Ivory Coast: A masquerade that could end in a bloodbath

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At the time of writing, the tense stand-off in the Ivory Coast, which contained the risk of a direct conflict between former president Gbagbo and the UN troops protecting the (UN’s) officially recognised winner of the elections, Ouattara, has eased somewhat. Various local African leaders have interceded to persuade Gbagbo to lift the siege of his rival and enter into negotiations without preconditions. But the situation remains extremely unstable. The following article, published by our French section at the beginning of December, provides some of the background to the conflict between the two presidents and in particular to the imperialist machinations going on behind the scenes. 

The day after the second round of the presidential election on November 28, the Ivory Coast awoke to find it had two presidents. One of them, Alassane Ouattara was proclaimed the winner by the electoral commission and the UN with 54% of the votes; the other, Laurent Gbagbo was named the winner by the Ivorian Constitutional Council with 51.4% of the votes. We thus have two big crocodiles ready to devour each other over control of Ivory Coast’s water-hole.

According to the UN Security Council, this was a “normal” election process. It welcomed “the announcement of the results of the second round of the presidential election which was held in a democratic climate...these were free, just, transparent elections”.

Obviously the reality is a bit different. This election was just a sinister farce which had already resulted in 55 deaths and 504 wounded by the end of the first week in December (Le Monde, 8.12.10). In the wake of Congo, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Togo, Gabon and Guinea, it’s now the turn of the Ivory Coast to enter the bloody arena of these kinds of elections, where the future winner is designated in advance by himself or with the complicity of his imperialist backers. And as always in such cases, the protagonists settle their scores through mutual massacres.

The current situation in the Ivory Coast cannot fail to bring to mind the morbid sequence of events in 2002, when the presidential election ended up with mass killings and a military coup, resulting in years of terror and the country being cut in two, between north and south. During this period the various factions, pro-government or rebels, confiscated the resources under their respective control, using the profits to buy huge numbers of weapons so that they could carry on the struggle for power. It goes without saying that this happened at the expense of the population, 50% of which lives on less than 2 dollars a day. This is a population which is constantly exposed to racketeering and murder. Today, with these new elections, all the conditions are coming together for a slaughter on an even more massive scale.

“The scenario which everyone feared was produced on the evening of 3 December. Laurent Gbagbo had himself declared winner. At the risk of plunging the country into crisis, indeed into war....No doubt Gbagbo could win a gold medal for pugnacity. But someone who has up till now presented himself as the ‘son of elections’ and a ‘child of democracy’ will now have a hard time keeping up this image. At whatever cost, he has decided to go to the bitter end of an approach which has nothing to do with the ballot box... The perspective of a new partition, a new north-south clash, doesn’t bother him: most of the country’s resources (cocoa, coffee, oil) are in the centre or the south; and exports of these materials go through the port of San Pedro. The Ivory Coast has been functioning in this way since 2002. Why shouldn’t it continue to be the case? The real Gbagbo, after these useless elections, is showing his face: arms in hand, ready to withstand a siege from the ‘external enemy’[1] as he never tires of repeating. The Ivory Coast has gone back to square one” (Jeune Afrique 5.12.10)

As for Alassane Ouattara, he has been ready to turn to his partisans, the ‘new forces’, who have said that they won’t stand idly by if Gbagbo remains n power. Similarly, Guillaume Soro, Ouattara’s prime minister, has stated his intention to ‘dislodge’ Gbagbo (whose prime minister he was until the beginning of the elections). In short, each camp is readying its guard dogs – the death squads and machete-wielders. But above all each side is counting on the support of the big imperialist powers, especially France.

When you see how much the question of the Ivory Coast animates the French bourgeoisie, you can get an idea of the importance of what’s at stake in this former hunting ground of French imperialism. Since the shattering of the democratic shop-window at the beginning of the 2000s, resulting in France losing control of its local agents, French imperialism has been trying its damnedest to maintain an influence in the country, in particular through big companies like Bouygues, Total, Bolloré, etc. These companies are the real backbone of ‘Françafrique’ in the Ivory Coast, with state interests and private interests fused together, as shown by the particularly incestuous relationship between Bolloré and the French state.

It’s difficult to separate the multiple connections between this group, the worthy heir of the colonial trusts and the Françafricain networks, and the French political apparatus. As with other conglomerates, it benefits from the support of the public power in its conquest of the continent’s markets. The President of the Republic or its ministers happily go to Africa to act as lobbyists among their opposite numbers. While Bolloré’s friends on the right are well known, we can see that the Socialist deputy Jean Glavany[2] is, alongside Alain Minc, part of the group’s strategic committee. When France sends - or repatriates – its troops into Africa, as for the ‘Licorne’ operation in the Ivory Coast, the many tentacles of the Bolloré group seem to be indispensable. ‘All the operations are carried out in the greatest security and confidentality’, as we can read superimposed on pictures of armoured cars in a prospectus distributed by the ‘Defence’ branch of the SDV (Manière de Voir, Le Monde Diplomatique, December 2009).

But France is badly equipped, lacking sure supporters on the ground. This is why it is now officially giving its support to Ouattara, the democratically elected candidate; but in the corridors, right up until the final result, Sarkozy didn’t stop ‘reassuring’ Gbagbo, trying to make sure he would continue to serve French interests if needed. And it is in perfect knowledge of the fragile nature of France’s situation that Gbagbo, traditionally close to the Socialist Party, decided to blackmail the French authorities by brandishing his Chinese connections in front of them. In the end, therefore, France had to publicly declare its ‘neutrality’ saying that it didn’t have its own ‘candidate’. In sum, it was trying to bet on two horses, but without any guarantee of success either way. 

Françafrique under the eye of the US, and the rise of Chinafrique

Behind all the headlines, the fact is that France’s position in Africa is really under threat as it faces sharp competition from the American and Chinese bourgeoisies in particular. The battle is already raging in the UN Security Council between the partisans of Gbagbo and the supporters of Ouattara: the first is defended by China and Russia, the second by the US, Britain and France. We can’t fail to note the hypocrisy of these bandits: all of them talk about ‘peace’ while supplying weapons and ammunition to their armed agencies on the ground.

In France, Alassane Ouattara was at one point described as being ‘pro-American’, but more recently he has developed links with the French government, enjoying coffee and aperitifs with Sarkozy. But he is also hanging on to his friendships in US circles, notably in the IMF in which he has been a vice president. No doubt he will choose the backer who makes him the best offer, above all in the perspective of future confrontations in the Ivory Coast. And, on the continental level, Ouattara can count on a good deal of support in West Africa and from the African Union.

As for Laurent Gbagbo, Angola remains his main supplier of arms and on the diplomatic level he can rely on South Africa, which was his main supporter in his clash with France in 2004.

At the end of the day, behind all the manoeuvres and calls to respect the decision of the ballot box, we are seeing a bunch of criminals preparing to plunge the country into mass slaughter and spread bloody chaos throughout the region.

Amina, 8/12/2010. 


[1] In the nationalist campaign around ‘Ivority’ launched by former president Bédié in 200 and taken up by Gbagbo during the civil war of 2002, the Muslim Oattara, originating from the north of the country, was denounced as a foreign agent linked to Burkina Faso.

[2] As a member of the Socialist International, Gbagbo is the now rather embarrassing friend of various SP politicians in France