John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Comment on Ivory Coast, Disarmament, and the Dozos

by John Campbell
August 12, 2011

A woman and child mount a motorcycle driven by a dozo who is among those monitoring the road between Man and Duékoué in western Côte d’Ivoire, July 2011. (Nancy Palus/Courtesy IRIN).

I am republishing an insightful comment I received on my blog post about Ivory Coast’s dozos from Joseph Hellweg, an assistant professor of religion at Florida State University, who has conducted fieldwork among the group.

I did three years of anthropological fieldwork among dozos in Ivory Coast in the 1990s, returning there in 2002 (at the moment when the rebellion began) and in January 2009 as well. I authored the book, Hunting the Ethical State: The Benkadi Movement of Côte d’Ivoire, which is cited in one of the articles linked to the blog, and I am interviewed in the other linked article. I very much appreciate Mr. Campbell’s efforts to raise awareness of recent accusations against dozos for war crimes. These atrocities need thorough investigation. Here I want to place them in a larger context.

Animosity between mostly Manding and Senufo-speaking dozos and Guéré-speakers in western Ivory Coast has a long history. Manding and Senufo-speakers have been settling in the region for decades to work on its rich agricultural fields. Land was delegated to them for their labor. But when economic conditions went sour in Ivory Coast starting in the 1980s, resentment developed, and the autochthonous populations wanted settlers to leave. Some United States citizens feel similar resentment (in my opinion, unjustified) against Latino immigrants, and for similar reasons at a time of dwindling economic fortunes. So whatever violence dozos—or members of the Forces Républicaines—may have committed against local populations, it sits within a larger historical frame, which makes it no less despicable.

But, that frame implicates “irregular” conduct beyond that of dozos alone. The rulers of the Ivoirian state have, since independence, manipulated ethnicity and religious affiliation to consolidate their power and to minimize that of their rivals. The same sort of ethnically motivated violence imputed to dozos has been wielded by the state itself since the Bédié regime inaugurated the doctrine of ‘ivoirité’, or “Ivory Coast for Ivoirians.” Politicians, behaving irregularly, beyond the bounds of legality, have been running Ivory Coast for years. Gbagbo, for example, came to power in elections organized by a regime that seized power in a coup d’état, and he remained in power even after having lost an election—at least in the eyes of the United Nations–the so-called international community. His authority and his forces were therefore far from regular. Ouattara’s forces, too, composed of men who had attempted a coup d’état in 2002, were hardly regular in their origins; yet many of them now belong to the Ivoirian army simply because they won a military engagement.

Mr. Campbell’s focus on the notion of “irregularity” therefore appears highly significant to me, simply because the notion of “regularity” has been so fluid in recent Ivoirian history. Mr. Campbell has, to my mind, identified the crucial question for understanding the viability of the country’s current transition back to some semblance of stability: How can the new regime establish a solid, transparent consensus on normative—“regular”—legality, when one has been absent for so long?

Philosopher Giorgio Agamben captured the Ivoirian state’s situation well, I think, with his notion of the “state of exception,” which he defines as a state that resorts to extra-constitutional means to bolster its ostensibly constitutional status. Successive Ivoirian presidents adopted this strategy, altering the constitution and other national legal documents at will and engaging in extrajudicial violence, as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have amply documented. The dozo phenomenon is therefore more exemplary of Ivoirian politics than exceptional to it. And it raises a provocative question: Whose power in Ivory Coast is not “irregular?”

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Hadji

    In this type of conflict, there are never “winners” or “losers” just victims. When the atrocities were happening under the Gbagbo rule I predicted (and anyone who’s from West Africa could see it coming) that the killings would not end once a regime is established…simply because the Dozos are a warrior ethnic group (you don’t want to start a fight with them, it never ends..) so with that historical background it was easy to guess that the victims of the Gbagbo regime will be avenged by their relatives to the 10th degree…and there is no police no army that can stop that fury.

    Outside looking in, it is difficult to comprehend…but it is not our role to judge or accuse such leader or such president.
    Gbagbo didn’t help the situation and he could’ve avoided such a blood bath but now the cards are no longer in his hands and the domino effect has started…we just hope that with time…things will cool off and life can get back to a peaceful atmosphere.

    In the meantime, we should leave the Dozos alone…they are warrior-protectors and in that state-of-mind they will defend themselves, will there be excesses? Yes just like with everything else, but ultimately the collateral damage is an unavoidable consequence of atrocities committed by the previous leaders in charge who failed the populations.

    It is not fair to have tears for the perpetrators of such atrocities if we’re not crying for the innocent victims who were initially killed just because of their race/religion or ethnic background.


  • Posted by Joseph Hellweg

    Dear Hadji,

    I appreciated reading your remarks. I would add that the only way to create a reliable police force and military in Côte d’Ivoire is by acting now as if one should already exist–in other words, by acting as if the rule of law is already in place. I believe the cycle of revenge killing that has been occurring over the past decade or more in Côte d’Ivoire over land tenure disputes–with attacks occurring between northern and eastern migrants, on one side, and western autochthons, on the other, must be treated as an actionable crime. Either the state should openly abjure any authority over such issues and allow local “authorities” to regulate such disputes, which seems to be the de facto situation now, or real local authorities and state officials should strive to establish some common ground that will enable them to negotiate solutions over the long term–it will not be easy–in ways that involve local actors and institutions of both a state and non-state nature. The non-state actors I have in mind would be people such as chiefs, farmers, dozos, imams, nuns, priests, and members of the important mask societies of the region.

    Feuding in the West has arisen, it seems to me, because there is neither any single authority capable of regulating it nor any coherent framework among multiple authorities for doing so; and the interests, disagreements, and opportunities for resolution are various and multivalent. Here, the dozo case is instructive. Dozos have managed, at various times, to collaborate with local prefects, subprefects, police, and gendarmes across regional, religious, and ethnic differences to assure some semblance of public order, at least in the 1990s. At the same time, state authorities deserve as much recognition for dozos’ successes. In my opinion, any situation in which dozos acquire too much authority is a sign that the state has, correspondingly, neglected a significant part of its duty.

    Anthropologist Anna Tsing, in her book, ‘Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection’, notes that collaboration tends to occur between people often operating at cross purposes, where each party sees the relationship as beneficial for reasons potentially very different from the other party’s. Such work in tandem for different goals leads to friction, but friction generates heat and energy which, when properly channeled, can lead to productive outcomes.

    What I hear you saying in your comments is that the state and human rights monitors need to avoid coming into the region and assuming exclusive authority to “solve” the problem at hand. These parties must take a more complex approach that is sensitive to local conditions and opportunities. This should not mean that all sense of crime and punishment evaporate, but it does mean that a more appropriate approach will only emerge in consultation with local actors and with greater attention to local history. I could not agree more.

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