From Weapons to Hope
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Before, there was an economic problem in Ivory Coast in 1980, so the first president of the Ivory Coast - Felix Houphouet Boigny - tried everything to settle that problem with many politicians, but they couldn’t. Alassane Ouattara was working for International Monetary Fund in the United States at that time, and President Felix Houphouet Boigny called him back to the Ivory Coast to take care of this problem.That is when President Houphouet made him prime minister. At that time, all of the politicians got power without being voted in; they were appointed by the president.
There were two main ethnic groups in the Ivory Coast: the Northerners - who were mostly Muslim - and the Southerners - who were mostly Christian. Alassane Ouattara was political leader, and other politicians were leaders too. Felix Houphouet Boigny died on December 7, 1993. Ouattara announced his death to the nation, saying that "Ivory Coast is orphaned." A brief power struggle ensued between Alassane Ouattara and Henri Konan Bedie, the President of the National Assembly, over the presidential succession in total disregard for the constitution that clearly gave Henri Konan Bedie the legal right to lead the country if Houphouet became unfit. To put Ouattara out of political scene, the president of National Assembly had cursed Ouattara saying ’’Ouattara he is not Ivorian.‘’ Because of Alassane Ouattara, Northerners were belittled by Southerners, who cursed people from the northern territories, saying that they are not Ivorian. That began the story.
The cause of the first civil war was around ethnicity, nationality and religion. So then, politicians tapped into these differences to consolidate their monopoly on power, and in the process, pushed the country toward civil war. The first Ivorian civil war began in 1999 with little conflict, although most of the fighting began from 2002 and ended by late 2004.
There was civil war from 2002 to 2004. The country was split in two, with a rebel-held North and a government-held South. After the war, we had peace, and we tried to hold an election in 2005. However, the president at that time - Laurent Gbagbo - kept refusing to hold an election until 2010. Finally, in 2010, because of pressure from other countries and the United Nations, he was obligated to hold an election. During the election, at first, there were 14 candidates, but in the end, there were two candidates left: Laurent Gbagbo, and Alassane Ouattara, the former prime minister of Felix Houphouet.
Since 2005, there were 2 armies in the Ivory Coast. The first army was from the North (rebel-held), the other army was from the South (government-held). Before the election, both armies worked together. There was peace. But when the election happened, after Laurent Gbagbo lost, there was diplomacy.The United Nations told him that he lost. All of the organizations from Africa also told him that he lost. When the Ivory Coast made diplomacy, that did not get anything. So the population began to think about the election; they didn’t know who was president because there were 2 presidents. Both of them claimed that they won. In fact, there were two announcements. The first announcement was by CEI (the independent electoral commission), which published provisional results showing that Alassane Ouattara had won the election in the second round. Then, the President of the Constitutional Council took to the airwaves to say that the CEI had no authority left to announce any results because it had already missed its deadline to announce them and, consequently, the results were invalid. He announced, instead, that the results were in favor of Gbagbo. When the population began to think about what had happened in the election and who they wanted as a leader, one of Laurent Gbagbo’s political members told the Southerners to kill or burn Northerners. The southerner army began to kill Northern people, so the northerner army was dispatched to defend their Northern brothers, and then a second civil war happened. That dominated the lives of people in the Ivory Coast.
When you were walking in the street, southern youths and sometimes the southern army intercepted you and asked for your identification. From the identification, they could determine if you were Muslim or Christian. If they determined you were Muslim, they firstly tried to tell you that you are not Ivorian. Then, they killed you or burned you. They killed and burned hundreds of people in the Ivory Coast. When they were trying to do this, northerners tried to defend themselves.That created a conflict between a rebel held-northerner and a government-held southerner.
I was 12 years old at that time. Children couldn’t go to school because of the conflict. Also, they had no freedom. All of those children! These adults put something in our heart - a feeling. Like hate. Hate for somebody. I had hate for all of the southerners (Christian) people because they burned or killed two of my cousins. At that time, my father was in the U.S. and I was with my mom and my little brother in Ivory Coast. During those 4 months, I moved from a big city to a little city. I moved because I didn’t want to die; also, I did not want to see people’s blood. It was very dangerous in the big city. In the big city, they killed people I knew, and they also killed and burned a lot of people because they were northerners (Muslim).
I saw people being killed and burned. It was the first time I saw somebody die. When I saw people being killed, I felt upset in a way I can’t describe because that was my first time seeing someone die. I was scared. I was scared of everything. Everything. I was with one of my uncles when I first saw somebody die. My uncle began to cry, shouting, “Great God.” Fortunately, I was not near him so I was not in danger.
Because of my religion, I forgave the Christians. It was easy to forgive them because, in my religion, God says, “If somebody hurts you, no matter what it is they did to you, don’t do this action again. You have to forgive and forget.” After the war finished, when we came back to school, we couldn’t speak to our friends because they were southerners (Christian). Also, our parents told us, “Do not speak to southern people because they are our enemy.” I couldn’t talk to southerners. I didn’t hate southerners, and I like to talk to everybody, so I felt alone. I felt as if my world was upside down.
Four months later, when the new president, Alassane Ouattara, took power, he tried to persuade the whole population, “We have to be together;” in other words, he was promoting peace. So we didn’t have any choice. If we did not forgive them, there would be a killing again. Most of the southerners (Christians), they apologized because they said the northerners (Muslim) took their power and they killed so many, many people. Right now, everybody talks about “peace, peace, peace.” We don’t want to see war anymore. But I don’t think Ivory Coast really has peace yet, because all of the politicians are not really together. If they come together, we can have peace.
What I remember most about that time was when the last president refused to give up power. He lost in front of everybody but he refused. I saw this on TV. When I first heard that, I thought, “This president is out of his mind.” I also thought that he didn’t think about the country’s future. I felt the evil that could happen if the presidency was left vacant. If the last president stepped down from power, and then another candidate took his place, and another after him, there would be democracy and stability for the country. If that could happen, I would feel proud for all of Africa. Because in Africa, there are presidents who spend 10 or 20 years in power. But if there is a new president, he can change something. If there is a new president, there is hope for the country.
I just want to say, we just have to be together, and leave the politicians to do their work, because we are not politicians. In the future, I want to do something. Firstly, I dream to be a politician in my country. Maybe in the future, I will decide more. As a politician, I want to talk about development and economic problems. I want to go to college here in the U.S. and then go back to my country for a job because if I study in the U.S., people would prefer to hire me over someone with the same educational level from my country.
I wrote this story for many reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to see killing, burning, discrimination anymore. I don’t want to hear about these horrible things that happen in Africa anymore. And then, I want to change the way the politicians govern us, because I realize they don’t really care about their country - they only care about themselves. I did not write this to explain what happened in Ivory Coast, but to say that we didn’t need to adopt those violent actions. According to one of my friends, ‘’Everything we do to others comes back to us.’’ Then, that means if we promote peace today, we are going to have peace in the future. But if we promote trouble, we are going to meet suffering. We have to promote peace. Finally, I believe it is important for children to get an education because if we get educated we can have a brilliant future, free from violence. I love you Ivory Coast, I love you, Africa.
MOHAMED L. DOUMBIA