For Joel Kouadio N’Guessan, a witness at the ICC, the concept of Ivoirité is one of the main culprits in the Ivorian crisis.
Joel Kouadio N’Guessan, spokesman for the Rally of Republicans (RDR), was the new witness in the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial. The Coup, the Yopougon mass grave, the Marcoussis Agreement … facing the Office of the Prosecutor he talked at length about Côte d’Ivoire’s “years of degradation.”
A fairly elderly man walked in with crutches. Facing the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial chamber in charge of ruling on the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé case, he settled in. He introduced himself “Joel Kouadio N’Guessan,” “Baoulé“, “Protestant“, “RDR spokesman.” The former cabinet minister testified openly.
The prosecution, led by Alexis Demirchian, first questioned him on his life trajectory. Gbagbo’s former minister for Human Rights from 2006 to 2007 told the Office of the Prosecutor he entered politics “after noting there was serious injustice” after 2002.
The concept of Ivoirité
Today, the prosecutor asked him about the years before the crisis. “Can you tell us about the relationship between the different ethnic groups from 2000 to 2010?” Demirchian asked.
“Your question embarrasses me a little,” the witness replied. “Côte d’Ivoire is a country where cultures deeply interlock…cultural interweaving between our people did not result in ethnic fighting systems…However, I must say that certain ethnic groups have been singled out for rejection.” He continued: “People are very close to their political leaders based on ethnicity…but this did not affect cohabitation.”
However, the witness said that what has been “very devastating for social cohesion in Côte d’Ivoire” was the concept of Ivoirité. According to him, the transformation and use of this concept by some Ivorian politicians created “a deep social divide.” N’Guessan said, “This could provide an explanation for much of what we experienced in Côte d’Ivoire.”
Yopougon and the death squads
The prosecution then reminded the witness of the Yopougon mass grave. The witness explained that “nobody has been able to establish who is responsible” for the deaths of these 52 people. He stated that this drama, and others that followed, were “the fertile ground for the crisis we have experienced in the country.”
Regarding the death squads, the witness mentioned “bizarre disappearances,” including the actor known as “H,” a former RDR activist who disappeared in 2003. Regarding the squads, he said that “this was one phrase that was used” but that there was no specific name. However, one thing the witness was positive about was that “it was not good to join the rebellion and above all to defend their theses.”
N’Guessan then recounted his experience during the negotiations leading to the Linas-Marcoussis agreement aimed at ending the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire. “We came out of Marcoussis full of hope,” he said. “After the signing, we stood up and sang our national anthem.”
Referring to Abidjan demonstrations at the time, he summarized the impact of this decision on the form of protest of those who would later be called Young Patriots, “their diagnosis was that the enemy of Côte d’Ivoire was France.”
However, the day was finally concluded by another march – the March 2004 march in protest against the blocking of the Marcoussis agreement, suppressed by the armed forces. “This march was peaceful,” said the witness, who was then head of the Movement Forces of the Future (MFA). “Our activists were murdered in cold blood with the help of Ivorian army helicopter gunships,” he said before estimating the number of deaths at 350 “minimum.” He concluded: “I tell you the facts which are real and irrefutable.”
The day finally ended with a new soundtrack from March 2004. The voice of Gbagbo was easily recognizable. He is heard saying: “What was intended was to bring the rebellion into Abidjan under the guise of a march…we must break the cycle of violence.”
Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are charged with four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and other inhumane acts, or – in the alternative – attempted murder and persecution. The accused allegedly committed these crimes during post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.
This summary comes from Ivoire Justice , a project of Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW), which offers monitoring and commentary on the ICC’s proceedings arising from the post-election violence that occurred in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010-2011. It has been translated into English for use on International Justice Monitor.