Politicizing the holidays. Maouloud in Côte d’Ivoire.

Today in Côte d’Ivoire there is public holiday; at least for some. Others will take the holiday tomorrow.

Sadly, the holiday to commemorate the birth of the Prophet (peace be upon him), known as Maouloud/Mawlid (and numerous other spellings), is now being used as a political weapon between Gbagbo and Ouattara’s camps. On Monday, Imam Idriss Kudu Kone, chairman of the National Islamic Council (CNI), declared Tuesday the paid holiday, which was supported by the Gbagbo government. However, Sheikh Fofana Boikary, Chairman of the Higher Council of Imams in Côte d’Ivoire (COSIMA) announced that Wednesday would be the paid holiday, the date backed by Ouattara’s government.

The date of the holiday typically fluctuates within the Gregorian calendar, as it is traditionally set according to the lunar Arabic calendar that doesn’t run its months in the same fashion. Sunni Muslims typically celebrate 5 days earlier than Shi’as. There are also commonly other date variations depending on the country and cultural beliefs of the person. Burkina Faso, for example, celebrate their public holiday this year on Wednesday (the same date as COSIMA), but in several other Arabic countries, such as Mali, and Lebanon the holiday this year falls today, Tuesday (the same date as the CNI). Saudi Arabia does not have a public holiday at all, and some sects also abstain from celebration altogether.

The altering dates however, have caused some stir among the local population. Managers and owners of industry and business must give their employees one day off with pay, but both Presidents are stating that their date is the “proper” date that must be legally followed and many employees are angered that they are forced to work on their day of rest. The result has been divisive. One’s sympathies become much more apparent publicly, as they must chose when to work or not to work, when to worship or not worship. It’s a hot topic of conversation at the moment and I’ve listened as numerous verbal conflicts have ensued around me.

And of course, the local papers are awash with the same slanted political rhetoric I’ve come to dread; one side alleging that the CNI Imam is working to divide the Muslim community while sitting in Gbagbo’s pocket, the other is filled with rumours that Burkina’s President collaborated with Ouattara to create a controversy. Conspiracies and rumours run wild. This was supposed to be a holiday, a day of rest. Now it is another wedge in the community. Another block between people.

I’ve heard countless stories lately of families breaking up over politics in this country. The economic effects are crippling on many families, as food and goods prices have all skyrocketed. Exports are slowed, imports are slowed. Banks are closing. I’ve also heard now from those in some of the neighbouring countries who say they are also feeling the economic effects.

Moves like this continually force politics into the public sphere, manufacturing cultural violence that only eventually fuel violent structural policies that are exclusive or insensitive to some parts of the population, in turn only creating more incidences of direct violence as people become incensed at the inequalities. Frankly, I’m disappointed to not see more attempts at lessening the cultural violence within the country. So far, I’ve read tons of suggestions and strategies aimed at economically hurting Gbagbo, using military invasion, using mediation between the leaders to lessen the crisis; but where are the strategies aimed at healing the divisions being created within society? Where is the funding and aid being directed to peacebuilding projects? There are a few organizations like the Search for Common Ground (SCG) in the country trying to do just this, and they have been having relative success. SCG’s balanced radio program is currently a voice of reason in a sea of escalating propaganda and their conflict resolution strategies for land conflicts have shown to be quite effective.

Lately, I fear this country may just end up split in two. Getting Gbagbo out of power will not instantly heal this country, as land conflicts, majorly corrupt justice systems, disenfranchisement of certain populations in certain areas, slanted media that marginalizes moderate voices and numerous other cultural, economic and sociological factors are at play here, working to divide the population. It makes me wonder why the focus for de-escalating conflict within the international community seems always directed at the political and economic sphere. There always seems to be a focus on the macro, to the detriment of the micro. Leaders come and go (and sometimes stay longer than we’d like), but the lingering effects of the cultural and structural conflicts that are manufactured remain for many years to come.

[originally posted at http://apeaceofconflict.com]

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