A dispute over a recent election in the West African state of Ivory Coast has prompted calls by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for President Laurent Gbagbo to step down. According to the U.N. head, the electoral commission has determined that opposition leader Alassane Ouattara won the election.
This echoes the position of the U.S. State Department, which says that Gbagbo must go and that Ouattara is the legitimate leader. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is reported to have threatened military intervention in Ivory Coast if Gbagbo does not leave office.
These pronouncements and other actions, such as leveling sanctions against the Gbagbo administration by freezing credit and bank accounts through the international banking system, have emboldened Ouattara’s supporters inside the country. In December a group of Ouattara supporters attempted to seize control of the television station in Abidjan, but were repelled by government forces, leaving at least 18 people dead.
Why have the U.N. and the Obama administration taken such an interest in developments in Ivory Coast, a former French colony of 30 million people who have been through civil unrest, a military coup and a civil war for at least a decade? Why should Ivory Coast be viewed as a test case for Africa, the African Union and ECOWAS, when similar developments in Mauritania, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Madagascar and Kenya were not?
These economic sanctions, public vilifications and threats of invasion are taking place without any serious efforts by the U.S. and France to reach a diplomatic solution. Ivory Coast cannot be viewed in isolation from the overall U.S. and French policy of increasing military involvement in West Africa under the guise of the so-called “war on terrorism.”
Background of Ivorian crisis & breakdown of neocolonial rule
During the period of French colonialism as well as the first three decades of its independence (1960-1990), Ivory Coast was promoted as a model of imperialist rule. Even under colonialism, when the Rassemblement Democratique Africain and its trade union counterpart, the Union Generale des Travailleurs de l’Afrique Noire, engaged in militant, mass organizing, France in 1958 offered its colonies in West Africa to either formally accept a subservient political role under France or strike out independently.
Only Guinea, under the leadership of the Democratic Party of Guinea headed by Ahmed Sekou Toure, voted overwhelmingly to become an independent state. Guinea would pay a severe price for its challenge to French imperialism, while Ivory Coast under Felix Houphouet-Boigny was rewarded with capitalist investment and tourism.
Ivory Coast continued as an outpost of France, albeit with a facade of independence. French author Guy de Lusignan in his book “French-Speaking Africa Since Independence” gushed: “The Ivory Coast could not be what it is today without the presence of a large body of Frenchmen, both in administration and in private business. [President] Houphouet-Boigny and his team have been policymakers of undeniable worth.”
The author continued, “They staked their all on big business and foreign capital.” By 1964 Ivory Coast “was the largest African producer of bananas (114,000 tons), of raw timber (1,450,000 tons), and of coffee (261,000 tons), making it the third largest producer of coffee in the world; in that year its output of cocoa reached 98,000 tons, making it the fourth largest cocoa producer in the world.”
After a sharp decline in cocoa prices and other agricultural commodities in Western markets, Ivory Coast shifted to a more diversified economy. By the late 1960s, industrial production in the Ivory Coast expanded with the establishment of light electrical plants, chemicals and oils, timber, textiles, building materials and shoe factories.
This state of affairs served as an ideological challenge to revolutionary armed struggles in other parts of Africa, as well as the socialist experiments in Guinea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Angola, Mozambique, Congo-Brazzaville and other states. The Western imperialists maintained that capitalism was the best model for development in post-independence Africa.
However, during the early 1990s, severe problems within the French currency zone had a tremendous impact on Ivory Coast, as well as other African states aligned with Paris. Unrest, which was thought to have been crushed in the early 1960s, arose again.
By the end of the 1990s, a coup had brought the military to power and fomented north-south political division of the country. An election in 2000 led to the presidency of Gbagbo, while Ouattara, a northerner, was disqualified over claims that he was not of Ivorian origin.
Increasing regional divisions in Ivory Coast had been a factor during the mid-1990s, when the presence of a large immigrant population as well as the country’s national diversity were deliberately politicized. Such divisions helped create the conditions for civil war, which erupted in 2002.
The civil war further exacerbated national divisions. France, which deployed its military forces during the war, was accused of supporting both sides in the conflict. In 1995, under Gbagbo, Ivorian military forces bombed areas in the rebel stronghold city of Bouake and killed nine French troops. France claimed the attacks were deliberate, and has continued to hold the deaths of its soldiers against Gbagbo.
ECOWAS forces intervened in the Ivory Coast in 2002, but were later replaced by forces under U.N. control, which still remain. They claim their role is strictly to monitor the movement of military units of both the central government and rebel troops in the north. The threat of resumed military conflict could lead to greater involvement in the internal affairs of Ivory Coast by France and the U.S.
Military conflict & role of imperialism
The role of the U.S. in Africa has been growing, along with its reliance on oil from the continent and the increasing presence of Pentagon forces in the region. In West Africa the U.S. has developed partnerships with Mali, Ghana, Morocco and other states in the so-called “war on terrorism.”
Washington, stung by revelations related to the release of classified military documents and diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, has taken up the Ivorian crisis as a major focus of its foreign policy in Africa. This conflict provides an avenue for the State Department to re-emerge as a “legitimate force” in purportedly resolving an African political crisis.
WikiLeaks diplomatic cables revealed that through successive U.S. administrations, including that of President Barack Obama, the same imperialist aims and objectives have determined the character of its foreign policy toward Africa. Obama has increased funding for U.S. military operations there, and is seeking to influence developments in Nigeria, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Somalia.
Therefore, U.S. imperialism is motivated to further penetrate the economic, political and military affairs of the continent. The threatened intervention by ECOWAS would inevitably translate into large-scale deployments of both Nigerian and Ghanaian troops to Ivory Coast.
Such an intervention would require logistical support from the U.S. and France. This would place the imperialists in a position to more closely monitor events in Nigeria, which has its own political problems of regional and intra-religious conflict, as well as Mali, Sudan and other states.
Nigeria, which has undergone an escalation in violence in its northern states as well as in the oil-rich Niger Delta, is under severe U.S. pressure. Just recently the U.S. forced the government to abandon a civil suit against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and a criminal complaint against former Vice President Dick Cheney and his firm of Halliburton/KBR.
Anti-war and peace movements inside the United States must oppose any U.S. effort to utilize the Ivorian crisis as an excuse to indirectly invade through funding, coordinating or transporting ECOWAS troops there. Such a course of action could spark even more bloodshed in West Africa.
The mediation efforts of former South African President Thabo Mbeki provide some hope of resurrecting a political solution to the crisis. Why should Gbagbo be given an ultimatum while other states in the region have been able to work out internal problems through political intervention and negotiations?
The U.S. military presence, known as Africom, has over the last year conducted large-scale maneuvers on the continent. War games have been conducted in West Africa under the guise of enhancing the security capacity of African states.
In the Horn of Africa, U.S. imperialism is propping up the fragile and corrupt Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu. Off the coast of Somalia, the U.S. and the European Union are leading flotillas of warships under the guise of fighting piracy.
Both the U.S. and France have military bases in the nation of Djibouti. The U.S. presence in the region, WikiLeaks has confirmed, is at the root of one of the worse humanitarian crises in the current period. In Somalia more than 200,000 people have died in the last four years and more than 2 million have been displaced as a direct result of intervention by both the Bush and Obama administrations.
There is fundamentally no difference in U.S. imperialist policy under Obama. The current administration has not only escalated U.S. military involvement in Africa but has expanded the war in Afghanistan and spread it into neighboring Pakistan.
It has shielded members of the Bush administration from civil suits and criminal prosecution by both domestic and international plaintiffs who have fallen victim to U.S. war policy, as well as to corporate and official state corruption.
It is now targeting anti-war organizations at home with illegal searches and seizures as well as subpoenas to appear before federal grand juries under threat of prosecution and long-term prison sentences. The only “crimes” carried out by these activists is to have spoken out against U.S. foreign policy in Colombia and Palestine.
Anti-war and peace activists must look beyond Washington’s claims that it is concerned about “good governance” in Africa when prominent U.S. officials commit crimes and are then shielded from civil liability and criminal prosecution.
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