The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity

Civil Registration Centre for Development, The Hague and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg

The social life of ID Cards. Ethnography of identification in Côte d’Ivoire

In 1990, a law required by the Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara imposed to strangers residing in Côte d’Ivoire a new Alien Resident ID Card. This had dramatic implications in a country whose population included 28% classed as “foreigners” (census of 1988). It introduced an unprecedented materialization of nationality in the public space of a country where any ECOWAS citizen could until then reside freely, and where immigration from the northern territories and bordering countries had produced a multitude of so-called “allochthones” in the south. From that moment on, through the rise of the “ivoirité” ideology and by the programs of identification and registration launched under Gbagbo’s governments, ID Cards have played a central role in social life and politics, finding finally themselves at the heart of the Ivorian “guerre pour les papiers”. The paper will be based on an ethnographIc approach to “the social life of documents”. Police roadblocks, public administrative procedures, voters registration and the popular practice of producing documents “from below”, will be observed as contexts of interaction and symbolic transaction, where ID Cards and other “papiers” have a performative value. I will focus on concepts of “identity”, “person” and “personhood”, showing the singularity of their mutual relations and combinations in different political and historical Ivorian contexts. The ambivalent character of ID cards and documents will thus be brought to light: constituent parts of an apparatus of control and exclusion on the one side, symbols and instruments of citizenship and emancipation on the other.

Event reference: 
The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity