The troubles in the Ivory Coast were seemingly lost in the back pages of the daily newspapers some time around February, and have only just resurfaced as the conflict there spills over into civil war. I’ve been browsing through the articles in most major newspapers today, both those in Britain and in America, and it seems that most of the coverage is devoted to the humanitarian crisis: the UN force there has now recorded almost five hundred people killed, including one Swedish worker. It is currently investigating reports of massacres outside the capital city of Abidjan.
The amount of ink that has been spent on the factors that led to war is rather small. Perhaps because the newspapers that give most space to these stories are left-wing, and don’t like what they are hearing. Perhaps because that sort of stuff doesn’t generate as much interest as the details of an African war. But the story behind the conflict is one worth hearing, especially for the few people in the west who continue to talk of the wonders of multiculturalism.
The media tends to talk about the conflict in terms of the nation’s economy. The area’s huge mineral and cocoa wealth have been fought over and contested by the rival tribal groups, and, in a land so flooded with cheap guns and ammo, have been the cause of many wars. Ivory Coast is comparatively poor in diamonds, especially compared with Liberia, but it has one commodity that the world cannot go without: cocoa. It is the source of up to one third of the world’s entire supply. The term ‘chocolate rain’ doesn’t even begin to describe the billions of dollars that the country may have access to. But even this only tells you a part of the story.
At the root of the conflict, like so many others in sub-Saharan Africa, is tribal allegiance. These often cross the hastily-drawn boundaries that were laid down by European colonists as they reorganised ahead of their departure, and have since been a source of endless confusion for the administrations of the region. The tribal conflict here is exacerbated by the age-old clash between Christianity and Islam, a classic contest in western Africa, and one that neatly corresponds to the tribal factions. In the Ivory Coast, the population of the two major groups is about evenly split.
According to the CIA World Factbook, thirty six per cent are Muslim, thirty two per cent Christian. The rest practice the traditional African religions, or are part of the ten per cent who have no religion. There was also a geographical split: the Muslims dominate the north, whilst the Christians dominate the south. It is on this fragile border that the 2005 ceasefire was agreed, three years after the coup in Abidjan which had started the war. Until the disputed election of 2011, there was peace and relative prosperity in one of west Africa’s most successful states.
But such even demographics could not last forever. They were sensitive to change. Any major changes in the number of people on either side would renew the conflict. And that’s exactly what happened. Between 2005 and 2008, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Sahel countries, forced off of their own land by its decreasing ability to feed their families, moved to Ivory Coast to find work. They were predominantly Muslim, and settled mainly in the north of the country.
For once, the BBC’s subtly biased analysis of the 2002 war is broadly accurate when it says that the situation was hijacked by populist politicians such as Gbagbo who sought to the stir nationalistic tendencies amongst southern Ivorians, and shore up support in the predominantly Christian south. But the Islamic population was not blameless. The huge numbers of immigrants raised the number of Muslims in the country to almost 60%, according to several estimates, and the sheer numbers encouraged resentment. The increasing hostility translated to electoral disputes, and fighting arose. The causes of the 2002 civil war and the 2011 civil war are pretty much the same. Only since then the Muslim population - and the nationalism of southern Ivorians - has risen exponentially.
What lessons can the leftist multiculturalists take from this? Well, two actually. One, that opposition to multiculturalism has absolutely nothing to do with longings for empire or a sense of white superiority. Ivory Coast has never had an empire, nor are white supremacists that popular there. But they do see the problem with immigration; its economic and cultural impact - the loss of jobs and the sense of radical social change - has left them with little option but to turn to extremism. Does that sound familiar? Two, that immigrant communities do not ‘mingle’ with the native population and share ideas and values. They are attracted to areas already inhabited by the familiar, those of the same ethnic or cultural group. Now, I’m not seriously suggesting that multiculturalism in the UK will cause a war any time in the foreseeable future. What I am saying is that there are useful comparisons to be made, that the Ivory Coast represents the worst possible outcome of the failure of multiculturalism, and that those who continue to stress the importance of multicultural theory take a look at how their noble ideas turn out in practice. You cannot put unlimited numbers of people of different allegiances into an area with limited resources and expect them to share.