GOOD: The Lives Of Ivory Coast Refugees And The Liberians Who Welcomed Them
Words and Images by Aaron Leaf
July 10, 2012
“The Force Nouvelles will invade the South in the next few days,” Celestine Oundo, an Ivory Coast refugee, told me last February. We were sitting on benches outside his host’s house in the Liberian border town of Buutuo. The sun was setting and mosquitoes buzzed about. It was the spring of 2011, and I was in Africa covering the ongoing tension between the two countries after a civil war in the Ivory Coast sent hundreds of thousands of refugees to Liberia.
The Ivory Coast conflict began in late 2010, when then-president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat when opposition leader Alassane Ouattara was elected president, leaving the country in a confused and violent political stalemate. A complex mix of ethnic and colonial identities underlay the deep divide. The Forces Nouvelles de Côte d'Ivoire, a rebel group, controlled the North while Gbagbo rallied his base around the idea that Northerners were not true Ivorians. By the time Gbagbo was captured in April 2011, thousands of people had been killed and many more raped and abused. Countless more fled over the border to Liberia, who welcomed the masses into their small country—reciprocity for the hospitality the Ivorian people showed Liberians during their civil war.