Decolonising Ivory Coast

I was interested to see a reference to Ivory Coast in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s classic ‘Decolonising the Mind’ from 1986:

Speaking of the racist literature of Haggard, Huxley et al:

“In such a literature there were only two types of Africans: the good and the bad. The good African was the one who co-operated with the European coloniser; particularly the African who helped the European coloniser in the occupation and subjugation of his own people and country. Such a character was portrayed as possessing qualities of strength, intelligence and beauty. But it was the strength and the intelligence and the beauty of a sell-out. The bad African character was the one who offered resistance to the foreign conquest and occupation of his country… One can see the same schema at work today in the portrayal of the various African regimes in the Western media. Those regimes, as in Kenya and Ivory Coast, which have virtually mortgaged the future of their countries to Euro-American imperialism, are portrayed as being pragmatic, realistic, stable, democratic and they are often shown as having achieved unparalleled economic growth for their countries.”

That would seem to add grist to the mill to those who’d want to classify the Houphouetist wing in Ivorian politics as the sell-outs, and the Gbagbo wing as the anti-colonial heroes. We accept the idea of decolonisation as (rightly) good, which makes Houphouet’s reluctance on the move rather confusing.

But it’s not quite so simple. NWT is criticising a bi-polar stance in colonial literature about the good or bad African, so actually, responding that ‘Yes that’s right, the colonial’s ‘bad guy’ is our ‘good guy’, and vice-a-versa’, is a twist on the same fallacy. Instead, it strikes me as odd – a couple of generations after independence – to want to portray the world as made up either of independence fighters or colonial lapdogs (admittedly tempting coming from a Marxist viewpoint). My own view having seen both sides in power, is that the practical experience of governance would seem to be remarkably similar, with differences probably more down to competency than any supposed radical intrinsic divergence.


As a side note, interesting to see a linguistics expert like NWT use the English ‘Ivory Coast’ rather than the preferred ‘Cote d’Ivoire’. He would of course classify both versions as being in a ‘colonial language’, but the Ivorian regime has always felt ‘Cote d’Ivoire’ was their proper name in their own language.

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