
When leaders, in a bid to consolidate themselves in power, disenfranchise their political opponents by formulating policies that give them more advantage over their opponents, the consequence of their action, more often than not becomes disastrous. In most cases, it is the civilians who bear the brunt of their nefarious act, apart from the fact that they plunge their country into what is called political and economic quagmire. Such is the tragedy of Côte d’Ivoire.
Circumstances that Led to the Wars
The purpose of this paper is to present empirical evidence of circumstances that led to the war. The various variables are presented by means of a correlational approach. In a correlational research, the researcher determines whether two or more variables are related. See Klotz and Lynch (2007). The lack of economic parities among citizens, lead to people employing identity elements. What correlations existed among the economic powerless, the claim to political power, and the strife to make ends meet? And how did this affect the dependent variable – the civil war? In a nut shell, the paper sets out to present a connection between the independent and intervening variables, and the dependent variable, which is the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire.
Identity politics is one major cause of the war in Côte d’Ivoire. This observation was in line with writers such as Bates (1994), Horowitz (1999), Zatman (2005), and Wible (2004) who stated that identity politics was one of the major causes of ethnic conflicts all over the world. Francis (2006), Doudou (2003), Wible (2004) and a BBC report in 2004, clearly mentioned this variable in the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire. Mary Kaldor’s Old and New wars, also corroborated extensively the assertion that identity politics was one of the causes of conflicts, mostly in Eastern Europe and Africa.
Talking about identity politics in Côte d’Ivoire, we need to stress the concept of “ivorité”, devised by Konan Bédié, to bar Alassane Ouattara from contesting the 2002 presidential elections under the pretext that he was not a 100 percent Ivorian. Gbagbo used the same identity discourse, calling Ouattara “etranger” (stranger) when he heard that the latter went to Senegal after the first round of the 2010 elections. Thus, textual evidence, dominant political discourses from Gbagbo and his inner circle, justified and confirmed the claim that identity politics was indeed a variable in the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire.
External Influence from France
In an interview on TV Ivoire, the ex-minister of defense, Mr Amani N’gessan Michel blamed the war on external French and US forces and accused the international community of “pure injustice”, arguing that the western powers do not want to hear of that type of Africa, incarnated by people such as Gbagbo – that Africa, he asserted, “which is sovereign”.
Indeed, when one considers superficially the contribution of France to the whole process of solving the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, we will be tempted to quickly shower praises on it. However, beneath this superficial help, was hidden the economic interest. France must necessarily make sure there is a leader in Côte d’Ivoire, who will serve their economic interest. President Gbagbo did not give them that leverage, and therefore seeing him off the scene, would be welcome news. There was the perception that Ouattara might serve that interest.
Thus, the 1884 Berlin conference that decreed the partitioning of Africa, among Western powers, presented the harbinger for Africa’s woes. From day one, it gave France the power to manipulate and control Côte d’Ivoire for the exploitation of its resources. It was indeed a variable in the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. France packaged its action in the name of resolving the crisis. In a bid to weave the theme of greed and external control, we argue further that, France did not just jump out of the blue to start controlling events and chasing Gbagbo off the scene. France took advantage of one particular human flaw -- greed, which Gbagbo and members of his inner circle were guilty of. Hence, as cunning as they are, Western powers will always take advantage of Africa’s weakness and operate from behind the scene. In such situation, we may not have the moral courage to openly criticize them. If you call France’s action into question, France will tell you that civilian lives were at risk, so it needed to intervene -- something the African Union could not do.
Yes, Western powers will always design their foreign policy toward Africa, taking into cognizance, their rational interest. But achieving their agenda only becomes easier in a situation where some African leaders ignore their responsibility towards the people, follow their parochial interest, and throw the nation into war. The West will quickly take advantage of this, and invoke what Naomi Klein called “The Shock Therapy”.
Greed on the Part of Gbagbo
We perceive greed on the part of Gbagbo and other political actors, as one of the independent variables of the conflict. Greed overshadowed Konan Bédié’s political sense of judgment, so he saw the need to hold on to power by any means possible, hence the concept of Ivorité, that barred Ouattara from contesting the 2002 presidential election, which subsequently led to the 2002 civil war in Côte d’Ivoire. Gbagbo could have taken a clue from that past political blunder, but again, he was blinded by greed and repeated the same mistake. The desire to hold on to power by any means possible, makes African leaders ignore the events that had led to previous wars in the continent. Being a senior political figure, particularly an advocate for democracy and human justice, and someone who was pointing out political injustice during Félix Houphouët-Boigny’s regime, who would have thought that Gbagbo would be guilty of the same injustice he was preaching against, in the past? It was greed that made him overlook what was right, so he decided to hold on to power when the results showed he had lost.
In Vallee du Bandama, one of the 19 regions of Côte d’Ivoire, Ouattara was reported on “TV Ivoire” to have won 286,260 votes giving a total of 85.40 percent whereas the number of registered voters was 184,589. In another development there were reports of electoral fraud in Gbagbo’s sphere of operation and control. There were also reports that some result sheets were torn by Gbagbo supporters. Hence, both Ouattara and Gbagbo camps made allegation of fraud. Again, the fact that Paul Yao N’dre, the president of the constitutional council, was handpicked by Gbagbo, raised concern regarding his acknowledging any result that was not in favor of Gbagbo. On the other side of the coin, it was also alleged that the president of the electoral Commission and his secretary were pro-Ouattara, hence the possibility that they would also engage in acts to favor Ouattara could not be ruled out completely.
So, talking about electoral fraud, this cannot be denied completely. Having said this, It would indeed, be preposterous for us to think that the 2010 elections in Côte d’Ivoire would occur without any fraud of any sort, given the fact of the country’s nascent democratic journey. Fairness and freeness in elections are relative, depending on where the elections are held and under what political dispensation. Elections, even in the US have never been hundred percent free and fair. It is in this direction that one would have expected ex-president Gbagbo to just listen to the international community and the African regional organizations, to step down in the interest of peace, just as did Professor Atta Mills, John Agyekum Kufuor, and Akufo Addo, all from Ghana, during Ghanaian elections.
Houphouët-Boigny’s Failure to Institute True Democracy before His Death.
If there was ever any quality in Félix Houphouët-Boigny for which he should be praised, that was his ability to manage a multi-ethnic nation like Côte d’Ivoire without any major conflict. In the same token, if there was any legacy that he needed to bequeath his people with, after his death, that legacy should have been an ability to rule the country without any major ethnic conflict. The contrary however, was the case. He never taught his people how to be tolerant with others who held contrary opinion or opposing ideology. Rather, he exiled political opponents, and stayed in power till his death. He could have stepped down, and supervised a democratically organized election, offered advice to the winner, taught him how to accept different views and how to bring all ethnic groups under the same umbrella. A popular Ghanaian adage goes thus: Kahohoa nu wogbia yeyea do, which means, the new generation follows the example of the older generation. If he had ruled the nation for thirty years and was never tolerant with his political opponents, how could we expect the generation he has left behind to do the correct thing? They never learnt true democracy anywhere, because Houphouët-Boigny never practised it. That was why the likes of Konan Bédié and Gbagbo had to resort to identity politics when they were faced with stiff opposition. Tiemoko Coulibaly argued that Côte d’Ivoire never organized any free and fair election. It is indeed sad to hear that there had never been any free and fair election, in a country that was described as a paragon of peace in Africa.
Economic disparities have been identified as one of the major factors that cause conflict in most war-torn countries in the world. This observation is in line with Burton’s (1979) argument. Burton (1979) asserted that when ethnic groups are denied biological and psychological needs, they fight. Most Ivoirians, who jumped into the civil war, were lured into the war not because they just took delight in that, but rather because they were denied their basic psychological needs – needs that are satisfied when there is economic equality. They fought with the hope that when their candidate won, their economic and psychological needs would be met
Effect of the War on the Country
It has been observed that most of the variables that cause wars replicate themselves in larger quantities as effects of wars. There are however, some phenomena that are constant when there is war including the loss of life and displacement of people. Hence many people lost their lives in the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire. The New York Times on April 23, 2012 reported that over 30,000 people had lost their lives since the war started in 2002 in Côte d’Ivoire, and many others had fled the country to neighboring Ghana, Liberia, Guinea and Burkina Faso, where they live in refugee camps. These two variables are constant in any major conflict
The war in Côte d’Ivoire deepened the ethnic tension that existed between the North and the South and between Christians and Muslims. The identity divide has been reinforced and more ethnic and religious cleavages have been created.
Economically, Côte d’Ivoire has been thrown back, so many years, down the economic ladder. The export ban on all the cocoa during the war crippled the economy. It will take Côte d’Ivoire many years to recover from the shock as a result of the huge debt incurred in the course of the war. The civilian population have difficulty rebuilding their homes that were destroyed during the war.
The war affected the education sector especially, college education. The universities in Côte d’Ivoire were breeding grounds for rebellion and ethnic clashes. Many young students took advantage of the situation to gain political favors. Some became military men and women during the wars.
Circumstances that led to the arrest of Laurent Gbagbo are an indication of external political influence especially, French influence. Such external political interference in Africa’s domestic affairs, defeats the basis for the political independence of the continent. Gbagbo’s arrest and transfer to The Hague may be an obstacle to the reconciliation process, thus leading the country into political impasse.
Effect of the War on Neighboring Countries
Apart from Burkina Faso, all Ivorian neighboring countries are fragile states and the porous nature of shared borders can facilitate the movement of illegal arms into any of these neighbors. Ivorian refugees were caught in Ghana with arms. Some opposition party members had already started inciting one ethnic group against others in Ghana. A typical example was Kennedy Agyapong, who on a private TV station incited the Ashantis against the Ewes and the Gas. The leader of the opposition NPP party Akufo Addo was also noted for the infamous “all die be die” statement he made on a radio station. These are all potential threats that were reinforced by the Ivorian civil war
The wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia ended with failed DDRR programs, a phenomenon that transformed the eastern corridor into a pool of fighters ready to fight in the Côte d’Ivoire war. Fortunately ex- fighters in the Côte d’Ivoire war, have not destabilized the peace in neighboring countries as much as one anticipated
To hold on to power, leading Ivorian politicians devised undemocratic means to disenfranchise their political and ideological opponents. Similarities that had caused wars on the African continent in the past were ignored. The interplay between these, and other sociocultural, ethnic, religious, economic and educational factors threw the nation into two major devastating wars, 2002-2011. The result was obvious: Côte d’Ivoire, the hitherto “paradise” and a paragon of peace in Africa, suddenly turned into a troubled state. With a correlational approach, and the hybrid form of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, we wove data from document analysis into a coherent conceptual narrative, giving the reader an epistemological construct. It was revealed that the claim to power on the basis of ethnic labels, economic disparities, the lack of equal access to educational facilities and greed on the part of politicians were the main causes that threw Côte d’Ivoire into war. Entrenching a political norm that requires candidates to appeal to the electorate, and seek support beyond ethnic labeling would avert future crisis.
Recommendations for the Region
· There should be a new political practice: the formation of cross-ethnic coalitions. Candidates should broaden their electoral appeal by looking for support beyond their own ethnic groups and show that they are committed to seeking and ensuring the interest and welfare of multiple groups. They should seek the endorsement of differing ethnic associations, attend different cultural activities of different groups and choose campaign slogans that show their commitment to ethnic diversity, integration and pluralism.
· Political actors and state agencies should agree to the various peace agreements and register all individuals on their territory, determine the requirement for citizenship, provide identity documents for all persons that qualify. Government must provide a special appeal process for people, who are internally displaced, who may not be able to return to their place of birth, or children who are born out of customary marriage or with one Ivorian parent.
· Countries must revise their policies for multiculturalism (Klotz and Lynch), if there were any at all, so as to mitigate and mute social conflicts that can result from cultural differences.
· Countries must become signatories to the 1954 and 1961 UN conventions on stateless persons – a convention that defines a stateless person as someone who does not have the legal bond of nationality with any country. Even, until it joins, the nation’s laws should agree with the spirit of the conventions on stateless persons. .
· The UNHCR must seek support from the International Community and assign additional staff to assist in the statelessness identification process.
· Ex-combatants should be demobilized, disarmed and reintegrated into the regular army and be made aware that their responsibility is to protect human rights and international humanitarian law.
· Ex-combatants should be identified, registered, and redirected to social assistance programs. This will reduce the resurgence of further violence.
· African leaders who are taken to the international criminal court in The Hague, for crimes against humanity should be dealt with, with iron hands, so as to deter other leaders with such tendency in them. Incumbent presidents should be cautioned against stealing the mandate of the people.
· Finally, this article recommends that regional organizations ECOWAS, AU and the international community, come out with a system that will recognize with due respect, those leaders that step down honorably and willingly, when their term of office ends or when they lose elections.
The Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) related to Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa broke out in March 2014 and was lifted on 29 March 2016 after national declaration by WHO in Sierra Leone on the 7th November 2015. A total of 28, 616 confirmed cases, probable and suspected, were reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with 11 310 deaths.
Sierra Leone was devastated by this unprecedented EVD leaving records of an estimated 8,135 people infected, out of which 2,975 died as at 8th February 2015. This significant number of deaths resulted in the disintegration of families and communities. At the onset of EVD, it was clear that there was a link between secret society rituals such as the washing of dead bodies, secret burials and so on, and the spread of the disease.
Defeating Ebola required an integrated approach of combining social attitudes and community engagement with effectively managed community health care centers.
As part of the intervention to fight the spread of the disease, Plan International, Sierra Leone, partnered with the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Her Excellency Sia Nyama Koroma, in a successful joint initiative to persuade heads of secret societies and village chiefs to stop the traditional burial practices which spread Ebola. This paper will aver that this initiative had a lasting positive effect on the fight and submit that their active involvement significantly enabled the defeat of Ebola. However, discussions and contributions on their role have been muted or downplayed and this paper seeks to address that gap.
Structure and Management of Secret Societies
In a sense, the term “Secret Society” is a reflection of the restriction the membership place on revealing their rites and practices. They are cultural societies created by ethnic communities specific to general knowledge management and training. Each of the 16 ethnic communities in Sierra Leone have a dominant society but may also be organized by other societies. However in general there are four dominant secret societies; one for each of the four regions, The Western Area is dominated by Ojeh Society; North and East by Sande/Bondo; and the South by Poro. Some were established to prepare girls for adulthood, men for positions and acquiring food for the community, and training men to defend the communities and so on. Secret societies are all over the country, in every community and every ethnic community. Based on the structure and workings of the societies, I believe the correct term should be “Elite societies” since being accepted into the society is a sign of responsibility, discipline, and trustworthiness.
In principle, membership is open to everyone in the community, although there are some societies which are gender based and would only accept one member of the opposite sex as an honorary member. However potential members must meet some stated eligibility criteria. Approximately 75% to 80% belong to one secret society or another. Some belong to more than one.
Each society has its own eligibility criteria. However discipline, obedience, and loyalty is high on the list. Most secret societies elect a member as the head for a term, but the head can stand for multiple times. A past head still commands great respect. The members are highly answerable to their various heads and the overall head with stiff penalties for breaking the laws, either of the society or the country. Each secret society performs public ceremonies at various times of the year which the population joins in. These are the times when the general public gets to participate in the activities of the societies.
Role in the Fight
An examination of the EVD outbreak revealed that the communities (made up of significant members of secret societies) were at the frontline in the fight against EVD. Traditional healing, and family and community health care support are part of the secret societies’ support to the communities. The Ebola resistant behaviour change initiative project called for the communities to desist from this age old practice which is enshrined in the code of conduct of the secret societies and cultural practices. In uniting the secret societies they heard the message from their own leaders which made it easier for them to obey. Secondly, as respected members of the communities were able to gather intelligence, mobilise the communities, sensitise them, they created avenues from the National Ebola Response Centre (national oversight body managing the disease) to perform their duties as well as receive support in the villages and communities.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a cultural issue and the Ebola behaviour resistant change initiative by the First Lady of Sierra Leone, the consortium of secret societies, traditional healers and birth attendants and Plan International initiative led to a ban on all cultural activities including FGM.
The initiative facilitated work with a National Secretariat with administrative unit that worked closely with the Office of the First Lady on various development related issues. Plan International supported the Office of the First Lady in developing developmental, rights, child rights, and gender concepts which were being implemented in collaboration with the secret societies. Given Plan International’s forty years grass roots presence in many rural communities in Sierra Leone, its credibility enabled direct access to the secret societies through this collaboration to sensitise and raise awareness of issues.
Conclusion - Secret Societies as Agents of Positive Transformation
It is clear that if community based structures such as secret societies are engaged positively, they can leverage their influence to support social and economic transformations. Secret societies can be agents of positive transformation and the ebola resistant behavior change initiative implemented by the First Lady of Sierra Leone, consortium of secret societies and Plan International is an example of this hypothesis.
The fear of Ebola virus disease (EVD), created an uncomfortable vacuum, which could easily be filled by stigmatization, exaggeration and anxiety. At onset of EVD, it was clear that there was a link between secret society rituals such as the washing of dead bodies, secret burials and the spread of the disease. Defeating Ebola required an integrated approach of combining social attitudes and community engagement with effectively managed community health care centers.
Plan International’s forty years presence in child centered community development at the frontline in Sierra Leone created trust with the community based secret societies. This trust combined with the persuasive moral authority of the First Lady of Sierra Leone created a powerful synergy which enabled a successful community engagement and social mobilization behavior change project to change practices which were at the heart of spreading the Ebola virus disease.
Trust is a key enabler in facilitating community engagement and social mobilization to ensure behavior change. Being a trusted source of information and support is a key enabler for community engagement and social mobilization especially in fragile communities.