April 2014—Côte d’Ivoire's contested presidential election in November 2010, part of the 2007 Ouagadougou Political Agreement, aimed to reunify a country divided between a government-controlled south and a rebel-controlled north. Instead of achieving stability, the elections resulted in serious violence. Three thousand people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced, inflaming an already-tense social and political environment throughout the country.
In March 2014, USAID sponsored a photo exhibition organized by the Union of Photojournalist of Côte d’Ivoire to promote reconciliation. The six-day exhibition featured 50 photographs taken during and after the crisis by photojournalists from opposing political parties and media outlets. The exhibition was open to the public free of charge in three Abidjan communes, including Plateau (Abidjan’s business center), Abobo and Yopougon. The two latter communes were the most affected in Abidjan during the 2011 post-electoral crisis.
“The goal of this photo exhibition is to raise awareness of the importance of peace and national cohesion,” going into the 2015 presidential elections, said Emmanuel Tanoh, head of the photojournalists association.
Approximately 15,000 visitors, including the Prefect of Abidjan and representatives of the Ministry of Interior and the Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, saw deeply moving images that contrasted with the horrors of the conflict—piles of corpses in a state of putrefaction, burnt-out vehicles, and war-wounded civilians—with powerful images of calls for peace from rejoicing people, the military asking for forgiveness, and the national football team.
The photos were accompanied by slogans such as “We are united in our differences,” “The past should teach us to share the future,” “Never again in Côte d'Ivoire,” “For the well-being of our children, we must reconcile,” and “Together we are strong.”
Madou*, an ex-combatant from Abobo who visited the exhibition, explained the impact of the exhibition on him: “These photos remind me the harm I did. I had goose bumps watching them. I killed people during the crisis and I don’t want to live this tragedy again …. I am so sorry for what I did.”
Diabaté, a family member of one of the victims of the post-election violence, gave her reason for coming: “I heard about this exhibition and I came to see if I could see the corpse of my son who is missing since the post-electoral crisis. I am a destroyed woman and I do not wish this on any woman .… Let’s make peace.”
Bolly, a civil servant from Plateau, recalled, “Seeing the picture of this woman crying broke my heart. We all went too far. Now we need to make peace and work together for peaceful elections.”
Brahima, a youth from Abobo, explained how the exhibit had encouraged her to reconcile with her neighbor: “A group of people tried to burn me alive, and today I am living next to one of my torturers. I was plotting revenge against him and I saw these pictures of dead peoples at the exhibition. It made me think. I realize I was lucky enough to be alive and I should not create any more trouble. I forgive, and I am going to let him know that I forgive him.”
*Last names withheld to protect privacy.
Last updated: January 30, 2015