‘When we say ex-coinbatant, we mean ex-combatant! Women or boys—we’re all the same’: a gendered history of the Ivorian conflict

In a previous study (Diallo 2017b), I showed that while women who enlist generally do so for similar reasons to men, their experience and role in the rebellion set them apart from their male counterparts. Like the men. they held various positions within the armed group. The rebels were proud to proclaim the presence of women in their ranks. Nonetheless, unlike the men. women occupied mainly auxiliary roles: cooks (like Aisha, the subject of this contribution), but also nurses, and ‘hiders’ or smugglers of arms and food between the loyalist and rebel zones. Few women held command positions or actually carried weapons and engaged in combat. This short biography of Aisha confirms the assertion of Camille Boutron (2018) that ‘armed struggle often retains the sexual division of labour and traditionally reassigns to women tasks deemed more in keeping with their nature’ (p. 6). Nonetheless, through the documents issued to them, women are recognized

'Here is my evidence’ 297 as combatants, whether within armed groups or the institutions in charge of demobilization.

A second series of documents that Aisha kept relates precisely to her demobilization. They bring us to the next chapter of her life. Aisha left the rebel forces in 2007 following her demobilization through the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programme that was set up following the 2007 Ouagadougou Political Agreement. In Côte d’Ivoire, as part of the crisis settlement process, women who had joined armed groups were considered ex-combatants on the same basis as men. The Lettre de politique DDR states that ‘an ex-combatant is any individual of either sex aged over 18 who took part in the fighting that followed the events of September 2002 and/or the post-electoral crisis of December 2010 as a member of an armed group recognized by the responsible administrative authority and who must return to civilian life’ (excerpt from the Lettre de politique DDR of August 2012 adopted by the National Security Council). This definition of an ex-combatant in the Ivorian context is clearly inclusive, although despite the authorities’ promotion of ‘gender-sensitive DDR,’ very few initiatives seem to have specifically targeted female combatants.

In Aisha’s plastic bag is another important piece of paper: her combatant’s ‘receipt’ (Figure 21.2), a document issued in 2007 by the National Reinsertion and Community Rehabilitation Programme (PNRRC) in Bouaké as part of combatant identification efforts. It includes biographical information and information concerning her demobilization, such as her identification number. The fact that this starts with 39 attests to her early enlistment in the rebellion and is central to the demands of some ex-com-batants who, moreover, created an association based on it, the ‘Cellule 39 des anciens combattants de Côte d’Ivoire’ (Côte d’Ivoire Veterans’ Cell 39) (Diallo 2017a).

Aisha’s papers testify as much to her life’s twists and turns as to the tribulations of the DDR process in Côte d’Ivoire, which went through multiple reorientations (Chelpi-den Hamer 2015). Hercollection includes anotheridentification document known to former combatants as ‘Paul Kotfi Koffi’ (Figure 21.3), after the then minister of defence who was behind its creation. This card was

Combatant’s receipt from the National Reinsertion and Community Rehabilitation Programme (PNRRC)

Figure21.2 Combatant’s receipt from the National Reinsertion and Community Rehabilitation Programme (PNRRC).

Demobilized combatant's card known as ‘Paul Koffi Koffi.'

Figure 21.3 Demobilized combatant's card known as ‘Paul Koffi Koffi.'

issued in 2012 during an identification campaign launched as part of a new DDR operation following the 2010 post-electoral crisis, with the intention of forming a new database so that new combatants could be included in the DDR process. In the end, however, this document was not taken into account for the new database, as a new body called the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Authority (ADDR) was set up and another identification operation launched in 2012. The ADDR in turn issued a series of documents, including a ‘demobilization card.' It is noteworthy that Aisha is one of the only ex-combatants that I spoke to who did not present this card to me, unlike most of her comrades, for a practical reason: she did not keep it in the same place as the documents she showed me during our conversation.

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