IVORY COAST: Not Yet Hurray
IVORY COAST: Not Yet Hurray
No doubt, the capture of Laurent Gbagbo on April 11 2011 by the Alassane Ouattara forces with the huge help from the French army, has brought a huge relief for the vast majority of the Ivorians who have been subjected to harrowing experience of renewed civil war after the November 2010 run-off election. This election produced two “presidents”. Ouattara, a former Prime Minister under the autocrat Houphouet-Boigny, was declared the winner of the election by the electoral commission and certified by the United Nations.
However outgoing president Gbagbo rejected the verdict citing irregularities in the northern part of the country and caused the constitutional council allegedly headed by an acolyte to cancel some votes in the north and returned him elected. This impasse led to serious sectarian violence crisis and civil war which claimed about 1, 500 lives and displaced about 1 million people. The western imperialist nations and ECOWAS recognized Ouattara as the winner and imposed various sanctions on Gbagbo to step down to no avail. He could only be removed with “boots and tanks” of the French who pounded his weaponry and palace to smoke him out his bunker for Ouattara’s soldiers to pick up.
While the capture of Gbagbo has brought some relief as the immediate threat of a lenghty civil war has receded, the role of imperialism should not be applauded by the working class activists and people. It is the same way they had unleashed their military might on Gbagbo regime, albeit a dictatorial, pro-capitalist government, they would try to deal ruthlessly with a genuine mass working class movement that threatens the rule and hold of capitalism and imperialism.
As against the specious claim that they had intervened, with bombs and tanks, in order to protect civilians, their mission is driven by their self-serving economic interest. Their claim can easily be punctured by the developments in the Middle East/ North Africa where they support militarily the movement against the Muammar Gaddafi dictatorship which unleashed state terror to suppress protest but turn blind eye to similar atrocities being committed by the autocratic pro-west leaders in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. Indeed, Saudi Arabia and United Arabs Emirates, two of the major allies of the west, sent troops and tanks to crush and kill protesters in Bahrain without condemnation from the West. An important difference between Libya and some other Arab countries where they are ongoing mass uprising is that the former has a vast oil reserve, the largest in Africa, while the latter have very little oil wealth. In fact, some studies have revealed that Yemen’s oil reserve will be depleted by 2017 while that of Bahrain could only last next 10-15 years. Besides, the control and super profit of western oil multinationals have never been threatened in these countries.
It should be however stressed that it was the lacuna created by the absence of a formidable working class movement that could have arrested the degeneration of the political crisis into civil war that was exploited by the French imperialism for their own self-serving interests. Working people have proved with the different strikes and mass protests against neo-liberal attacks they waged in the last few years of Gbagbo regime that they could rise above ethnic and religious divides being exploited by self-serving capitalist ruling elite and get united in fighting for their common interests for a better life.
Therefore, a central working class movement could have mobilized the mass of Ivorians, workers, farmers and artisans, against xenophobia, ethnic jingoism and war, and organized them as a formidable political movement that could wrest power from all the factions of the capitalist ruling elites, who have plunged the country into abyss of economic and political crises, and also challenge the grip of the imperialism on the economy. If such movement had been in place, in opposition to the maneuvers and struggles of the rival cliques, it would have offered the working people the platform to create their own alternative in form of a genuine working peoples’ assembly – formed by elected representatives of workers, farmers, traders, professionals and ethnic nationalities – that could form an interim government that would act in the interests of working people and the poor and conducted a really free, fresh election, without interference from the pro-capitalist UN.
While Ouattara has won the war for presidency of Ivory Coast, he has not won the peace. There are still some communities in Abidjan and elsewhere in the country which are still in firm control of armed youths who fought on the both sides of the war. The pro-Gbagbo “Young Patriots” are in charge at Yopougon while the pro-Ouattara “Invisible Commandoes” are the Lords in Abobo and some other communities in the northern part of Abidjan. Both groups have continued to engage in gun battle the new Republican Force of Ouattara who wants to disarm them and take control of the areas. The “Young Patriots” are still embittered by the ouster and arrest of Gbagbo and have potential of becoming a new rebel group. The 5,000 strong “Invisible Commando” who fought alongside Ouattara forces against Gbagbo are seeking special recognition or “spoil of war” for their role in the defeat of Gbagbo. Indeed, the “Invisible Commando” had already engaged Gbagbo forces in Abidjan before the “New Forces” swept through from the north to the commercial capital. The “New Forces” are the former rebel groups who have been in control of the northern part of the country since 2002. Meanwhile, Ibrahim Coulibaly, the notorious leader of “Invisible Commandoes” has been killed in one of the gun-battles with the Republican Forces. It however remains a moot question whether or not the death of Coulibaly, a former bodyguard of Ouattara, has removed one of the major threats to the return of peace in the country.
In addition to the activities of the armed militias thrown up by the civil war and the proliferation of small arms across the country is the fact that the fundamental problem which is at the root of the crisis, the unresolved national question, is still very much alive. The xenophobic concept of Ivoirite – the state of being true Ivorians – which is a central element in the crisis, has not been resolved. By the concept it is presumed that most of the ivorains from the northern part of the country, where Ouattara hails from are “not true Ivorians”, and therefore not qualified to rule the country. This had been used as a basis to deny Ouattara, who had earlier served as the prime minister of the country, the rights to contest election in the past.
This xenophobic frenzy was not invented by Gbagbo but he found it useful to preserve himself in power. It was originally devised by Henri Konan BÃ©diÃ© in a previous power struggle with Ouattara over who would to succeed their co-master, Houphouet-Boigny, after he had died in late 1993 after over three decades in office. This was no principled struggle, it was over who would be in a position to make fortune out of the privatization of public enterprises and cuts in social spending. Before Houphouet-Boigny’s death BÃ©diÃ© had been President of the National Assembly while Ouattara had been Prime Minister.
This divisive concept has marginalised most people of the northern origin with whom most of the economic immigrants from the neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger who share a similar ethnic background. It was able to strike a chord with most Ivorians at a period when the decline in the once West African most prosperous economy had reached a head. Hence, it was easy for the ruling elites to make immigrants, who constitute about 30% of the population, the scapegoats of the economic woe inflicted by the capitalist crisis.
Besides “Ivoirite”, Gbagbo also whipped up anti-imperialist sentiment to endear some sections of the population to himself, and thereby hold on to power. However, despite all the present anti-French imperialism grandstanding of Gbagbo, he was not a threat to the vast economic interest of the French ruling elite. As a contributor in the Guardian (London), Pierre Haski, reveals, “throughout Gbagbo’s 10 years in power, French businesses landed the biggest contracts: Total for oil exploration, BollorÃ© for the management of Abidjan’s harbour, Bouygues for telecoms”. (Guardian, London, January 5, 2011). Besides, he indeed ran the country on the basis of capitalist neo-liberal economic agenda and signed in 2001 a monitoring programme that submitted the economy to the dictates of IMF. Nevertheless, their relationship became strained as a result of the 2004 bombing incident when the French forces destroyed the Air Force of Ivory Coast in retaliation to the bombing of the French military base, which was maintained as a buffer zone for a cease fire between rebel and Gbagbo government, by the government forces. Indeed, it was the French forces that had helped repel the advancement of the rebels to the south, when it appeared they were strong enough to overrun the country, and also facilitated the 2002 cease-fire. The French apparently had to do this in order to safeguard their businesses which are mostly sited in the south.
It is no secret that western imperialism, particularly France, has vested economic interests in Ivory Coast. France for instance has some 500 businesses that dominate important sectors of the economy. The country is the largest producer of cocoa, which is used for chocolate, accounting for 40% of the global output. It is also a major exporter of coffee and timber while there has been increase in its crude oil production. There are also deposits of gold and diamond in the north. There is also a report, credited to the International Commission of Enquiry on the allegations of violations of human rights in Ivory Coast between 19 September and 15 October 2004, of discovery of oilfields whose reserves could make the country the second or third largest African producer of crude oil. The Commission also reported the discovery of huge gas deposits whose reserves are enough for a hundred years’ exploitation.
There is no hope of a better deal for the ordinary Ivorians from the alternative available at present in the person of Ouattara, a blue-eyed boy of imperialism. One does not need a crystal ball to conclude that HouphouÃ«t-Boigny’s former Prime Minister, who later became the former Deputy Managing Director of IMF, will run the country according to dictates of world imperialism. John Campbell a former US ambassador to Nigeria and now of the pro-imperialist Council of Foreign Relations somewhat buttressed this point while saying that, “Ouattara certainly has the technical expertise to manage an economy.” To imperialism, better management of economy is to do it according to their dictate.
Already, Ivory Coast has been enlisted in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative programme of the World Bank and IMF, as a step towards getting relief from debt burden it was largely plunged into by the archetypal pro-imperialist government of HouphouÃ«t-Boigny. This means that the country has had to service its debt and implement harsh economic policies of structural adjustment or capitalist neo-liberal programme, as dictated by the IMF and World Bank, to be eligible for relief. No doubt, Ouattara will not blink from unleashing such neo-liberal attacks on the working people. He is an old war horse of imperialism. It should be recalled that he was seconded to help Houphouet-Boigny impose and implement austerity measures and structural adjustment programme in early 1990s. To him, neo-liberalism which has proved to be a nostrum for development particularly in Africa is medicine for economic ailments. However, Ivory Coast had reached what is called the decision point of HIPC in March 2009 meaning that Gbagbo did not do badly in implementing the World Bank and IMF dictated neo-liberal attacks. The IMF gave Gbagbo a thumb-up for this achievement and asked him to fast track the “reforms” towards HIPC completion point. No doubt, Ouattara, a true-blue IMF agent, will do better than Gbagbo.
Workers and the poor in Ivory Coast will discover under Ouattara government that their living standards are not fundamentally improved, if do not get worse while at the same a lasting peace is not guaranteed. Therefore, the radical trade unions leaders, left activists and socialists should immediately begin the process of building a united workers’ movement that will unite and mobilize workers, farmers and the poor of all ethnic and religious divides against xenophobia, sectarian violence and anti-poor neo-liberal attacks and demand better deals for the working people in areas of education, health care, housing, decent jobs. The movement should also exist as a working people political alternative that campaigns on the basis of resistance to neo-liberal capitalist programmes and for a socialist alternative as it struggles for political power.