Finding it hard to believe

From Abidjan, Tanella Boni

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The consequences of « Ivoirité ». The mood in Abidjan, by the Ivoirian novelist, poet and philosopher Tanella Boni.

Yes, it is hard to believe when you live in this country. Yet never have places of worship been so popular, so prosperous, as over these last few months. New sects have sprung up, and places of worship multiplied. Religious figures of all denominations take part in meetings where decisions concerning the country’s future are taken. In February 2000, Muslims and Christians thus took part in the famous commission responsible for compiling the 2nd Republic of Côte d’Ivoire’s founding texts. Religious leaders give their view on the socio-political situation. They give interviews, call for national reconciliation. And prayer days are held left, right and centre. People pray for peace in Côte d’Ivoire. Yet the faithful and non-believers are increasingly doubtful. For no one knows which side the truth lies on.
The truth has changed sides more than once since 24 December 1999. The people who make and break politics too. Some have merrily switched from Bédié to Guéï to Gbagbo, swaying with the winds of History. The least fortunate in this tale are those who have no political affiliation. They are considered in all quarters to be aliens… Faithful to themselves, candid in the land of war, they are permanently dumbfounded because they are still capable of asking themselves questions. They are becoming increasingly sceptical. They are losing their sleep because, not so long ago, they believed that the word change could mean something and that History could bring a better future. Today, in December 2000, all dreams have faded. The sceptics had got into the habit of following the words of the three wise monkeys: « see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil ». They now know that wisdom is not wisdom, that thanks to the humans who govern this country, History is at risk of having no meaning.
For the leaders have lost sight of the fact that they use the word people without knowing exactly what it means. In October we had « the people’s candidate » – a supposedly retired general and past master in the school of metamorphosis. We also had « the hope of all the people », his historic opponent, it was said, who ended up winning those elections in which the participation rate was so low and the spoiled ballot papers just as revealing.
The politicians want to represent a people who, in Côte d’Ivoire, are becoming an illusion. Firstly, because this people no longer expresses itself in the singular. The people are not a single people anymore. They are divided in their dreams, feelings, passions, and desires. A divided people no longer heads in the same direction. Quite on the contrary, it tears itself to pieces. Meanwhile, the politicians « bear hug » one another as if they were caressing their temples against a backdrop of treachery and slander. But in front of the town and the world, they act as if they still ate out of the same plate. Meanwhile, texts have come into effect, excluding those who have to be excluded because it is written so. Constitutional Court orders fall in the middle of the night, during the Ramadan, as if to upset the sleep of those who believe that human justice is just and upright. But the most sceptical who no longer believe in anything in this country, see the man of law’s robe as dissimulating the Pandora’s box that has sown all the troubles.
This is why the troubles were not long in coming. Well before the Constitutional Court orders on the eligibility of the presidential and legislative candidates was what I would call the dance of the « and » and « or ». It would seem that over 86% of the people voted the new Constitution in which the « and » was victorious. But nobody can say with certitude what is written in this famous Constitution of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. All passions and energies have let loose to uphold the « and » coordinating conjunction. To put it simply, this means that presidential candidates have to be Ivoirian by their father and mother, who must also be of Ivoirian extraction.
That is why we are dealing with a Republic of the « And » at the very moment I write these words. One which reforges, reassures, punishes – words borrowed from the dictionary currently in use in these climes. When you look closer, even if you are increasingly sceptical, everything seems to be taking place as if there were a real desire for pacification. However, without a shadow of a doubt, they pacify bloodily, they sacrifice, they purify places and ideas. Several years ago, an insecticide was invented to this end (we no longer know who by, it doesn’t matter). It is called Ivoirité. One little squirt of this spray does the trick. Quite openly, the Ivoirité worm has entered the fruit of the people. Identities are checked, neighbours denounced, colleagues suspected. Which is why the most sceptical refuse to listen to local and foreign radio and T.V.
The foreign media totally ignore us when there is no blood shed here. The local media never change their methods. They follow the voice of the master of the house. When a new tenant moves into the Presidential Palace, the media tows the line, glorifying, justifying, giving a very official version of events. Now that the people speak out from time to time, one would have liked them to say what they feel, what they are subjected to by the police, for example.
Fortunately, the footnotes of history – those which are not communicated on either the radio or the T.V., those which are found in no newspaper – are flourishing these days. All you need to do is open your eyes and ears. You don’t have to believe. You are free of all commitment. The people of Abobo-Avocatier, Yopougon, Port-Bouët II, Adjamé, Williamsville1 now have a true story recorded deep in their memories, lived these last few months, these last few weeks, these last few days. They have got used to remaining dignified in the face of misfortune. Only their eyes reveal that something serious has happened. They do not say why the troubles erupted this way, with a few bursts of machine-gun fire, blows from rifle butts and clubs, with denouncing and for who knows what other reasons. In certain districts of Abidjan, mouths take a while to form the first word. With the exception maybe of near and dear ones, you can say a few words, but you never know whose ears they might go and slip into. People are always afraid that the troubles might spread…
The most widespread story is this one. In this country where things are absolutely fine, the hospitals refuse to treat people with gun shot or other weapon wounds; those on the brink of life and death because they have suffered unprecedented tortures. People also tell a lot of other unrecorded stories.
The troubles are never-ending stories, such as the death of the fifteen-year-old girl shot at point blank range by the police in Adjamé on 9 December. That day, the whole world had declared that peace had been restored in this country. The local media had said that nothing, nothing serious was going on down here, that peace reigned, and nothing but peace. Yesterday, the young girl’s funeral was held, anonymous, amongst hundreds of others killed for no reason. The young girl had gone home that morning telling the boys that she had just seen the police shooting from the other side of the street. All the cars in the street were damaged. A young man fell under the bullets. When the young girl entered her home, rounds of machine gun fire rang out. The people – mainly women and children at that time of day – had barricaded themselves in their homes. The police fired at the door. The door opened. The young girl had been shot in the eye. The bullet had gone through her skull. The young girl fell in front of the door. Today, her mother is inconsolable. None of the media were there to report the incident so that the Authorities could say « it’s indoctrination », or better still, « there are always people who push other people’s children into the streets »! Or, alternatively, that this case serve as additional proof that people are hunted down and killed in their own homes today.
There was the Port-Bouët II carnage, the traces of which are still visible. The survivors’ eyes say nothing, but they speak in silence. In Williamsville, the traditional hunter who was hunted down and killed a thousand times even though he remained standing, in his home. A story that people take to be fiction. But, despite my scepticism which grows by the day, I now know that Martial’s martyrized and still living body in Sony Labou Tansi’s La Vie et demie is not just fiction. In Williamsville, how many dozen bullets were shot in the neck, head, and body of that invincible dozo?2 Can we count?
Stories continue to be told in people’s families. They are written in their eyes and in memories. Meanwhile, official history makes big speeches on refoundation. One section of the population is still dressing its wounds, the other exulting. As one 29-year-old woman, who hasn’t stopped expressing her joy before God and man, puts it, this 9 December, a day before the parliamentary elections: « now there is snail to eat »3. We have to decode this saying which, for the most sceptical, sums up the mood in this country where peace reigns, nothing but peace…

1. The working-class districts of Abidjan.
2. A traditional hunter.
3. In principal, not all Ivoirians are « snail eaters ».
The photos of the popular uprising against General Gueï’s confiscation of the election results were sent to us from Abidjan by the Ivoirian photographer Hien Macliné. They are available on and can be purchased from the Africultures photo library, which will soon be online. In the meanwhile, please contact the editors.
Légèndes photos:
1) Two commandos from the Agban police station pose to mark their victory.
2) The Yapi Boka militiamen leave for the Agban police station.
3) Youths explode with joy after the Yapi Boka militiamen have been neutralized.
4) The Yapi Boka militiamen under arrest
///Article N° : 5491


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