Traditional methods of conflict prevention and management are increasingly regarded as a viable alternative in the truth and reconciliation process, aimed at avoiding the resurgence of violence in Ivory Coast.
By Selay Marius Kouassi, Abidjan
Traditional chiefs to the rescue
Traditional chiefs are more important than ever before. While neglected and without real administrative authority, traditional leaders now work hand in hand with politicians for the reconciliation of the Ivorian people, through mechanisms and methods hitherto only applied in the traditional context.
A few days after his appointment at the helm of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Dialogue, former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny called for the support of more than 200 kings, village chiefs and other prominent personalities, and continues to welcome their contributions to the success of his mission. “Be the ambassadors of reconciliation in your respective fields; be the representatives of the reconciliation commission that is being established”, he said to them.
The Ivorian Gacaca
If reconciliation and social cohesion could be achieved in Rwanda through the Gacaca – traditional people’s tribunals, they might also be achieved in Ivory Coast through the “Toukpè”.
“Toukpè” is an Ivorian word referring a West African practice allowing different ethnic or cultural groups to make fun of one another in a bid to diffuse social tensions and maintain or restore social peace.
“Toukpè” literally means “we are in alliance with”. More than a word, it is a social practice that revives the notion of communion and emphasises values such as non-aggression and good behaviour towards others.
“In order to reach the intended goal of reconciling the entire population, the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Dialogue must rely on the traditional treasure that is Toukpè”, suggests Professor Amoa Urbain, the Chancellor of the Charles-Louis Montesquieu Private University in Abidjan.
“It is a social convention among Ivorian populations and a principle for community life that applies to the current social context in Ivory Coast”, admits Professor Amoa.
The Toukpè method
Toukpè seeks to quell or diffuse any emerging or ongoing conflict, as well as to restore good moral values and behaviour. This method comprises social communication, through jokes and games to purposefully ridicule the initial point of tension. Toukpè thus alters the tragic nature of facts through
jokes, making them trivial.
Why traditional methods?
“Despite the advantages of modern methods of conflict management, none of them appears to be suited to address the post-electoral crisis situation in all its facets. This requires a combination of several approaches, including traditional ones, to create an exhaustive conflict management system and facilitate reconciliation”, notes conflict management and negotiation expert, Sylvère Koré. An opinion shared by members of the Ivorian civil society.
“We believe that intercultural dialogue would be a step forward for a reconciled Ivory Coast, as long as such a dialogue is kept within its traditional context”, says Soro Alphonse, President of the APC (Alliance for Change), one of the most prominent civil society organisations in Ivory Coast.
Institutionalisation of tradition
Professor Amoa appeals for the interethnic alliances, which is at the heart of Toukpè, to be taught in primary schools. “We would thus be allowing future generations to prevent conflicts and maintain good community relations”, he insists.
A programme entitled ‘Toukpè’ is already being aired on national radio. The socially-oriented programme also promotes national reconciliation by reviving interethnic alliances and kin through joke.
Professor Amoa is of the opinion that there should also be a television programme dedicated to this “traditional treasure” and institutionalise it.
No effort should be spared in the search for ways to reconcile the Ivorian people. Politicians seem to understand it, as is evident in their call on traditional authorities for their input.