In a British newspaper I read this morning that according to the British national curriculum: “learning history helps pupils develop their own identities”. If that is true, which I am sure it is, I do understand a bit better some of the issues involved in the former French colony that is Ivory Coast. Contrary to what is commonly thought, multiculturalism is not a characteristic proper, solely, to the most technologically advanced or “modern” nations to be found mainly in the West. The southern hemisphere and particularly the African continent has too often been marked by ethnic and tribal unrests and wars; nevertheless, it is also important not to forget that in West Africa, multiculturalism, multi-ethnicity, and multifaith has been a feature long before the concept of multiculturalism was truly developed in most countries in the West.
It is also true that after their access to independence most African countries adopted institutions and political systems that were the copy cats of that of the ex-colonisers. In some few cases the assimilation was also to appear in the values the new African countries decided to make theirs. It is thus that the old West African conception of what a nation is or should be was in some cases dropped and replaced by a monoethnic and monocultural understanding of the notion of nation. In the case of Ivory Coast, the lack of knowledge of their own historical past also wrongly led many Ivoirians to think that their country, just like France pretends itself to be, was monocultural, monoethnic, and had above all as the only religious identity and faith Christianity.
These are facts I first suspected until last week when it became Krystal clear to me that Ivoirians in their vast majority had such conception and understanding of their nation. Patrice Gore-Bi, an Ivorian citizen now living in the city of Coventry in the UK, was the one who in a way opened my eyes on the reasons for the Ivorian political crisis. At our first meeting, in a discussion we had at a common friend’s place, he clearly told me and others that as an Ivorian citizen he considered those in Ivory Coast with certain family names such as Diouf, Diop or Diallo as foreigners; and this, no matter if they were born in the country from family that had been there for more than three generations. As an overt supporter of President Laurent Gbagbo, Fabrice Gore-Bi, also justified his political choice as a form of resistance in front of invaders composed of different peoples mainly coming from the Muslim north. The historical point he was however missing here was that before the arrival of the Europeans, Ivory Coast was mainly a no man’s land mostly composed of forests where the defeated peoples and tribes used to seek refuge. In other words, the country as it appears today was only created after the 1960s, long after the birth of Alassane Ouattara, the unfortunate candidate who more than once saw his political campaign invalidated on the grounds that he was not a true and real Ivorian.
I have sincerely always had doubts on the legitimacy of Alasssane Ouattara to run for presidency. Not that, because of his family name, I do not consider him as a native of the nation; far from it. But, his ties with the big corporations in the West; his Franco-Israeli wife who used to be in charge of the management of the wealth of the former president Félix Houphouët-Boigny during his life time; his ties with the city of Neuilly and its mayor in the 1990s (Nicolas Sakorzy) are too many negative signs for this part of the world that experienced across history all forms of exploitations going from slavery to colonization.
For sure, as mentioned by most analysts, the present situation in Ivory Coast gives the picture of a divided nation with two presidents: “a President for the Blacks and a President for the Whites”. The situation also leaves limited perspectives: between a choice that could be the result or the expression of alienation through the assimilation to French values, and a French comprehension of what a « nation » is; and, on the other hand, a choice that could mean: another puppet president, in office for 5 years, and working solely and uniquely for the profit and interest of foreign powers at the expense of the Ivoirians.
But of course, these were facts my assimilated, and alienated interlocutor being too ignorant on the cultural past and history of this part of the world –although he was an Ivoirian citizen-, could unfortunately not perceive on that day.