Turning the Clock Back or Breaking with the Past?: Charismatic Temporality and Elite Politics in Côte d'Ivoire and the United States

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The article explores the forms of punctuated time that characterize evangelical discourse in both Côte d'Ivoire and the United States. It compares forms of punctuated time that not only form the basis of End Times theology in both places, but have also served as the basis of important lobbying networks. Though evangelical politics in each place has different roots, both are linked by populist anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rhetoric. Most importantly, I argue, the shared structure of eschataological temporality shapes the elective affinities that brought together such strange bedfellows as Pat Robertson and Laurent Gbagbo.

T L Miles, "Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo." October 2007 via Wikimedia Commons.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of articles on time, including Clara Han’s “Symptoms of Another Life: Time, Possibility, and Domestic Relations in Chile’s Credit Economy” (2011), Joceyln Chua’s “Making Time for the Children: Self-Temporalization and the Cultivation of the Antisuicidal Subject in South India” (2011), and Danny Kaplan’s “The Songs of the Siren: Engineering National Time on Israeli Radio” (2009).

Cultural Anthropology has also published articles on religion and politics. See for example, Juan M. Obarrio’s “Remains: To Be Seen. Third Encounter Between State and “Customary” in Northern Mozambique” (2010), Michael M. J. Fischer’s “The Rhythmic Beat of the Revolution in Iran” (2010), and Kenneth M. George’s “Ethics, Iconoclasm, and Qur’anic Art in Indonesia” (2009).

About the Author

Mike McGovern is a political anthropologist who works in West Africa and uses a variety of sources from kinship idioms to the aesthetics of state-sponsored folklore to try to understand postcolonial states within the arc of longer historical trajectories.  After completing a B.A. at Columbia, M.St. at Oxford and Ph.D. at Emory, he worked from 2004-2006 as the West Africa Project Director of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank that analyzes the causes of armed conflict. In that position he researched and wrote papers on post-conflict reconstruction in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the social reintegration of ex-combatant youths, Liberian security sector reform, and the links between political economy and political rhetoric in Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire. His first book focuses on the dramaturgy, sociology, and political economy of the Ivorian civil conflict, and is entitled Making War in Côte d'Ivoire (U Chicago Press, April 2011). He has recently finished a book on the Republic of Guinea entitled Unmasking the State, which traces the intertwined processes of state formation and ethnogenesis in Guinea over the course of the 20th century. His third book, provisionally titled Enemies Within and Without: Explaining why Guinea did not Go to War, argues that certain elements of Guinea's socialist past may have helped to inoculate the country against dynamics that have favored the outbreak of civil conflict elsewhere.  Recent book chapters and articles have focused on the afterlife of authoritarian regimes in Guinean political practices and imaginaries; the politics of popular music in Côte d'Ivoire; the use of threats of international prosecution as a means of creating political leverage in the Ivorian conflict; and the interplay of Islamist conversion, local politics, and US counterterrorism policy in West Africa.  McGovern is the Director of Graduate Studies of African Studies at Yale University.

McGovern's Yale University profile

McGovern in the media through Yale

Additional Works by Mike McGovern

2011    Making War in Côte D'ivoire. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

2011    "Popular Development Economics—an Anthropologist Among the Mandarins." Perspectives on Politics. 9.2: 345-355.

2011    "Writing About Conflict in Africa: Stakes and Strategies." Africa: the Journal of the International African Institute. 81.2: 314-330

2010    "This is Play: Popular Culture and Politics in Côte d'Ivoire" In Makhulu, A.-M., B. Buggenhagen and S. Jackson eds. Hard Work, Hard Times: Ethnographies of Volatility and African Being-in-the-World. Berkeley: University of California Press.

2009    “Proleptic Justice: The Threat of Investigation as a Deterrent to Human Rights Abuses in Côte d'Ivoire” In Clarke, K. and M. Goodale, eds. Justice in the Mirror. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2009    “Chasing Shadows in the Dunes: Islamist Practice and Counterterrorist Policy in West Africa’s Sahara-Sahel Zone” In Smith, Malinda, ed. Africa, 9/11, and the War on Terror. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

2008    “Liberia: The Risks of Rebuilding a Shadow State” In Call, Charles ed. Building States to Build Peace. Boulder: Lynne Reiner.


Glenn Beck on ex-President Laurent Gbagbo (clip on Mediamatters blog)

NYT's coverage of Laurent Gbagbo               

Vardion, "Location Cote d'Ivoire." December 26, 2006 via Wikimedia Commons.


OK Senator Jim Inhofe, Côte d'Ivoire Opening Statement, May 19, 2011  

Elizabeth Dickinson of Foreign Policy Magazine Reports on the Refugee Sitution in Ivory Coast

Questions for Classroom Discussion

1. According to Jane Guyer what is "punctuated time"?  How is McGovern utilizing the concept in his article?

2. What are the politics of autochotony in Côte d'Ivoire?

3. How is McGover making sense of the linke between President Laurent Gbagbo and the US Christian right?

4. How are political actors giving "global dimensions to [the] local conflicts" of Côte d'Ivoire?  What possibly motivates this framing?  How productive it is?

5. Discuss Côte d'Ivoire's history of non-orthodox Christian practice.

6. How is the concept of purity deployed in McGovern's analysis?  Is there a connection between the concept of purity and "turning back the clock" or being "born again"?  Why or why not?

7. Is religion the source of division in Ivorian politics?

US CIA, "Flag of Cote d'Ivoire." August 21, 2007 via Wikimedia Commons.

Related Readings

Asad, Talal. On Suicide Bombing. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Chauveau, Jean-Pierre. La  question  fonci`ere  en  Cˆote  d’Ivoire  et  le  coup  d’Etat,  Ou:  Comment remettre `a z´ero le compteur de l’Histoire. Working Paper. London: International Institute for Environment and Development, 2001.

Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Routledge, 1984 [1966].

Elliott, Justin. "Why the Christian Right is Backing a Despot." Salon.com, 2011. http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/03/30/ivory_coast_christian_right_ gbagbo, accessed June 10, 2011.

Geschiere, Peter. The Perils of Belonging: Autochthony, Citizenship, and Exclusion in Africa and Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Guyer, Jane. "Prophecy  and  the  Near  Future:  Thoughts  on  Maroeconomic,  Evangelical, and Punctuated Time." American Ethnologist 34.3(2007):409–421.

Mamdani, Mahmood. Saviors and Survivors: Darfur,  Politics, and the War on Terror. New York: Pantheon, 2009.

Piot, Charles. Nostalgia for the Future: West Africa after the Cold War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. Cambridge: Zone, 2005.

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