Controversy arose in Côte d’Ivoire in early 2011 over the participation of dozo hunters in the battle between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. In April, the United Nations mission in Côte d’Ivoire accused dozos of having participated in the massacre of at least 330 people in the western town of Duékoué. Dozos were fighting on behalf of Alassane Ouattara. Then in July, Amnesty International followed suite, accused dozos of having constituted a militia during the rebellion and of participating in ongoing intimidation and atrocities against civilian populations in the western region of the country. The news gave me cause for concern.
From 1994 to 1997, I did doctoral research as a cultural anthropologist among dozos in Côte d’Ivoire. I returned for further research in 2002, finding myself in Abidjan when the rebellion began and in Odienné the night before rebels of the Forces Nouvelles arrived. I returned again in January of 2009 to gather final data for a book I wrote on dozos, Hunting the Ethical State: The Benkadi Movement of Côte d’Ivoire, published this year by the University of Chicago Press. When I submitted final proofs of the manuscript in February, I could not have imagined that dozos would once again be assuming a national presence. Nancy Palus of IRIN news, the United Nations humanitarian news service, has reported that dozos are once again manning security patrols in western Côte d’Ivoire, as they did before the regime of Henri Konan Bédié banned them from doing so, at least in the southern half of the country, in 1998.
In the 1990s, in the era of structural adjustment, when debt payments diminished state funding for basic public services—including policing—dozos stepped into the breach. They organized security patrols in villages, towns, and cities across the country. Even then, dozos were controversial. Ivoirian journalists reported that they occasionally beat, tortured, raped, and killed civilians. Such atrocities were exceptional but hardly out of character for security forces when one considers injustices committed by state police and gendarmes, which have included documented cases of torture and extrajudicial killings. Needless to say, low standards for human rights in no way justify tolerance for such atrocities. I wish only to place accusations of wrongdoing and militia activities by dozos in a larger historical context.
What was most remarkable about the security movement that dozos organized in the 1990s was their ability to collaborate with local officials at a time when Côte d’Ivoire’s political elites were marginalizing the same Muslim, Manding-speaking populations from which most dozos came. Such religious and ethnic stigmatization was an artifact of the state’s policy of ivoirité or “Côte d’Ivoire for Ivoirians.” The Bédié regime invented the concept in 1995 to channel public frustration over Côte d’Ivoire’s economic downturn towards immigrants and towards Ivoirians like Ouattara who shared the religion, ethnicity, and languages of immigrants from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea. In short, Bédié stigmatized entire populations to ruin Ouattara’s political career. Bédié had Côte d’Ivoire’s electoral and national codes rewritten for the same purpose.
Yet local officials under Bédié collaborated with dozos to combat crime throughout the country even as Bédié’s ministers began to perceive dozos as Ouattara’s opposition militia. Ironically, though, dozos’ first involvement in Ivoirian politics came when they guarded northern polling places in presidential elections in 1995, from which Alassane Ouattara was excluded. Whose militia were they then? And were their activities any more irregular than those of national police and gendarmes? In my experience, state security forces arrived at the scene of a crime only if the victims calling on their services offered them money to do so. In other words, state security forces had become privateers. Dozos similarly charged fees for their security activities. Were police and gendarmes as much militia members as dozos were, selling their services to those who could pay for them? Was the Ivorian army under Gbagbo, who came to power in elections organized under a regime that came to power in a coup d’état, a legitimate force? Was an army composed of former rebels that had never fully disarmed with respect to national and international agreements? Surely it takes more than a uniform to make a defender of the state.
But dozos’ and other former combatants’ desire to reintegrate into Ivoirian national life comes with a price. They must hold themselves, each other, and their leaders accountable to international standards regarding human rights and due process. Accusations of atrocities by dozos, Ouattara’s Forces Républicaines, and the Young Patriots and Ivoirian military under former president Gbagbo must be investigated with diligence, both nationally and internationally. Should dozos seek to vindicate themselves, the best response is transparency.
In the meantime, one might ask which military and security forces in Côte d’Ivoire have not in recent years constituted militias of one sort or another and, then, what use the term can possibly have in clarifying a vision of the rule of law for the Ivorian après-guerre. In my opinion, very little.
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