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Making War in Côte d’Ivoire

After a brief period of active combat in 2002, the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire settled into a pattern of neither war nor peace until the 2010 elections led to a new phase of direct conflict. During these taut years, short bursts of intense violence alternated with long periods of standoff. When things were peaceful, the Ivorian political elite and the press produced inflammatory rhetoric while soldiers and militias used the state of emergency as an excuse to shake down civilians at roadblocks. What kept this perpetually tense, dismal, and destructive situation simmering? In this groundbreaking book, Mike McGovern suggests the answer lies in understanding war as a process, not a series of events, and that rather than focusing on the role of political institutions, we should be paying attention to the flawed and unpredictable people within them.

McGovern argues that only deep knowledge of a region—its history, languages, literature, and popular culture—can yield meaningful insights into political decision making. Putting this theory into action, he examines an array of issues from the micro to the macro, including land tenure disputes, youth boredom, organized crime, and the international cocoa trade. Drawn from McGovern’s academic research and experience working for a conflict resolution think tank and the political access that position gave him, Making War in Côte D’Ivoire will be the definitive work on the Ivorian conflict and an innovative example of how anthropology can address the complexities of politics.

240 pages | 12 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2011

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: African History, Military History


“Mike McGovern shows masterfully how anthropology can clarify the extremely complicated situation in Côte d’Ivoire: the politics of resentment, rhetoric, and dramaturgy, the blocked cocoa-frontier, the colonial heritage, and the precarious alignment of different interests. Since 2000, the threat of violence has been constantly there, yet nothing is preordained. This book is a model for how to understand a mesmerizing situation without reducing its complexity.”

Peter Geschiere, University of Amsterdam

“With the craft of an expert anthropologist who knows something about political science and sociology, Mike McGovern explains how local customs, burning political issues, and the economies of patronage and privilege fuel the politics of violence, showing how conflicts are made, not just how they happen. McGovern is at the forefront of the study of the empirical conditions and processes that lead to wars in the more troubled parts of Africa. Even readers who know or care little about Côte d’Ivoire will gain insights into the intersection of patronage politics, state collapse, and conflict.”

William Reno, Northwestern University

“There is no serious book in English on the Ivorian war. This is a gap that Mike McGovern sets out to fill. He brings to his task a firsthand knowledge of leading actors in the Ivorian conflict and of some of the country’s war zones, gained through academic and policy-oriented research.”

Stephen Ellis, Free University of Amsterdam

“McGovern skillfully unmasks the financial interests at stake in [Côte d’Ivoire’s] politics.”

Nicolas Van De Walle | Foreign Affairs

“This cleverly conceptualized ‘inside-out’ analysis commends itself through a deep contextual knowledge and fully lives up to its interdisciplinary aspirations. . . . McGovern convincingly guides the reader through his sophisticated argument. The passion of someone who has a long professional experience in the region as well as an impressive interdisciplinary academic background speaks through each and every line of the book and makes the work appealing to a broad audience” 

Benedikt Erforth | African Studies Quarterly

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Glossary of Acronyms
Preface and Acknowledgments

1. Introduction: Socialists and Skinheads
 Abidjan, 2003
 Côte d’Ivoire and the Politics of Identity
 A Chronology of the Crisis
 Plan of the Book

2. Pillage and Principle: Making Distinctions in a Frontier Zone
 Ecology and Economy

3. The Politics of Ressentiment
 Strangers and Hosts Along the Upper Guinea Coast
 The Rights of the Autochthones and Imposition of the State in the Cocoa-producing West
 Planters, but Not Mediocre Planters
 Autochthones’ Prerogatives and the Fantasy of ‘Turning the Clock Back to Zero’
On Peut Instrumentaliser Une Réalité’: The Development of an Ivorian Politics of Ressentiment
 Violence as Discourse, Violence as Practice

4. Decolonisation and dramaturgy
 The ‘Problem’ of African Youth
 FESCI and Its Alumni
 Free Money: The Transition from Zouglou to Coupé Décalé
 ‘This is Play’
La Deuxiéme Guerre D’indépendance’ and the Rhetoric of Revolution
 ‘Is this Play?’ The Media and the Events of November 2004
 Does it Matter if this is Play?

5. Following the Money: The Cocoa-coffee Filière
 The History of the Filière
 Intergenerational Tensions
Filière Restructured and Ready to do Business
 From ‘
L’or Brun’ to ‘L’or Noir’: The Reintroduction of Oil Production in the Ivorian Political Economy

6. Neither War Nor Peace: The Sociology of a State of Emergency
 What Causes Civil Conflict in West Africa?
 Case Study: The Third Assistant to the Mayor of Guiglo
 Checkpoint Ethnography: Economic Gain and the Threat of Violence
 Manchester in Guiglo?

7. Conclusion
 Looking Ahead
 History and Agency
 When Does War Fail?



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