‘She created this so we’d be united and so that even after the war, we’d stay united’: the role of demobilized combatant’s associations
After the war, anxious to fight economic insecurity and defend her rights, Aisha decided to get involved in various demobilized ex-combatants’ organizations, just like her male comrades. Her papers bear witness to this.
Her membership card from the women ex-combatants’ association ‘Nouvel Horizon Côte d’Ivoire’ testifies to her early involvement in such groups (Figure 21.4). The inside of the card contains biographical information, her unit, and the date she joined in 2006. This tells us that the association was created before the signing of the Ouagadougou Political Agreement, which marked a turning point in the resolution of the crisis. It also predates the establishment of the PNRRC, which is one of the first operational DDR organizations to make efforts to identify and issue documents to excombatants. The specificity of this association lies in the fact that it predates the other associations of demobilized combatants that were created from
Figure 21.4 Membership card of the association ‘Nouvel Horizon Côte d’Ivoire’ (front and back).
2008 onwards, whether all-male or mixed. The association was created by the secretary of the Bouaké zone commander and rebel strongman, Chérif Ousmane, with the aim of reintegrating women combatants into the economic and social fabric through income-generating activities. Aisha also belongs to an association of demobilized men and women ex-combatants called ‘Collectif des ex-combattants et Sages’ (Collective of Ex-Combatants and Elders). The documents Aisha presented thus provide information on bureaucratic production ‘from below’ (Bayart 2013), in particular by actors involved in the crisis who went on to experience downward mobility and marshalled a repertoire of bureaucratic actions to get the Ivorian state to meet their various demands.
The personal archives that Aisha presented allowed me to retrace part of her life during and after the crisis; they thus constitute a form of ‘career record’ (Gasman 2010). These papers also show the path of the various actors involved in the Ivorian conflict and its management at different periods and provide insight into the administrative and political rationales of those actors (rebel forces, state institutions, and combatants) through an extensive bureaucratic production.
The aim of this biography illustrated with ‘papers’ was also to bring the women who took part in the conflict out of the shadows by shifting the gaze that is traditionally turned on the combatant. In a context where women’s participation in armed groups is denied visibility, the publication of such testimony, along with bureaucratic traces, invites new interpretations of the armed struggle and the post-war period ‘by placing women’s participation within a history of national social and political contestation' (Boutron 2018, p. 7) in Côte d’Ivoire. This allows us to deconstruct the traditional image of women as passive victims of conflict by highlighting their voluntary enlistment in armed groups.