Accessibility links

Breaking News

Ivory Coast Village Overcomes its Violent Past

The village of Fengolo, in volatile western Ivory Coast, has been destroyed twice in fighting linked to the country's three-year civil war. Now, refugees have returned, and the community's rival ethnic groups are learning to live together once again.

Two trucks carrying French peacekeepers roll down the stretch of highway that divides the village of Fengolo in two.

On one side, live the local Dioulas, a term given to northerners, who have come here to work in Ivory Coast's fertile cocoa belt. Across the road, are the homes of Baoules from the east, and indigenous Gueres.

For decades after independence, these three groups lived together in relative peace. That changed in September 2002, when civil war broke out in Ivory Coast. Fengolo was the scene of an early rebel advance.

Pascaline Toh, a Guere, says her home was destroyed in the initial fighting. She fled, then returned, only to have it attacked and looted again, this time by her neighbors, in what villagers here call the second war.

"It was Dioulas and Baoules who came and destroyed our houses," she says. "They took the tin roofs, the doors and the windows. We fled."

That was earlier this year.

No one in Fengolo is ready to say why the attack happened. A group of Dioula youths, standing near the collapsed remains of a Guere home, when asked, say it was the wind.

Those who fled have now come home, and are rebuilding. And the people of Fengolo are attempting to live together once again.

At the village's recently inaugurated peace committee, leaders of each of the three ethnic groups listen to the complaints of villagers. It is a kind of community court.

And today, like most days, the disputes are over land. The Gueres, having lived there the longest, say the cocoa-rich west is theirs. Dioulas and Baoules, who have had plantations here for generations, say they are being bullied off their land.

Dioula and Baoule villages in the bush have regularly been the targets of deadly attacks.

But the residents of Fengolo say they want to put the past behind them. Past grievances are banned from discussion at the peace committee.

"We do not have problems anymore," explains the committee's Guere representative, Denis Dehi. "We learned that it was all political. So now, each person must distance themselves from politics, and work together."

Many in Fengolo say they feel manipulated by outside forces, by the government on one side, and by the northern rebels on the other.

Mr. Dehis' Dioula counterpart, Issa Ouattara, tells of the time he met one of the chief generals in the government's army.

"I asked him if he had ever seen a dead rebel," says Mr. Ouattara. "We have never seen one. And, are there any dead on the government side?" he asked. "We are the ones who have to run away. They attack us," he says, "and we die. That is the war."

Back on the Guere side of the village, Mrs. Toh has now rebuilt her house, with the help of the United Nations. She hopes it is for the last time.

She says she believes in the work the peace committee is doing. But she says she is cautious.

"We are beginning to get along, little by little," she says. "This wound will never heal. But we have to force ourselves," she says, "to listen to our brothers, and to forgive them."