Monday, June 22, 2015

Divo: A tale of two neighborhoods

In a family compound, a woman turns a large roasting kettle full of peanuts while another sits on a low bench tossing peanuts in a basket to remove the casings. Several children dart about, climbing on large plastic bags full to the brim with peanuts. Here, the women tell us that they have registered to vote, that they heard about it on the radio.
A Dioula family eager to have their photo taken (Divo, June 2015)
Young men in the street approached us to inquire about the meaning of our t-shirts and to get more information on how to vote; once they learned they nodded and said they would go right then to the CEI center to register. A few streets down, we are directed to the Imam’s house, who graciously welcomes us, takes all of the posters and documents and promises to include the information in his Friday sermon.
The Imam of Divo, third from the left (Divo, June 2015)
On the other side of town, we step under an overhang filled with young men. Flies lazily circle plastic cups of palm wine sitting on benches; the looks on the men’s faces are not particularly welcoming. “We voted in 2010, and they took up guns and put our president in jail. Why would we vote this year?” enquires a young man who was more willing to open up when he thought I was from Sierra Leone and not from the CEI. The men in the overhang listened, not very attentively, to the speech given by the electoral education agents, but refused to note their names on the list to demonstrate to the NGO that they had been spoken to by the agent. We continue to a group of women making and selling attieke. One laughs when the topic of elections eventually comes up: “Who do I vote for?” The agent responded, “for your candidate.” She snorted and said “and if my candidate is not here? If he is in jail?”
One of the few men drinking palm wine who allowed a photo to be taken (Divo, June 2015)
These are two neighborhoods in Divo, Western Côte d’Ivoire. The first is called Dioulabouga, includes the mosque, and is inhabited by mostly Dioula-speaking Muslims. Of the 74 individuals we spoke with, almost 20 were tailors/dressmakers, several were taxi or bus drivers while others worked with electronics. Of the 23 women, only two had stated employment outside of the home, though I imagine those women roasting peanuts and making attieke were not only making it for themselves. The second neighborhood, Libraville, is near the Catholic high school and has several churches nearby. This is the heart of the Dida group; concentrated around Divo, they share their dialect with the Bété, the ethnic group which former president Gbagbo belongs to. Here, the occupation makeup was different as well: Of 41, 12 were planters or farmers, while there were more government workers and professors here than in Dioulabouga.*

The electoral education agents told me that with the Dioula or Baoulé populations, there is no problem; they listen, they accept the information with no protests. The Dida, they said, that’s where the problem lies. In particular, young men turn and walk briskly in the opposite direction when they see the agents, or if the agents do talk to them, they shake their heads, suck their teeth and protest that there’s no point in voting, there’s not going to be any real elections.
Retired government workers and current teachers, vocal about the political situation (Divo, June 2015)
This group of retired teachers and government workers implored me to write down everything they said and to convey this information and their photo to Obama; to ask him to change the president of the CEI and to stop supporting the President he (along with former French President Sarkozy) "imposed" on this country. Under Houphouet-Boigny, under Bédié, even under coup leader Gueï, they ate well, they recounted, but now old, retired men are hungry and can’t afford to pay their rent. “We can’t find food to eat, and you’re talking to us about elections,” they lament.

One could chalk up this attitude to poor losers since their preferred candidate lost in the last elections, but that would be misguided; the feelings of being wronged are real. One electoral education agent told me that they were chased from a village on the way to Gagnoa (towards the heart of Gbagbo country) where people told them that their families were killed, or arrested in the aftermath of the last elections. A dry cleaning shop owner told me that he had left Bouaké on foot with only the clothes on his back at the start of the rebellion in 2002; these individuals feel that justice was not served against those who had perpetrated massacres, human rights abuses, looting or outright fear during the 10 year civil conflict or during the election crisis. Victor’s justice is a common phrase as people wonder why Gbagbo is in the ICC while those who carried out treasonous acts during the rebellion are not; in fact, leaders of the rebellion hold key government positions and former rebels patrol the streets as new soldiers.

The concern is how these feelings will manifest themselves in the months to come. Two men said that they were rebels or would become rebels. Others said they wanted to see Ouattara removed, forcefully, from power. On the other hand, not all of the vehement opposition supporters alluded to violence, but instead to using the ballot box as a weapon: one man, when we were speaking with some of his female family members making attieke, said that they would all register, sure, but they would not vote on Election Day, to show that there is no candidate or real competition.

* This was of course not a representative sample of the population, as I was only able to cover parts of the neighborhoods over the course of a day. However, it is still interesting to see the differences, even within this convenience sample. 

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