Social Attitudes

Social Attitudes

Despite official descriptions of their society as "classless" and egalitarian in the 1980s, Ivoirian citizens were acutely aware of the distinction between the rich and the poor. People perceived "temporary distortions" in the social fabric--as social inequities were described by the president--as continuing trends. They attributed these distortions to a variety of factors but rarely to the role of the government in maintaining and subsidizing the elite. Regional and international competition in commodity markets was cited as a source of economic recession and hardship in general. Within Côte d'Ivoire, regional inequities were often blamed on mismanagement by presidential advisers but not on the president himself. Cabinet ministers, in particular, were often blamed for poor policy decisions and implementation and were often subjected to invidious comparisons with presidential wisdom and imagination.

Ivoirians were also adept at generalizing about each other and about immigrants to their nation, placing blame for social ills on ethnic groups more often than on socioeconomic forces. The Baoulé, the president's own constituency, were "too dominant" among high officeholders, in their critics' view. The related, and rival, Agni often expressed anti-Baoulé sentiments, while the Agni themselves, because of their tradition of hierarchical organization, were criticized for elitist attitudes toward other ethnic groups. Groups that avoided centralization among indigenous polities, such as the Bété, were stereotyped, in turn, as "unsophisticated." The Lobi and related groups from the northeast were similarly stereotyped. Non-Africans, even those born in Côte d'Ivoire, were blamed for "draining the wealth from the nation." Within the foreign work force, Mossi farm laborers were looked down upon, whereas French white-collar workers were both despised and emulated. These and other social reactions served to legitimize popular views of Ivoirian society and to confirm ethnic pride.

At the same time, Ivoirian society was permeated with a sense of apathy about social development, except among those in or very close to political office. Even those who acknowledged the nation's strengths often did not feel like active participants in its development. The large foreign presence within the economy, the entrenched political machine, and the relatively unchanging living conditions among the poor contributed to this sense of alienation from the overall progress that has marked Côte d'Ivoire since independence.

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