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Francis Abugbilla examines transitional justice processes in Cote d’Ivoire

Francis Abugbilla
Francis and the chief of Duékouè Carrefour, where the most atrocious crimes took place (over 800 people killed within a week). There is a mass grave in the community.

November 5, 2019

The Mayerfeld Fellowship is helping me conduct my dissertation research in the Côte d’Ivoire from September – December 2019, which explores the interaction of post-conflict peacebuilding mechanisms after violent conflicts. In transitional justice, there are two main mechanisms that are used for post-conflict reconstruction. These are truth and reconciliation commission as seen in South Africa and prosecutions as witnessed in Rwanda. What is interesting about the Ivorian case is that both of these mechanisms were adopted concurrently. These simultaneous initiatives raised suspicions and doubts regarding the justness of the processes among the citizens, who began to wonder why some war criminals are given amnesty while others are prosecuted. Both mechanisms seem to have flaws from the onset. For instance, the trials have targeted only one side of the conflict and these people view it as the victor’s justice.

During my preliminary interviews last year, I interviewed different social classes but this year I decided to concentrate on three groups: political elites/politicians, victims, and ordinary Ivorians. I have been able to interview some high-level elites from the opposition camp, but it is very difficult to get top leaders from the camp in power. For instance, I sent letters to six ministries since July 15 to interview the ministers and have only been able to interview a representative from one ministry. This person is a director of research. The difficulty is due to bureaucracy and the fact that there are presidential elections in 2020 and politicians are skeptical and entrenched in their positions. I hope that by the end of the year, I would have got some of the leaders to interview. When I arrived here, I realized that I needed to add another group. I called this group resource persons because they have either worked with the defunct truth commission or they are legal experts on the topic. I have also travelled to a couple of rural parts of Côte d’Ivoire to interview victims thanks to the Mayerfeld award. I have also attended political rallies organized by the opposition parties as participant observation in the economic capital, Abidjan.

I planned to do content analysis as part of archival research at the National Library of Côte d’Ivoire in the second stage. I aim to obtain expressive responses in the interviews that I can triangulate through content-analysis of newspapers representing the left, right, and centrist political orientations. The newspapers are La Voie Originale, Le Patriote, Le Nouveau Réveil, and Fraternité Matin. Unfortunately, the national library is under renovation. To overcome this problem and access to the political elites, I buy and read current newspapers that have titles relating to my research. Some of the elites grant interviews to both local and international media and I will be using some of those interviews for my analysis. 

In August 2018, the President gave amnesty to 800 prisoners, including the former First Lady, Simone Gbagbo. This action by the President seem to have appeased former President Gbagbo’s followers. However, former President Laurent Gbagbo and his former Youth Minister, Charles Ble Goude, who were extradited to the International Criminal Court (ICC), are still on conditional release since January of this year. In September, the ICC Prosecutor appealed their conditional release, and this has created dissatisfaction and uneasiness among the former president’s camp. Victims who were disgruntled at the conditional release of the duo are celebrating the appeal. This development is creating political tension in the country, leading to next year’s elections.

Overall, I would say that my dissertation work is going slowly but assuredly.  I believe that by the end of the year, I would have made significant progress. The Mayerfeld Fellowship is helping pay for newspapers and magazines, transportation, and meals. I am very grateful to funders for the generous support.