The United Nations and the Ivory Coast. (Human Rights Watch)

By Cisse, Soumahila | The Humanist, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

The United Nations and the Ivory Coast. (Human Rights Watch)


Cisse, Soumahila, The Humanist


I was born and grew up in the Ivory Coast, also known as La Cote d'Ivoire. This African nation, which gained its independence from France in 1960, is bordered by the countries Mali, Ghana, Liberia, and Burkina Faso. More than sixty different ethnic groups live there, but most Ivorians belong to either the Baoule or Mandingo tribes. The Mandingo people are primarily Muslim and from the northern part of the country. They own many of the businesses in the capital city Abidjan. The Baoule are mostly Christian and hold many positions within the government. Both tribes until recently lived peacefully side by side for hundreds of years. I am Mandingo.

Like in the United States, there are several different political parties in the Ivory Coast. Translated from their French names, they are the Democratic Party, established in 1946; the Ivory Popular Front (FPI), established in 1990; the Republican Party (RDR); the Party of Social Democrats (USD); and the Party of the Workers (PIT). The country has a president--currently Laurent Gbagbo, a socialist within the FPI--a prime minister, and twenty-eight ministers of various departments, including foreign affairs, defense, health, and transportation. The voting age is twenty-one.

Until recently, my hometown of Abidjan was a tourist attraction, known as the "Paris of Africa" for its beauty and economic stability. As a young boy, I never had to worry about war or fighting; I only knew peace there. But recently Abidjan has turned into a war zone, and several of my friends and family members have been murdered.

The last presidential election resulted in massive killing--very uncommon for this country. The fighting was mostly between the Baoule government and military and the Mandingo people. The trouble started when the head of the country, Henry Konan Bedie, misinformed the nation by saying that Baoule Christians were the first to arrive in the Ivory Coast and that the Muslim Mandingo people were outsiders. Soon everyone, young and old, across the country was debating who were the "true Ivorians." The government even banned a Mandingo candidate, Alassan Ouattara of the RDR, from running for president, saying that he wasn't a true Ivorian since his mother had been born in Burkina Faso.

Young Mandingo men started protesting against the government, which fought back violently by sending soldiers to target and kill Mandingo people, especially the young activists and poor civilians. Thus the Baoule and Mandingo tribes became more divided than ever, and neighbors who used to greet each other each morning were now fighting.

My teenage brother witnessed three of his friends shot and killed by Baoule soldiers. My father's car was set on fire and destroyed by his Baoule neighbors. Then, one day, Baoule soldiers went to my cousin's home and arrested him. They took him away and he's never been seen again. My cousin was known for encouraging young Mandingo to stand up for their rights, so he was seen as a threat. When his mother asked the police where he had been taken, they told her coldly to check the rivers, lakes, and dumpsters. She nearly lost her mind searching for him, but she, too, never returned. Now my mother cares for the three children she left behind, along with my little brother and sister. The sadness is so great that we never talk about what happened.

I felt so helpless here in the United States when I read news articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post about the atrocities being committed in my homeland and the mass graves that had been found. I was so worried about my family. All I could do was try to phone them, but many times I couldn't get through.

The question now facing the United Nations is whether it should have stepped in to prevent the Mandingo genocide and whether it should get involved now to prevent more horrible killing. According to the official UN peacekeeping manual:

 
   UN peacekeeping is based on the principle that an impartial UN presence on 
   the ground can ease tension and allow negotiated solutions in a conflict 
   situation. 

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