Violence and ‘Porous Identity’: Autochthony in the Central African

Monday, 16 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Gino VLAVONOU, Université d'Ottawa, Benin
Over the last twenty years, autochthony has emerged as a new identity claim during political crises such as Côte d'Ivoire and western DRC. Autochthony as identity proceeds from constant reification because it is almost impossible to prove the original belonging of any individual or group as the first inhabitant of a territory. However, different contexts of sociopolitical crisis have propelled the calls of autochthony to the front of the stage without it being ever clearly specified what it is.

Autochthony is an identity that can serve as a support for any kind of political demand. In Côte d'Ivoire, for example, autochthony served as a receptacle for xenophobic nationalism through the slogan of ‘ivoirité’. Pushed to the extreme, autochthony seems to carry also a violent character which is difficult to explain.

This paper draws on five months of fieldwork in the CAR and research in newspapers archives and seeks to understand the autochthony claims in the conflict. The anti-balle-AK groups during the last political crisis claimed that they were the “true central-africans” and violently attacked Seleka rebels and the Muslim community. The CAR since its independence from France experienced various violent episodes more precisely in 1996-7 and 2001. However, unlike previous coups in the country, the armed groups involved had not used this type of identity claim. This paper shows how an empty identity claim can in fact conceal several layers of meaning for the populations that use it.