Ivory Coast: France shows its real imperialist face

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France's 'pacifist' stand over the impending war in the Gulf has confused many: as in Germany, the 'peace' march in France was very much a march of 'national unity' in support of the government against America's military plans. Placards reading 'Vive la France' were also displayed at the demo in London.

The following article, reproduced from our paper in France, Revolution Internationale, exposes the myth of France's 'anti-war' position by highlighting their involvement in the bloody conflict now ravaging the Ivory Coast. In the epoch of imperialism, there can be no 'peace-loving' capitalist states!

Ivory Coast: France shows its real imperialist face

The might of French imperialism has deployed a large number of heavily armed troops into the West African state of the Ivory Coast in the middle of the 'civil war' raging between the various bourgeois fractions in that country. It has also used its strong diplomatic influence with the various armed fractions disputing power to bring them to Paris to attempt to strong arm them into finding a negotiated settlement.

While, officially, France has intervened to avoid a generalisation of the war in this country, to preserve the unity of the country and to protect its French nationals, no-one is really fooled by this. As a former colony of France, it is clear that France is really engaged in this war for one reason only, to defend its own imperialist interests and to do this, it is prepared to do whatever is necessary.

French imperialism's stake in this region

Since the coup d'etat of 1999/2000 that started the present chaos, France has been losing influence in this country with other imperialist vultures gaining at its expense through the different Ivorian factions. The French bourgeoisie wants to reverse this situation. It has strong commercial interests in the region and is determined to defend them at all costs. The Ivory Coast is a country that has a rich supply of raw materials, like cocoa and coffee (just to mention two) and it is one of the three top producers and exporters of these in the world. France has a lot of commercial interests in these sectors, as in others (they control electricity, railways, petrol, etc) and the capital, Abidjan, is still the financial centre of the West African region, with the French banks still very active there. Because of this, the control of the Ivory Coast, one of the main bases for its continuing domination in this region, is an important strategic stake for French imperialism and for its rival imperialisms too. If the war in the Ivory Coast was to totally spiral out of control, it could affect many of its neighbouring countries, in particular Mali and Burkina Faso.

French imperialism's large deployment of forces on the ground is thus a declaration of war against all its imperialist opponents, large and small. Moreover, the situation has united the different factions of the French bourgeoisie and the French government has received support from its left and right wings, some of whom have called for a more 'muscular' intervention. A dozen leading parliamentarians from amongst the Socialist Party, the Centre UDF and the Gaullists have asked the Chirac government "to give its support to the legitimate government of the Ivory Coast by helping it regain sovereignty over its whole territory, that the permanent presence of 'unruly' military elements is undermining (sic)." (Jeune Afrique of the 5th January 2003).

Clearly these prominent fractions of the French bourgeoisie are prepared to see France fully committed to using brute force in order to defend its interests in the Ivory Coast at the risk of it getting fully embroiled in the fighting between the different Ivorian gangs.

Negotiations can't halt the barbarism

Since the attempted coup on 19 September 2002, the toll of deaths has continued to mount up. France has deployed 2500 heavily armed troops under the pretext of trying to keep the warring parties apart, while itself engaging the other belligerents in battle. Its legionnaires, pretending to be there for 'legitimate defence', have already killed dozens of rebels (between 50 and 100). These encounters between its forces and the rebels, notably the MPIGO and the MJP, the two groups who hold sway in the west of the country, are increasing. Despite the continual announcement of cease-fires, the rebels and the government forces continue their assaults and raids, particularly against the civilian population, leading to further killings. This was confirmed by a recent discovery of mass graves, packed full of hundreds of bodies of ordinary civilians, women and children included. In all this, France pretends to be acting to keep the various Ivorian armies apart, while, it is in fact actively involved in the killings itself. Through its engagement with the other forces on the ground, it is directly contributing to the bloody chaos, as these armed factions fully understand. They have threatened to attack the French forces directly. The major grouping of the MPCI (rebels who have control over the northern region) decided at the beginning of January, to give 'carte blanche' to its forces to march on Abidjan with the clear intention of confronting the French forces if they stand in its way. The other groups of rebels (MPIGO and MJP) have also declared their intention of marching on the Ivorian capital and engaging the French legionnaires. In fact, France is now in the front line faced with having to deal with all the armed factions: the rebels to the north and the west and the government forces in the south.

The negotiations can't pretend to be a solution

Faced with this dangerous situation on the ground, the French bourgeoisie is doubtful that it can impose a military solution. Because of this it brought all the various groups contesting power together in Paris, to try and exert some control over them. But France has few illusions. It knows better than anyone that that the armed militias are something of a law unto themselves. Furthermore France's rival imperialisms are undoubtedly providing them with support. By organising the 'round table' conference back in Paris, the French government hopes that it can avoid the influence of its main imperialist opponents, who have been sabotaging its attempt to find a negotiated settlement since the conflict started. And France is faced with formidable and numerous opponents. African countries like Burkina Faso, Togo, Senegal, Nigeria, Angola, Libya, etc have been providing arms and finance, or have disputed control of the negotiations or the cease-fires for their own interests. Then there are the big powers like the US and Britain, pressing for a stake to satisfy their own interests; and they want at every opportunity to thwart the French plans. France doesn't even seem to be able to count on the heads of state of its former colonies, such as Senegal or Togo. While they were previously in charge of the 'peace negotiations', France sidelined them by transferring the talks to Paris. The French gangster-boss carried out a 'hold-up' right under their noses.

Meanwhile, the real game is taking place on the military terrain, and no-one still has the dominant hand. During the negotiations in Paris, the situation remained explosive with the strong-armed gangs, the mercenaries and the government death squads continuing to terrorise the civilian populations. Innocent people are gunned down. And all these odious crimes are the dirty work of the supporters of those involved in the Paris talks since 15th January. Some sources accuse the government forces particularly. They are responsible for the deaths of more than 600 persons (on top of the official death toll that followed the coup). Most of the victims were Ivorians from the north of the country or immigrants from neighbouring countries. For their part, the rebels subject the civilian population to their racketeering and terror. Many people don't even dare any longer to go to work or go out shopping for food. The French forces have witnessed all of these horrors, without taking any action to stop them. Quite hypocritically, France has, been gathering evidence of the murderous goings-on, in the event that it is called to give this evidence to any enquiry of the UN High Commission. In fact the French state is washing its hands of any responsibility by expressing support for the Ivorian government and its crimes. The French bourgeoisie is haunted by the spectre of Rwanda and remains 'traumatised', undoubtedly, by its complicity with the authors of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Nevertheless, the French state cannot hide from the eyes of the world its cynical complicity with the bloody murderers that terrorise and kill innocent civilians in the Ivory Coast.

RI, February 2003.