Mr Anoman: The Path of Hope
Photo : Mr Anoman in Noisy-le-Grand, France, 1992 © ATD Fourth World/Centre Joseph Wresinski/0472-011-120_050
By ATD Fourth World’s International Leadership Team
This text is in homage to the late Oguié Jean-Baptiste Anoman, former attorney general of the Ivory Coast. Mr Anoman was a long-time ally of ATD Fourth World International and served as its president from 2002-2006.
“Human beings must learn about themselves from other human beings. If you are removed from people in poverty, you will never know them. If you live with them, you will see that they are not ‘poor’. They have an understanding of life that is different from yours. People have to find a way to live together.1”
Oguié Jean-Baptiste Anoman
Meeting Joseph Wresinski
Mr Anoman and Joseph Wresinski were destined to meet. This happened in 1984. Speaking of his childhood, Mr Anoman said:
- “I am not the son of a rich man. I suffered and that made me take action. At one point in my life, the freedom to circulate as I wished was taken from me. Because of that I decided to study the law2.”
Mr Anoman became a magistrate and once recalled how shocked he was by the miserable conditions of prisoners in the Ivory Coast. In Bouaké, the second largest city of Ivory Coast, he met an ATD Volunteer Corps member, Simone Viguié. She was a nurse in the Bouaké penal camp, which was the main prison in the country for people with long sentences. When she suggested Mr Anoman meet Joseph Wresinski, ATD Fourth World’s founder, he readily agreed.
“Father Joseph Wresinski was accompanied by Simone in a visit to the Bouaké Penal Camp. He chose to go to the weakest prisoners, those who were sick. He leaned in toward one of the men and embraced him. We must admit that those of us from our country have never had the courage to do that. When we left the infirmary, he asked me what I thought. I said: ‘Father, during your visit I noticed that all the inmates you met looked at you with trust. They didn’t feel judged.’”
In the video below Moïse Compaoré, once a prisoner in the Bouaké Penal Camp talks about Joseph Wresinski’s visit.
Joseph Wresinski had one more visit to the Bouaké Penal Camp before his death in 1988. For Mr. Anoman, it was clear he had to continue. So, with Simone and the penal camp director, who was of the same mindset, they found a way for the prisoners to get health care and enough to eat. They did this by enabling the prisoners to have a collective vegetable garden. Thanks to the dedication and trust of the prisoners, the project went beyond just a vegetable garden. Sick prisoners were able to go to hospital, without supervision, thanks only to their promise to behave. “When others saw, just as I did, how Father Joseph Wresinski and his Volunteer Corps members acted, it was really difficult not to continue.”
Climbing the steps
Along with 300 ATD Fourth World members from around the world, Mr Anoman went to Rome in 1989 to meet the pope. They were fulfilling the promise Joseph Wresinski made in 1956 when faced with the distress and abandonment of the families he found in the shantytown of Noisy-le-Grand, birthplace of ATD Fourth World:
“Together we will climb the steps of the United Nations, the French presidential residence, the Vatican….”
The Bouaké Penal Camp transformed little by little. Mr. Anoman played a key role in this moving story as told in the book “D’une terre que l’on disait morte.” This books centres on the cultural dimension dear to Joseph Wresinski in his vision of liberation through shared understanding.
A Knowledge and Solidarity Club developed in the penal camp. It was a place of dignity, through sharing and creativity. Here’s a passage from “Proverbes en liberté3,” about Mr Anoman visit to this club:
“They (the prisoners) got involved in sculpting, drawing, and weaving. If you ever have the opportunity to go to the Ivory Coast, in the cathedral of Yamoussoukro you will see the statue of Our Lady of All the People, sculpted by three prisoners. One of the inmates also made a life-size bust of Joseph Wresinski in teak-wood for the family development center in Noisy-le-Grand, France. This bust is still there today. At the House of Arts and Family, former prisoners have continued to make sculptures, pottery, ceramics, weaving, and have even written a book.”
ATD Fourth World president
After serving on the board of directors of ATD Fourth World International, Mr Anoman agreed to become its president from 2002 to 2006. He generously gave himself, his humanity, and his vision. In 2005 he led a delegation of people from several countries with lived experiences of poverty to meet the Secretary General of the United Nations at the time, Mr Koffi Annan. Mr Anoman affirmed the necessity of dialogue between people living in extreme poverty and the NGOs working with them: “Together the problems encountered around peace, culture, development, and human rights will be taken into account.”
Today, ATD Fourth World International is in mourning and deeply saddened by the loss of an ally who gave his all for those living in poverty.
“The road we have taken together has become a path of hope and a future for all because it is the route that Joseph Wresinski laid out for us.”
Today, in Bouaké, fellow travelers continue to take steps along this path in their work towards a world free of poverty.
The Ivory Coast has lost a treasure, a humanist, a man who walked alongside the people abandoned by society. His conviction was:
“Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.”
Joseph Wresinski’s message engraved in marble on the Plaza of Human Rights and Liberties in Paris, on October 17, 1987. This gave birth to the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
- From the first 100 supporters of the 2017 Stop Poverty campaign.
- Excerpt from an article by Anoman Jean-Baptiste Oguié, Il était difficile de ne pas continuer… Revue Quart Monde, 195 l 2005/3, https://www.revue-quartmonde.org/355.
- A collection of poems by the Knowledge Club of the Bouaké Penal Camp, preface by Mr. N’Guessan Moise, camp director, 1985. 60 pages. Available online: https://atd-cjw.centredoc.org/