In a region fraught with social, political and economic challenges, Professor Alfred Babo is a prominent scholarly voice and advocate for sustainable socioeconomic and sociopolitical development, both in his native Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa as a whole.
A specialist in development theory, social change, and conflict and post-conflict society, Professor Babo has published on public policy issues ranging from elections to youth sociopolitical movements to rural land disputes. He has also worked extensively with international organizations on research projects and trainings aimed at promoting peace and sustainable development in Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa more generally. For example, he collaborated with the Swiss International Cocoa Initiative Foundation to lead trainings and deliver lectures on just practices in cocoa production that protect child laborers. In recognition of his work, the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium awarded him with the 2004 Belgian Development Cooperation Prize, given annually to a scholar committed to “sustainable development in the South.”
For over seven years, Professor Babo served as an associate professor and researcher in the University of Bouaké’s Department of Anthropology and Sociology. His life changed dramatically with the violence and civil unrest that was unleashed following Côte d’Ivoire’s disputed November 2010 elections between incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and president-elect Alassane Ouattara. With his country gripped by civil war and facing targeted threats due to his profession and relation to the same Bété ethnic group as the former president, Professor Babo was forced to flee with his family to Togo in early 2011.
His hopes for a swift return home were quickly thwarted, as political violence and ethnic tensions persisted, even after Ouattara forces wrested control over the Ivorian capital of Abidjan. The new state army, the Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), and state-sponsored militias began to launch reprisal attacks against suspected Gbagbo loyalists, targeting ethnic Bété in particular. Although Professor Babo had always asserted his political neutrality, soldiers loyal to the new president visited his home, threatening to settle scores with all “fugitives” upon their return and demanding the man staying in his house pay a bribe or face looting. Meanwhile, Professor Babo’s security in Togo as a Bété academic refugee continued to deteriorate, as Ivorian refugees and Gbagbo supporters in neighboring countries began plotting to reorganize against the Ouattara government, intensifying their efforts after Gbagbo’s transfer to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in November 2011.
Unable to return to Côte d’Ivoire and his situation in Togo precarious, Professor Babo applied for Scholar Rescue Fund support. Now safely on campus at Smith College, Scholars at Risk (SAR) network member, he is participating in the College’s Visiting Scholars Program. In addition to continuing his research on sustainable development in West Africa, he will teach a French course at Smith and a course in anthropology at Amherst College.