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  • Writer's pictureNicoletta Fagiolo

Shadow work, missing out on history.

In the documentary Shadow work published recently on U tube (Journeyman Pictures) the filmmaker Nigel Walker says he wishes to understand the roots of the crisis in the west African country of Cote d’Ivoire, through drawing a portrait of Charles Blé Goudé, a militant leader of the so-called Young Patriots, nicknamed 'the General', for his ability to mobilise large numbers of people onto the streets in a flash, stirring up the crowds for huge non-violent demonstrations, protest marches, sit-ins and hunger strikes.

Nigel Walker says in the voice over of the documentary that he was intrigued by Blé Goudé after reading a 2003 New Yorker article Gangsta War by Georg Packer; he then decided to embark on doing a film when Charles Blé Goudé said that “he would take over the country if the current President (Gbagbo) did not win the elections”. This is a very grave accusation in view of the charges of crimes against humanity Charles Blé Goudé is currently facing at the International Criminal Court, and can not be made without specifying or providing hard evidence. Mr Walker will hopefully soon receive a complaint for defamation, as presumption of innocence is enshrined in Article 11 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The factual errors in the film are ludicrous, such as stating that the Gbagbo government took away citizenship rights in 2002 from northerners and that this was the reason behind the 2002 coup d’état (which is defined as an ethnic civil war in the film). Can the filmmaker provide the government decree or any parliamentary ruling that actually implemented such a policy? No, he most likely can’t, because “exclusion” or “ivoirité” was never a Gbagbo government driven policy. On the contrary recent socio-political studies have shown that the Gbagbo government was the most ethnically diverse that Cote d’Ivoire had ever had.

Northerners were never excluded from voting as the film claims, but only one presidential candidate was, in 2000, namely Alassane Ouattara, who did not meet the constitutional criteria his own party voted for in 2000. (That the president be born from both a mother and a father that are Ivorian, a criteria that is applied in most Constitutions worldwide.) One ambassador at the time, a neutral farsighted observer, denounced Ouattara’s claim of “exclusion of a part of the population” and felt it was an excuse to bring havoc to the country. (

The film stars out in 2006, in the middle of the crisis, leaving out how we got there. To catch up on the September 2002 events, which split the country in two, the viewer has just a few captions to read so as to try and understand. (Walker manages to also confuse the chronology of these few facts he lists as captions since Gbagbo was elected in 2000, well before the 2002 French and UN interventions.)

There were no ethnic tensions on the rise in 2002 as Walker claims. The film thus misses to tell us the main point of the story: who and why was the country attacked in September 2002 as Ivory Coast was faring quite well and was relatively peaceful at the time (and today diplomatic archives corroborate this) until the September coup, in which the then Defence Minister and General Guei, amongst others, were assassinated.

We hear Blé Goudé is a follower of Gbagbo, yet Walker also forgets to mention who Gbagbo is. Laurent Gbagbo and his political party, the Ivorian Popular Front, are the founders of Ivorian democracy and the multiparty system in the country, a democracy which the FPI won through over 30 years of non violent struggle. (More background on Laurent Gbagbo and the right to difference

Charles Ble Goude was born on January 1, 1972 in Niagbrahio in western Côte d' Ivoire. He was involved in student union struggles when the country was still under a one party dictatorship and banned them. This led him to be imprisoned eight times for his non violent struggle between 1994 and 1999 . In 1990 he joined the Student Federation of Cote d’Ivoire (FESCI) which he headed from 1998 for two years before going on to form the Pan African Congress of Young Patriots (COJEP). The film is confusing in so far as it focuses a lot on FESCI’s activities in a moment when Blé Goudé was heading a different movement.

In September 2002, when Ivory Coat was attached from an armed group that came from Burkina Faso, the French were supposed to come to Gbagbo’s help, not on a friendship basis, but through the respect of the 1961 Defence Accord that guaranteed the Presidents military protection in case of an invasion or attack, defence accord that also justified the French presence in the country since independence and gave it lucrative business advantages in exchange.

France instead, by deliberately choosing not to intervene in 2002, breached the defence accord. France also fossilized the partition of the country and legitimated a ruthless rebellion which by 2006 had left some 750,000 people displaced and three million that were receiving humanitarian assistance.

Hence the anti-French sentiment in the country when France decided to disrespect the engagement and opt for a buffer zone dividing the country in two. This despite the fact that a quick military operation would have reunited the country and allowed it to move forward. Instead the stalemate further weakened the country. For example in 2006, the period the film was shot, the UN forces amounted to circa 11,000 including Licorne French force, this is a huge military build-up that however did not attempt to reunite the country and finally bring peace.

Nigerian diplomat and scholar Ademola Araoye in Cote d Ivoire, The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth writes that “soon after France’s entry into the conflict the rebels broadened their demands to include political questions. France, through RFI (Radio France International) determined and interpreted the facts of the Ivorian crisis to the world. The French media, electronic and print interpretations of the facts of the Ivorian crisis, helped to strengthen perceptions of the legitimacy of the cause of the rebellion”. At the same time a French media demonization campaign against Gbagbo was unleashed.

France had sabotaged the sub-regional mediations efforts since 2002. The filmmaker also forgets that the 2000 Gbagbo’s “government of professors” is forced, through the French driven Marcoussis peace accords, as early as 2003 to include members from the rebellion in their government, that same rebellion that although allowed to sit in parliament (despite not being elected), refused to disarm. The disarmament of the rebels, the crux of the problem, is avoided. All this is left unexplained.

Walker however never attempts at explaining why anti-French sentiments were on the rise in the country. For example the Bouaké affair, still unresolved to this day. In 2004, violent anti-French protests erupted after the French army launched a military air-strike that destroyed the entire Ivorian aviation, in retaliation for an attack on one of its bases in Bouaké in the north which killed nine French soldiers. Who was responsible for the attack was never clarified. This extremely tragic event, were the French shot at non armed civilians killing 67 and injuring over a thousand, was dealt with by Blé Goudé with calls for peaceful demonstrations to take over the French military base and airport and ask them to leave. Ble Goudé insisted that it was only the French soldiers they wanted to leave. “We have no problem with the French civilians here in Ivory Coast," he told the BBC at the time. Blé Goudé also denied wanting all foreigners out.

At minute 16 : 14 we hear someone at a Ivorian speaker’s corner (the so called parlements) say « We don’t joke here, this xenophobia, even God is OK with this xenophobia ». This is totally taken out of context, and we as listeners do not know what the person gave as an example of xenophobia. Furthermore the film somehow wants to link a government and a youth movement to these speakers: but that’s like trying to pass some Hyde park people's corner statements as England's official government policy!

The event that opens the film, when the Young Patriots hold a sit in at the UN, and are addressing specific grievances, by omitting all historical context, is reduced to an event were angry demonstrators are asking foreigners to leave the country: this is dangerously simplistic.

A US government wikileaks cable could have been cited to seek out the reason for this mass demonstration on the 16 of January 2006: “SRSG Pierre Schori disagreed with the Constitutional Council's interpretation and publicly supported the International Working Group (IWG), which had been set up as a follow up commission of the peace accords, that wanted a suspension of the country’s Parliament. It was the January 15 decision of the IWG that sparked the mass demonstrations, and attacks on the UN Forces and UN Humanitarian sites”.

So its the refusal to accept the suspension of parliament on the part of the UN that ignited the demonstrations. In the last week of October 2006 France’s attempt to superimpose the security council, over the constitution of Ivory Coast was rejected by the United States, China and Russia, three of five permanent members, as well as Tanzania during council deliberations of the French inspired draft council resolution 1721 (2006). Thus what the youth movement was rejecting was eventually also rejected by these countries at the UN.

Grave accusation such as Blé Goudé saying he wants “to shoot down white people” in the film come from his most ferocious opponent, Sidiki Konate, who was no other than the Forces Nouvelles northern rebel spokesperson at the time.

We never hear a pro-Gbagbo person say “Northerners out” in the entire film, or have some anti northern or anti foreigner comment, the only people the youth movements target are: “those that took arms to topple the government in 2002.” Thus an illegitimate rebellion. Blé Goudé himself underlines in the film that one can define people who take up arms against a legitimate government as terrorists.

Yet Walker somehow thinks it’s just imaginary, this rebel invasion, as he writes about his film on Blé Goudé : “The coup in his country was his 9/11, the Rebels were terrorists and he and his followers were the Patriots. It was as if he was reading foreign medias explanation of conflict and using it in his own spin campaign to influence his followers. The reality on the ground, however, was very different” . How different was it? Walker never tried to explain who these rebels were, let alone what Blé Goudé was up against.

Blé Goudé in 2006 was resisting in his words “with non-violent means” "no weapons" " the strength of large gathering" a French imposed UN resolution that attempted to dissolve the country’s parliament and a rebel force that was, amongst other things, causing a large surge in orphans. As we visit an orphanage in the film two people confirm that the orphans all come from Bouaké, occupied by the northern rebels. One wonders why Walker did not pick up on this point.

The film ends with the filmmaker telling us that Gbagbo and the youth patriots wanted to "stop the election process (by obstructing voter registration) by all means necessary because of concerns they would not win." Yet the issue at stake, when seen in its historical context, was more complex : the enrolment was basically impossible in the northern area were the administration was still in the hands of armed men.

On the contrary the Force Nouvelles obstruction to voter registration is well documented today. The lack of administration in the northern zones posed serious threats to the national archives. In an interview George Peillon, a former French Licorne spokesperson, explains the terrible fact that the rebels would often burn down all archives as they occupied the northern administrations, so as to render a future voter registration impossible: "we would see doughnuts wrapped in birth certificates at the local market”. (Interview

Gary Busch writes in The Empire strikes back : this type of fraud was widely reported. The police had brought evidence which showed that the RDR (Ouattara’s party) was selling registration documents. The whole process is in disrepute because no one trained and licensed to perform the process of identification is able to attend these village councils. The nub of the issue is that over half of the rebel forces grouped under the rubric Forces Nouvelles are not Ivorian, and never were.”

Even the French-English translation in the film is flawed. One example of wrong translation at minute 17:10 Charles Blé Goudé says “parce que on se connaît en detail, en pieces detachées" which means " because we all know each other so well in this country, we can talk openly " is translated as “we know who the spare parts in this country are”.

Interestingly, we are in 2006 and according to the film, a pro Gbagbo demonstrator says they should go beyond simply wearing loud T-shirts and holding demonstrations and marches, because its not getting them anywhere against the heavily armed rebellion. So indirectly he is confirming to us viewers the non violent resistance of the Young Patriots.

Today in capital’s around the world from Paris to Montreal as well as Abidjan the marches continue, this time for the liberation of Laurent Gbagbo, Charles Blé Goudé, Simone Gbagbo as well as circa 700 political prisoners, yet go uncovered, by the media or alert filmmakers worldwide.

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