On Tuesday 22 March 2011 the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, took time off from fulminating about the ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya to warn President Mugabe that he should beware the tide of revolution sweeping down from North Africa. The clear implication was that since the European ex-colonial powers were able to get the UN Security Council to back their policies that Mugabe and, presumably, Laurent Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast would become fair game for the exercise of their military might and that the ‘international community’ could impose a new government in any country it chose by virtue of how the ‘international community’ viewed the benevolence of that government’s rule.
In short, the ex-colonial powers assert they have the right to determine who governs whom in Africa, irrespective of the African constitutions, elections and sovereignty. This has always been the position of France and Chirac and Sarkozy but it is a rare statement by the British who couched their language more carefully. It didn’t stop them from sending troops to post-colonial Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Kenya, Uganda, Sierra Leone, among others, to ‘restore order’, but they withheld from making such a baldly outrageous assertion before.
This series of crises in North Africa and parts of the Middle East have broken the restraints on their megalomaniacal grasping for power and influence and allowed them to pretend that they know what is best for everyone and that they have a deep-seated commitment to democracy, fair play and human rights; except in those countries which have oil or are good customers for their weapons industries. This is part of a long tradition which followed directly from the colonial ethos.
Despite the seizure of power by Ian Smith and the Rhodesian Front from British colonialism and its Unilateral Declaration of Independence the British did nothing to impede the Rhodies in their creation of a breakaway state. They didn’t act because they were the “kith and kin” of the Rhodies. That is, they were white. This didn’t impede the British from brutalising the Kikuyu in Kenya who weren’t white. There are few who argued then or can argue now that the Rhodesian Front was acting to support the human rights and dignity of the inhabitants of Southern Rhodesia. They were acting for the white population in Southern Rhodesia and imposed a form of junior apartheid on the African population. The British Government refused to act. Now that Southern Rhodesia is Zimbabwe and run by elected African leaders operating under a Constitution they feel they do have the right to intervene and change the government. The Zims aren’t kith and kin; they are Black. What sheer hypocrisy and self-delusion.
This has always been the posture of the French. Its actions over the years in Ivory Coast are a good example of the lure of neo-colonialism. The long period of political dominance of Felix Houphouet-Boigny was a period of accommodation to the will of France. It was a colony in all but a name. It had a flag, a national anthem and a seat in the UN, but otherwise was operated as if colonialism had never ended. At the death of Houphouet-Boigny the French did all they could to hold the system together but Bedie wasn’t strong enough to do so. Moreover, Bedie attacked the immigrants from the neighbouring countries as intruders and established the notion of ‘Ivoirite”, a local form of xenophobia. As they were primarily Muslims from Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali this added the dimension of an ‘oppressed minority’ to the equation. The brief military takeover of Guei led to the first election in which the candidate of the Ivoirian masses was elected to office; the university lecturer and trades unionist Laurent Gbagbo and his politically-active wife Simone Ehivet. They began to question the strict controls that the French had maintained over the country and the monopoly positions granted to French corporations. The French found this odious and, having warned Gbagbo and offered him large rewards to change his policies, they vowed to oust him from power. They enlisted the help of a Burkinabe immigrant, Alassane Ouattara, who had been brought in to assist with the economic planning by Houphouet-Boigny. Ouattara rested his claim to power on his affiliation with the Muslim migrants and the Muslim northerners. They lost at the ballot box and staged an attempted coup when Gbagbo left for a meeting with the Pope.
This rebellion quickly faltered and was in danger of being wiped out in Bouake and Korhogo by loyalist forces when the French landed paratroopers to protect them. This effectively split the country between North and South. Despite periodic attempts at coups by the North against Gbagbo, the Gbagbo government remained in power. The ‘international community’ (that is France and its friends) insisted on power sharing and a range of other demands on the Government of the Ivory Coast. In a range of treaties between the rebels and the government (Linas-Marcoussis, Accra, Pretoria, Ouagadougou) the key demand on the rebels which they signed up to was that they disarm so that elections could take place. They never disarmed. When the recent election took place, despite the lack of disarmament, the rebel soldiers surrounded the voting places in the North and rigged the ballot boxes. The representative of Ouattara announced unofficially that Ouattara had won the election. The Constitutional Court which was charge under the Constitution said that Gbagbo had won.
This same ‘international community’ took the French lead and recognised Ouattara as the President of the country despite the constitution. The people had elected Gbagbo and he refused to leave office. That has meant that the United Nations forces which worked with the French soldiers in Ivory Coast have armed the rebels and conducted warfare against Gbagbo and his troops. They imposed sanctions against the Ivory Coast and have allowed violence to take place against the populations in areas they and the rebels control.
Gbagbo and his government are not leaving. President Sarkozy ordered Gbagbo to leave the country within forty-eight hours. The Ivory Coast demanded that the French leave and to take their UN thugs with them. This has not yet been resolved. The UN force, the UNOCI have armed the rebels, given them N uniforms and supported them in their rampage against the civil population. They are trying to create a situation in which Gbagbo’s troops rise to the bait and retaliate. Then they can weep their crocodile tears about the attacks on human rights and demand military intervention. The UNOCI just sacked its commander, the Bangladeshi General Hafiz who said it was not the job of the UNOCI to kill Ivoirian citizens. He has been replaced by the genocidal Général Gankoudé Berena of Togo who is famous for his role in the Rwanda genocide where he commanded a brigade; in Guinea-Bissau where he supervised a bloodbath; and at home in Togo where he killed scores of students in the Bay of Lome. This is the kind of peacekeeping the UN has set up in the Ivory Coast.
The UN threatens to attack Gbagbo and to oust him but has no mandate to do it on their own. They are relying on using military forces from other African countries. Until now the other African countries have shown more sense and refused to do so.
The French have ben he main force behind this attack on Gbagbo since 2000. It has backfired badly on them. French business leaders are complaining to Sarkozy that their businesses in the country are being ruined. Their banks have been taken over and they will lose their cocoa by the end of March. Sarkozy promised them that he would oust Gbagbo within a week. This is clearly unlikely to happen. Moreover the French don’t dare attack Gbagbo themselves as there are over fourteen thousand French nationals in the country who are, effectively hostages to French behaviour.
This self-destructive behaviour was equally true in Libya. France's biggest corporations are concerned about President Nicolas Sarkozy’s gung-ho approach concerning Libya: he was the first to recognize the Libyan insurgent leadership and to call for a no-fly zone over the country. Some groups like Total and Alstom are worried about their assets in the country and their local employees while others fear the Libyan regime could publish documents concerning on-going negotiations. A few months ago Dassault Aviation was still deep in talks to sell Rafale fighters to Tripoli, aircraft that Libya wanted to be equipped with Scalp cruise missile and Exocet AM 39 missiles. Suez was keen on landing a water supply contract for Tripoli and Benghazi. Its adviser in Libya was Tunisia’s Slah Knifen who is close to Saif El Islam Gaddhafi and also acts as EADS’ adviser in Libya. Sarkozy has screwed up French business in both countries.
Why are the French, and to a large degree the British, so caught up in this benighted endeavour? The answer is that they are desperate. France’s economy is smaller than that of California; Britain’s is smaller than Texas. They are in desperate financial straits and growing poorer and deeper in debt every year. As they grow poorer and weaker Africa is growing and expanding at a marvellous rate.. Over the last six years the French have been losing their power in Africa, They are not in the same economic league as the Chinese, Russian and US corporations. They can’t afford to support the economic basket cases of Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and the Central African Republic. The Ivory Coast has oil, gas, cocoa, coffee, cotton and timber. It is a rich country and the French are being frozen out. It is too late to get their dominant position back. France has already lost and only the hope of installing Ouattara may allow them to get back in, even a little bit. That is what the battle in the Ivory Coast is about.
Africa is going through boom time. Its economies are among the fastest growing in the world. The rates of growth of many African economies are multiples of European growth rates. African stock markets are expanding. In 1989 there were five African stock exchanges. Now there are twenty, including two regional exchanges. African banks are spreading across the world. The insatiable markets for commodities in China and India have opened new doors for African business. There is a rapid and spreading prosperity in Africa and very little of any of this has to do with France or Europe in general. The Ivory Coast doesn’t have to sell its cocoa to Europe; Asia is happy to take it along with the oil. The sun has already started its descent on Europe and there is no way for them to change this. Africa has a wonderful future and is on the cusp of great prosperity. Fortunately, their former colonial masters can only stare and grimace in envy as Africa becomes integrated into the global economy and moves on to become an economic powerhouse as they fade and wither. Their threats of violence and intervention are primitive and demeaning.
Gary K. Bush in ocnus.net le 23 mars 2011