The Great Divide

For a country considered as one of the most stable in Sub-Saharan Africa just ten years ago, what happened to Côte d’Ivoire’s seemingly secured inter-ethnic peace? Simply put, much of their decline in stateness is attributed to a consistent divide between the north and south. Differences in government investment, economic and political influence, and cultural identity are just a few components associated with this devastating division.

More recently, Côte d’Ivoire has experienced a steady state of weakness in terms of governance, development, and security. The political stability and economic development originated from its one-party system, the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI). Since gaining its independence from France in 1960, the south became the preferred region. During Houphouët-Boigny’s term, only 25% of income was allocated to the northern departments, while 75% was given to the southern departments (Ištok and Koziak 86). Northerners believed the decreased development of their region was due to ethnic discrimination (82). It was only a matter of time before opposing groups voiced concerns of the disproportionately powerful regime.

One of the most evident distinctions between northern and southern conflict is seen in political representation of its people. While President Bédié’s government included mostly politicians from the southern-central area, representatives of the mostly-Muslim north felt marginalized, demonstrating the beginning of much internal political tension. Serving as the current President of Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Dramane Ouattara was a leader of the Muslim opposition in 1994 but was not allowed to run as a candidate in the 2000 and 2005 elections because many questioned his Ivorian origin (83).

Tensions between the Christian south and Muslim north grew slowly, particularly out of the fact that H.K. Bédié, Robert Guéi and L.K. Gbagbo all belonged to the Christian community (83). In 2000, the government-controlled Christian south and rebel-controlled Muslim north experienced the first notable disputes, which ended in March 2001 as Gbagbo and Ouattara agreed to allow four Muslim politicians obtain government positions. As expected, this was not willingly accepted among the Christian elite. Within the next two years, the country endured two unsuccessful military coups, the second of which lead to a civil war in September 2002. While Muslim rebels claimed they were fighting against a dictatorship, the government was concerned with the idea of a Muslim victory supported by domestic and immigrant Muslim communities, especially from Burkina Faso (83).

Côte d’Ivoire is a particularly important example of how even democratization can generate ethnic, religious, and regional disputes. In 1995, the term ivoirité began as a reference to the cultural identity known as “genuine” Ivorian, which contrasted with immigrants seen as “not genuine” Ivorian. In addition, while the governing party once expressed a desire to create an Ivorian nation, the rule of an opposing party suppressed such notions of nationalism (86). It is now clear how differences between north and south have greatly contributed to the country’s destabilization.

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One thought on “The Great Divide

  1. Pingback: A Path to Recovery | Côte d’Ivoire: The Geopolitics of State Failure

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