About Bram Posthumus
Bram Posthumus is a freelance producer for Radio Netherlands Worldwide and, since shortly, is based in Dakar, Senegal. Besides RNW, Bram is a regular contributor to other publications in the likes of Zam Magazine. His areas of interest and experience are Africa (politics and economy), international relations (trade, aid), the arts and music (jazz, world, and much more)
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You whiz past it in fifteen seconds: Niambli, a village just outside the West-Ivorian town of Duékoué. But you need to stop to see this very strange sight: the road cuts the village into two completely different parts. One side is full of life and laughter and noise. The other side is deadly quiet.
The lively side belongs to the Burkinabé. Many migrants into this rich lush green forest land have come from Burkina Faso. The dead side is where the Guéré used to live. They consider themselves the original inhabitants of this area. ‘I was not even here when the war came,’ recalls Véronique Zohou. ‘I was travelling. When I came back I found they had destroyed the village. I was crying; they had killed so many people...’
In the last days of March 2011, there was fierce fighting in and around Duékoué. But when the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI - a hastily assembled collection of rebels, soldiers, mercenaries and militiamen) had taken the town, the killings continued. Eight hundred, some say even one thousand people died here.
Alright, so this is the story then. Winning force, loyal to the president Alassane Ouattara, captures Duékoué from the losing force belonging to president Laurent Gbagbo. Winning force then goes on a targeted killing spree. And when you get to the camp for the displaced, you’ll hear more tales of woe: the FRCI chased us and the “dozo’s”, the traditional hunters from the North, have taken our land. We are scared; they must go.
Migrants are the problem
But the presentations in the camp are a tad too slick and I cannot talk to anyone unsupervised. What else has been going on here?
A traditional leader from the Sénoufo-Malinké (migrant traders from the North) tells me that his community settled here at least a century ago, without problems. The Guéré chiefs I speak to also hark back to old harmonious times. But in the displaced camp I am told that those migrants are the problem.
Their spokesman, Firmin Yao, introduces me to three concepts: “autochtone” – someone from here, i.e. themselves, the Guéré. Then: “allochtones”, those who came here from inside the country, like the Sénoufo-Malinké. And: “allogènes”, those who came here from outside. Like the Burkinabé in Niambli.
It’s clear: there is not enough land. Traditional chiefs, who used to settle land disputes, have found this increasingly difficult. But things have been made worse by two things: divisive rhetoric – and guns. Gbagbo’s government ramped up the xenophobia and armed self-defense militias here. Migrants started carrying arms – probably at the same time.
“Give us our houses back”
This was the climate of fear and division that the FRCI marched into. So did they do all of the killing?
Informal talks with the authorities reveal that the camp is a sore spot. It is considered a hiding place for robbers and they want it dismantled. Ex-militiamen? Could be. The official opinion in the camp is: Give us our houses back and get those armed men out of our villages. Then we’ll go. You’d almost wish the authorities called their bluff.
On the lively side of Niambli, there will be no interview. This I am told, not by the ageing chief but by an obstinate young fellow. He claims that tons of journalists have come and it has not given him any benefits. A common problem for a reporter: you’re white so you must be an aid worker…
With my colleague from a local radio station I later try a few explanations. ‘Maybe he saw us coming from “the other side” of Niambli.’ ‘Maybe he wants money.’ ‘Or - maybe, they’re hiding something…’
‘Do not trust your neighbours when times are difficult…’ comes the reply. If you report from Côte d’Ivoire, do not expect any story to be easy.