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Maintenant, on sait qui est qui: Statehood and Political Reconfiguration in Northern Côte d’Ivoire


  • Till Förster

    1. is director of the Centre for African Studies and professor of social anthropology (chair) at the University of Basel (email: He has conducted long-term research on political transformations in Africa, in particular in Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon, and is currently studying the interaction of local, state and rebel governance in northern Côte d’Ivoire. He is co-editor of Non-State Actors as Standard Setters (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
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  • The author would like to thank the editors of this volume and the anonymous reviewers of Development and Change for their valuable comments.


The transformation of statehood in the rebel-held northern half of Côte d’Ivoire builds on the reconfiguration of the social and political order. Though the state as an institution has almost ceased to exist, statehood as the practices that refer to it persists. This article examines the negotiations between the different non-state actors and how these interactions shape, through everyday practices, the understanding of what a state should and should not do. The widely used saying of ‘Now one knows who is who’ answers the older expression that one does not know who is who. Before the crisis broke out in 2002, it was often difficult to distinguish between security providers and criminals. At that time, the police and gendarmerie could be either, while, through the rebellion, role ascriptions became clear and distinct. This article argues that the normative expectations of statehood are thus embedded in the general reconfiguration of society that has led to more stability and reliability of social roles.