Social Conflicts in the Host-Stranger Relationship

In the 1990s, the context changed. Unused land by then had become scarce, land was commodified and economic life had become increasingly difficult. As a result, many young urban people returned to the rural areas of their families in search of “their” land and work, and the interests of the first and newcomer families often clashed (Chauveau and Bobo 2008).

With the massive influx of migrants in search of land in the 1950s and 1960s, the system of the tutorat was overextended. Forested frontier land that had formed the basis of the “Ivoirian miracle” was no longer “abundantly” available to be cleared in a pioneering system. The commodification of crops that yielded a considerable profit for the migrant farmers was a new development, as it clearly went beyond the allocation of land for subsistence farming (Chauveau and Colin 2010, 87-88). In accordance with the social dimension of mutual exchange in the patron-client relationship, the tuteurs expected to participate in the success of their clients and asked for material support, particularly in difficult times.

The wealth and power balance in the host-stranger relationship starts off with the host in the social role of the provider of land. However, if the stranger’s cash crop plantations are successful, the balance may change. In a reversal of fortune, stranger-guests could now become economically better off than their hosts to the point where they were in a position to give their “hosts” loans. From an economic point of view, such practices turn the asymmetrical relationship upside down. The distribution of power in the patron-client relationship alters; the patron becomes the client’s debtor. In Upper Guinea Coast societies, wealth and political power have a history of co-constructing each other. The “big men” were those who managed to farm a lot of land with the help of labor from women, youths, slaves and strangers (Leach 1994; Bledsoe 1980).

In the Cote d’Ivoire’s southwest, migrants outnumber the firstcomers in their “homeland,” which had a direct impact on voting power in the context of democracy. When the strangers’ children claimed the tuteur’s place their home and harbored ambitions of entering local politics, conflict was no longer far-off, as the tuteurs risked losing political power in their home territory.

In contemporary Cote d’Ivoire, the evolution of events has been such that each side began to renege on its side of the deal: hosts tried to reclaim the economic field while ‘strangers’ began to claim the political. (McGovern 2011, 65)

These local tensions were given a national scale with the advent of multiparty democracy in 1990. The chasms between firstcomers (authoch- tones) and immigrant communities (allochtones) in the forested belt found their equivalent at the national level in the rivalry between Laurent Gbagbo of the Front Populaire Ivoirien (Ivoirian Popular Front, FPI), a native from the forest belt, Henri Konan Bedie of the Parti Democratique de Cote d’Ivoire (Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, PDCI), of Baoule origin and dauphin of the deceased president, and Alassane Ouattara of the Rassemblement des Republicans (Republican Rally, RDR), from a longdistance trade family in northern Cote d’Ivoire with ties to Burkina Faso (Akindes 2004; Bouquet 2011). The ethno-nationalist concept of Ivoirite developed under Bedie was later vulgarized and further exacerbated political strife (Dozon 2000; Marshall-Fratani 2006; Cutolo 2010). Alassane Ouattara, who was perceived as a Burkinabe in disguise, was seen as seizing the presidency from “true” Ivorians. This seemed to correspond to what FPI-voters, the majority of them firstcomers from the forested south, were experiencing day-to-day in the southwest, where “strangers” were increasingly assuming some of the rights of their “hosts” (Arnaut 2005).

After Houphouet-Boigny’s death in 1993, tensions in the host-stranger relationship were instrumentalized politically in the struggle for national power. Local conflicts between first- and latecomer communities became nationalized and reached a new dimension, particularly affecting the relationship with the Burkinabe community.

Soon after the outbreak of the violent crisis in 2002, the Ivorian government made allegations that Burkina Faso was backing the rebels. This type of statement unleashed hostilities not only against the community of Burkinabe in Abidjan, but also, more dramatically, in the rural areas. In the west, groups of (young) firstcomers attacked Burkinabe neighborhoods and seasonal dwellings in the fields with the consent of some representatives of the Ivorian authorities (Chelpi-den Hamer 2011, 102). Many Burkinabes were forced to leave Cote d’Ivoire. Most of them, however, stayed in nearby towns, ready to return to their plantations as soon as the security situation would allow (Zongo 2003; Chelpi-den Hamer 2011).

These events have shattered the Burkinabes’ trust both in the Ivorian state and in host-stranger relations. Ethnic boundaries between first- and latecomer communities were hardened in this process, which at the same time led to an in-group integration of the respective communities (Schlee 2008). This rupture in intercommunal relations between host and stranger societies had its impact on a personal level between some hosts and strangers. On both sides, actors feared the other would abuse the largely malleable social institution. Trust in the socially normed roles of the tutorat had declined (Heitz Tokpa 2013). It is in this changed social context that we have to situate the emergence of the association of Burkinabe (L’Amicale des Burkinabes) and its broker role. In the next section, I describe this role of the association in more detail.

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