Real People Making Real Choices in Cote d’Ivoire

Real People Making Real Choices in Cote d’Ivoire

By Conor Godfrey on March 7, 2011

I am an avowed Africa optimist, but that doesn’t mean we can’t call a spade a spade—the situation in Cote d’Ivoire is a disaster for everybody.

Last Thursday, forces loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo even opened fire on women engaged in a peaceful prayer-protest.

This is a video of the crackdown taken on a participant’s cell phone.

(Warning; the violence that starts about ¾ of the way through this video is very graphic.)

I post the video for two reasons: one, I think it is interesting for a non-West African audience to see what an Ivorian protest looks like, as opposed to an American, or North or East African demonstration.

The second and more important reason is because I have noticed in myself a tendency to treat people in these conflicts as expressions of larger ideas rather than flesh and blood citizens that run mechanic shops and sell bean sandwiches at corner stores and leave grandchildren behind.

If you also sometimes watch CNN and seize on “Pro-Democracy Partisans” in Libya, or “Righteous Demonstrators” in Cote d’Ivoire, this video might help you remember that protesters are best viewed as themselves first and ideologues second.

I needed a visceral reminder.

Watching the brave women praying in the middle of an Abidjan street got me thinking about protests in general.

If violence can not win decisively, and/or the use of violence will merely serve to legitimize a violent response, what options do engaged citizens have?

Some of you may have seen the New York Times article last month about Mr. Gene Sharp.

I had never heard of Mr. Sharp or his ideas–but guess who had–Otpor in Poland, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, dissident movements in Burma, Estonia, Bosnia, Zimbabwe, and of course in Tunisia, just to name a few.

Professor Sharp’s contact with these diverse movement comes mostly in the form of two famous writings—“From Dictatorship to Democracy,” and “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.”

If you don’t have time to read the entire “From Dictatorship to Democracy” (I confess I did not), the “198 Methods of Nonviolent Actions” makes for snappy reading.

The New York Times article highlights “protest disrobing” as a creative technique; I liked “sky and Earth writing,” “mock awards,” and “mock funerals.”

While we are thinking of protests, next week, I would like to take up the case of Gbagbo and Ghaddaffi’s supporters.

In all of the unrest so far, ‘pro-regime’ has been synonymous with guilty, according to the media. I think it would be worth a few moments to think about whether or not that is always true.