Ivory Coast: French imperialism defends its interests

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In early November, Ivorian president Ghagbo, impatient to escape the French restrictions which limited his government's authority to the south of the country, bombarded rebel-controlled towns in the north. The French government had for months turned a blind eye to Ghagbo's war plans, until the Ivorian state bombarded positions held by French forces, killing nine French soldiers and one US civilian, and wounding 22 others. French president Chirac ordered the immediate destruction of the 'Ivorian airforce' - two planes and five combat helicopters.

Ghagbo then unleashed a pogrom against the French, inciting patriotic mobs to attack French homes, schools and other buildings in an orgy of rape, arson and pillage. The French army had no hesitation in firing on the crowds. This has further worsened the climate of chaos, violence and terror which now reigns in the capital Abidjan. Hundreds of people have died.

France's real aims

With more than 5200 troops at its disposal, reinforced since July 2004 by 6200 'Blue Helmets' from the UN, France was already in military control of the country, posing as a 'peacekeeping force' standing between the government in the south and the northern rebels. France had pretended that it was playing this role with a mandate from the UN, but the mask has dropped to show France's real aims: the strategic maintenance of its military presence in the Ivory Coast and the attempt to safeguard its imperialist interests in Africa.

As for the UN, the Blue Helmets just serve as a legal cover for the crimes of the great imperialist powers. The UN forces did the same during the slaughter in Rwanda in 1994, in the interests of France. 5000 UN Blue Helmets did the same in May 2003, when they stayed on the sidelines when 60,000 people were massacred in the north east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

From the Gaullist period, France maintained its imperialist domination of the Ivory Coast by giving unbroken support to the dictator Houphouet between 1960 and 1993. Since Ghagbo was installed, the new president has waged a number of xenophobic campaigns about 'Ivority', aimed at eliminating his main rivals. These resulted in a number of massacres, the best known being in March 2004 when Ghagbo sent tanks and death squads into parts of Abidjan, attacking areas accused of being on the rebels' side. These killings took place with the direct complicity of France, under the eyes of more than 4000 French troops, who didn't raise a finger to help the victims.

Over the last 15 years France has lost a lot of its influence, prestige and strategic advantages in Africa, suffering various set-backs, in particular with the revelations about its involvement in the massacres in Burundi and Rwanda in 1993/4, and with the loss of Zaire from its sphere of influence in 1997. It has also encountered growing opposition from American imperialism.

Since the strategic reorganisation of its military bases in Africa, France has decided to reinforce its military presence in the Ivory Coast and to stay whatever the cost. Along with Senegal, the Ivory Coast is one of the key countries for holding onto its positions in Africa. The confrontations between the rebel forces and the government, and the attempted coup d'etat in 2002, gave France the pretext for implanting a massive military presence and trying to take control at the diplomatic level with the Marcoussis accords of January 2003. Since then, France has posed as an arbitrator and guarantor of peace. But today's climate of instability makes this 'peacemaking' strategy no longer tenable. In fact it has led to a growing loss of control. French imperialism has not been able to impose its orientations either militarily or diplomatically. Both sides have rearmed and prepared their forces for new conflicts. France is in an impasse, obliged it to plunge into an openly military option in order to defend its interests.

A battle between imperialist vultures

France will not allow its military presence to be put into question. It is condemned to the same fate as the USA, throwing aside its hypocritical excuses about 'acting as a peacekeeping force' it has revealed its true imperialist intentions, imposing its authority through brutal military actions. The French bourgeoisie cannot allow itself to give up the Ivory Coast without the risk of being totally ejected from the African continent.

The break between Ghagbo and France, sealed by the destruction of the Ivorian airforce, is now quite deep. Since the beginning of hostilities, a number of Ivorian leaders, such as the president of the National Assembly Koulibaly, have made open declarations of war against France. Since 2002, Ghagbo whipped up the worst kind of xenophobia against the French occupiers and against 'foreign' African ethnic groups like those from Burkina Faso.

The French bourgeoisie has tried to pull together in defence of its interests. The Socialist Party has given unreserved support to Chirac's 'firm' response, going so far as to break publicly with their 'comrade' in the Socialist International, Laurent Ghagbo.

The latter however has found other allies and forged links with Mauritania, Guinea and Togo, countries trying to move away from Burkina Faso which has been accused of destabilising their regimes. The Ivorian president can also count on the more discrete support of Ghana. He also has a lot of capital to pay for professional killers, like the mercenaries who pilot his planes.

As for the rebels, although they have been weakened by bloody internal conflicts, they have been increasing their warlike declarations and have refused to follow UN calls to disarm. They can also rely on support from Burkina Faso, not to mention Libya.

Certain sectors of the French bourgeoisie have pointed out it's no accident that Ghagbo's offensive was carried out just after the re-election of Bush, underlining Ghagbo's attraction to the US and Washington's desire to extend its influence in Africa..

The US has several irons in the fire because while it has let itself be courted by Ghagbo, it also armed the rebels in 2002 and continued to aid them discretely for some time. While officially welcoming France's tough response, several American newspapers close to the Bush government have intensified their anti-French rhetoric, pointing at the incoherence of its policies and its inability to manage 'African affairs'. They can only be pleased to see France getting sucked into a mess and only too willing to push it in deeper. All the conditions are coming together for the situation to slide further towards bloody chaos, with a strong probability of direct French military involvement. This will show the falsity of all the claims that America is the only warmonger in the world.

There is a real risk not only of the 'Iraqisation' of the Ivory Coast, but also of the extension of the conflict to neighbouring states, spreading a civil war to the region as a whole.

The Ivory Coast shows the terrible future that capitalism offers to the African. The population of this country is now being exposed to permanent poverty, famine and war. This is what capitalism has in store for the whole of humanity if its criminal rule is allowed to continue.

W, 14/11/04.