At the beginning of May, Lucien Ahouangan finished a chapter of his life which lasted four years and 312 pages. He presented the results of his research on conflict resolution and United Nations peacekeeping operations in Côte d’Ivoire.
After three hours of defense, the thesis was approved, and Ahouangan, 36, became the first doctor in international relations at Uerj (Rio de Janeiro State University) – founded 70 years ago, the institution is one of the most important in the world. country and has a PhD in this field since 2016.
Although the research was presented this year, the story that gave rise to it began in 2002. Born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s largest city, Ahouangan was 17 when civil war divided the country.
One of the reasons for the conflict was “ivory”, a concept coined by Henri Konan Bédié, president of the country from 1993 to 1999. According to the professor of African history at PUC-Rio Alexandre dos Santos, the president said that they could only be presidential candidates who were “real” Ivorians.
“This meant having a father and a mother of ethnic groups recognized as belonging to the center-south, a region which, according to Bédié, would be part of the pure Ivorians,” he explains.
While this purity did not exist, the concept was used to prevent the candidacy of opposition leaders and to marginalize the predominantly Muslim northern region. “It was in the resentment that began in 1993 that the civil war broke out.”
In September 2002, rebels from the north took up arms and marched towards Abidjan and Yamoussoukro, the country’s capital. They failed to dominate them, but captured two other towns: Korhogo and Bouaké. It is in the latter that the war reaches Lucien.
“The conflict started on a Thursday, when we woke up at 4 am to heavy weapons fire. As we had not anticipated the conflict, we did not make any purchases and I had to go to the supermarket. In fear, I went to the street and saw the rebels in cars, with heavy weapons shooting in the air, ”he said, who was in town to visit his cousins.
In this conflicting environment, he decided to flee. He went to Benin, where he graduated in law and international relations. He returned home in 2008, with the end of the war, but managed to stay for a short time as the situation was still delicate.
Two years after leaving the country again, a new conflict broke out.
In the 2010 elections, the opposition Alassane Ouattara defeated then President Laurent Gbagbo. The politician, however, did not accept the result and entrenched himself in power. The country plunged into a second civil war, which lasted less than a year, but which left between 700,000 and 1 million refugees, according to the UN.
With the end of the second conflict, the researcher returned to Côte d’Ivoire. “There were tensions between the armed groups and we didn’t know when someone would show up to our house to threaten us.” The decision to leave his home for the third time came after a militia attacked the Abidjan ethnic group with knives and guns. “You can’t live in a situation like this or be content with constant fear.”
In 2013, Ahouangan fled again, but this time he landed in Brazil as an asylum seeker. He chose the country because of the expansion of diplomatic relations with Africa that took place under the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010).
When he moved to Rio, one of his first problems was not mastering the language, which he was already studying. “When I arrived at the airport, the federal police employees asked questions and I didn’t understand a thing. What I knew of Portuguese was “hello” and “good afternoon”. He then turned to language sites, where he spoke with Brazilians.
After a year, he was fluent, but the language remained a challenge when he entered a master’s degree in 2015. “The big difficulty was writing articles at the end of the semester. Producing some 12 or 15 pages is not easy. “
Political scientist and professor in Uerj, Maurício Santoro explains that language is in fact one of the main obstacles to higher education for immigrants and refugees. “Another obstacle is the difficulty of revalidating the diploma. This document may have been lost in wars and escapes, or it may be written in a language that is difficult to translate, such as Arabic. According to a UN survey published in 2019, 34.4% of refugees in Brazil have a higher education.
Despite the challenges, Ahouangan managed to maintain good academic performance and made a difference in an area where there are few experts in Africa, according to Layla Dawood, the researcher’s advisor and professor at Uerj. “Lucien’s thesis is a great contribution to try to fill this gap. The work dialogues with the literature on peace operations and conflict resolution, subjects of enormous interest in the field of international relations.”
In addition to the pride of having become the institution’s first doctorate in international relations, Ahouangan does not hide his gratitude towards the country he calls “the land of welcome”. “Despite the difficulties that Brazil faces, they have not taken away the goodwill of the Brazilian people,” he says, who obtained a permanent residence permit in 2018 and naturalized in 2020.