Brokerage Between Burkinabes and the State
Although the ABED was created to be independent of state agencies, the association works in close collaboration with the Burkinabe embassy,15 and the branch in Man depends directly on the consulate in Bouake. This is not particularly unusual for expat societies. The federal president of the association officially informed the prefects about their existence and mission in written form, and contacted the UN mission in Cote d’Ivoire.
At the time of the ABED’s creation in Man in 2009, the prefect had returned to the region, even though he still lacked his full powers (Heitz 2009). Nevertheless, it allowed the ABED to work with the state, as they did in the south. In the following, I will provide an example of the association’s broker role between the Burkinabe community and the state.
The subprefect of Gbonne called the president of the association shortly before August, 7, Cote d’Ivoire’s national day celebration in 2012. He explained that there were tensions in town as the Burkinabe community was not prepared to make a contribution to the festivities. One of the important expectations the tuteur community have is that their clients “contribute to the village’s development and main social events” (Chauveau and Colin 2010, 94).
Valentin, the secretary I spoke to, went to Gbonne and talked to the community leaders of the Burkinabe. He told them that August 7 was a celebration for everyone who is in Cote d’Ivoire, and who lives and works there. He said if they did not want to celebrate, they could go home, “il faut rentrer au pays.” After the intervention of the association, the Burkinabe contributed a ram to the feast. My interlocutors from the ABED, who are about 35 and 45 years old, said: “We can pass a message to our people in a way that the Ivorian authorities are unable to.” For instance, in a conflict, when the subprefect has heard all sides and a Burkinabe is shown to have been wrong but refuses to accept the verdict, the subprefect might call upon the association to intervene. If, when informed of the case, the association agrees with the subprefect that their fellow countryman is wrong, they tell him or her frankly: My friend, you’re in the wrong (“mon ami, tu n’aspas raison”).
In the ABED’s experience, their fellow countrymen then usually more readily accept their verdict. This tells us something about the Burkinabe community’s lack of trust in the Ivorian administration, and their unwillingness today to accept its authority. Since the late 1990s, when the conflict turned violent, the relationship between the Burkinabe and the Ivoirian state has deteriorated. The use of a person who enjoys social standing and authority for brokerage is based on local social practices and is often used to appease situations. In the following case, the ABED worked out a compromise between Burkinabe citizens and the state.
Sometimes, the ABED is asked to accompany the Eaux et Forets or SODEFOR on a mission into the national forest reserves, which are often occupied illegally by immigrants, some of them being Burkinabe citizens. State agents are regularly threatened, and sometimes even attacked and wounded by the illegal occupants (pers. comm., counselor of the president of Cote d’Ivoire, 2012).16 Since there is mistrust between the administration and the immigrants, the ABED functions as a trusted broker who establishes contacts with the occupants and negotiates an amicable compromise between their countrymen and the Ivorian administration.
A compromise negotiated by the ABED for a forest reserve near Biankouma concluded that the Burkinabe should be allowed to continue their cocoa plantations for the next 10 years, but that they must look after the small teak plants due to be planted in their cocoa plantations. The idea is that the teak trees will grow and supplant the cocoa trees within 10 years. By then, the migrants will have been able to make some profit from their illegally started plantation and have had enough time to find another place for a new plantation. If the agreement is not respected, they will be removed by force and will not be able to count on the support of the association.