29 March 2011

Côte d’Ivoire: Forces behind the crisis and what’s at stake

BY Maurice Fahe

As Côte d’Ivoire’s political deadlock continues, Maurice Fahe discusses the country’s geostrategic importance for the West, the long-term role of foreign multinationals in the country, the political implications of ‘Ivoirité’ and the differences between the current crisis and that of 2000.

Since 28 November 2010, the situation in Côte d’Ivoire has been one of two presidents, two governments. This situation would be amusing were the current and future consequences not pogroms, deaths, summary executions, arrests, illegal detentions and economic, social and human devastation. So how are we to make sense of recent developments?


We will settle here to return to the development of the crisis of capitalism, the handling of this crisis by capitalist policy and the resultant consequences, not only for the secondary imperialist powers but also and above all for the world’s dominated capitalist countries, particularly those in Africa. In so doing we will recall that from 1981, the dominant capitalist powers proclaimed, through the voice of President Reagan (supported by his European colleagues), ‘that they know better than the countries of the South themselves what’s good for them’ in dealing with the debt crisis which US policy had plunged them into in the first place. The Washington Consensus and structural adjustment policies were the results of this political stance which have been implemented and executed with such efficiency since this date, and remarkably so in Côte d’Ivoire.

The world’s largest producer of cocoa, with considerable mineral prospects (especially oil), UEMOA’s (Union économique et monétaire ouest-africaine) largest economy, ECOWAS’s (Economic Community Of West African States) second largest, the main migrant hub in sub-Saharan Africa, located in the Gulf of Guinea and as a springboard into the hinterland countries (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger), Côte d’Ivoire enjoys a role of undeniable geostrategic and geopolitical importance. The stakes for neoliberal policy in the country are high.


The interest of the United States in Africa and its clear will to establish itself in the Gulf of Guinea dictate the importance the country attaches to its presence in Côte d’Ivoire. Its presence in Côte d’Ivoire not only increases competition between imperialist rivals (of the Triad) for the conquest of markets and the control of raw materials but also heightens the greed of the secondary imperialist powers, notably France and its will to doggedly defend its zone of influence and place in the Ivorian market.

Yet in a country where the financial market is limited, privatisations benefit primarily from those with the capacity to mobilise considerable capital to buy up public sector or public–private firms. In the competition that sets American imperialism against the secondary imperialist powers (most notably France) for the control of the Ivorian agro-industrial sector, America wins the day. As American multinationals edge their way into Côte d’Ivoire, the United States is constructing, not in Lagos or in Accra, but in Abidjan, a surveillance centre covering all of sub-Saharan Africa, along with the most significant diplomatic representation in Africa south of the Sahara after South Africa.

In order to preserve its positions inherited from the colonial and post-colonial period and its place in the Ivorian market, France often has to lean on political power. This enables France to protect its interests, with the exception of the agro-industrial sector, notably the coffee–cocoa subsector where American competition is particularly tough, principally from the American multinationals (ADM, Cargill) but also from the Anglo-Suisse (Nestlé, Armajaro). In January 2001, the cocoa war begun in 1987 was essentially brought to an end. Although French interests remain predominant, American interests essentially control the strategic cocoa sector. The presence of such interests means that the United States can from now on use Côte d’Ivoire as a base of support for their policy of expansion in the Gulf of Guinea designed to guarantee at least 25 per cent of their oil supply in the near future. As for the European Union, in which France has fully integrated itself since the Single European Act, in addition to a number of special interests (AIGLON and REINART in cotton, the Belgian group SIPEF for palm oil, DOLE for bananas, PANWELL-GMG for rubber, etc), its interest in Côte d’Ivoire is increasing as the crisis of immigration intensifies. The EU believes that if Côte d’Ivoire proves itself capable of welcoming migratory fluxes to which it has closed its doors, the country would hold a solution to African immigration crisis. Under current conditions, this objective can only be reached if Côte d’Ivoire regains peace and stays open for business.


On 30 April 1990, the freedom of participation in lawful political activity was granted to groups and classes hostile to the one-party system. Meanwhile, Bédié had hauled himself up to power thanks to the death of Houphouët-Boigny, the benefit of the application of Article 11 of the constitution of 3 November 1960 and the help of Paris, only to find himself faced with a fierce competitor in Alassane Ouattara, the former prime minister of Houphouët-Boigny. As he wasn’t certain of winning a free electoral confrontation against Ouattara, he decided instead to oust him. For this he had not only to erase the memory of profiteering which had stuck to him like a leech since his journey to the head of the Ministry of Finance, but also and above all to award a legal dressing to the stripping of eligibility he imposed on those he knew to oppose him. So on 13 December 1994, as the executive authority, Bédié passed, through a national assembly at his complete devotion, an electoral law which under the pretext of reserving the right to vote for nationals only reserved eligibility to the presidency of the republic to people of Ivorian origin. A few months later, this restrictive, reactionary system – which immediately excluded Ouattara and a section of the ruling class from universal suffrage – received the name ‘Ivorité’.

In resorting to such a problematic political distraction, Bédié simultaneously demonstrated his incapacity to achieve the conditions necessary for the collective domination of the ruling Ivorian classes. For this domination depended on the rotation of the ruling classes at the head of the state which was as essential for the concealment of the country’s widespread poverty as it was for allowing the continued pursuit of empty policies and the country’s economic pillage. This explains his overthrow and the indifference in which he made himself part of France yet linked to Côte d’Ivoire by a defence treaty with a secret clause requiring him to save the regime in the case of internal subversion. The same causes produce the same effects: Bédié’s conversion to ‘Ivorité’ and refusal under this same principle to organise open elections to all who condemn General Guei and defend both his fall and the conditions in which it occurred. In offering a constitutional legitimacy to ‘Ivorité’,Guei destroyed the hope of a possible reconciliation of the ruling classes and in so doing a return to the conditions of order indispensable to the pursuit of neoliberal policies. Consequently, he condemned himself and promoted Gbagbo, the only ‘true Ivorian’ still in the race.

On 26 October 2000, Gbagbo was ‘finally recognised as the winner’ by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court after protestors supported by a military and police squadron stormed the palace, forcing General Guei to flee. On 24 October, Gbagbo proclaimed himself head of state of Côte d’Ivoire, had declared the dissolution of the transition government (…) asked all militants to rise up to obstruct the imposter (…) and that (…) Ivorian patriots take to the street until the law is recognised and until Guei backs down.

An electoral victory, a victorious insurrection or a successful putsch? It remains but the taking of power by Gbagbo, which gave place to pogroms, the massacre of more than 300 protestors, of which at least 200 republican militants whom the party had called to challenge the presidential elections, and a mass grave of 57 victims. After Djeny Kobena (general secretary of RDR) had been declared Ghanaian and consequently stateless and ineligible in 1995, after the candidature of Alassane Ouattara had been rejected for ‘doubtful nationality’ in 2000, the ‘Ivorité’ enshrined in the constitution produced these most terrible effects. People didn’t want to see so as to see nothing. In the end, it seems that it was the retreat of Guei that allowed Côte d’Ivoire to avoid a similar scenario to that of today.

October 2000 appears in this way like a dress rehearsal that was paving the way for the current situation. Yet the most likely hypothesis today is that the showdown is a conscious and systematic strategy of the taking or preservation of power by the principal political representation of the Ivorian petty bourgeoisie and of its boss, Laurent Gbagbo. This, along with his political practice, leaves one to think that Gbagbo would not have obtained a majority in an open and transparent electoral process free from violence. From this hypothesis follows that after noisy and principled condemnations, with the self-interest of those involved coming to the fore, the ‘international community’ would end up aligning itself with the opinion of whoever held real power, which in this instance would be Gbagbo. Gbagbo imagined that he could, as in 2000, proclaim himself elected. To do so he was hoping not only to use the weaknesses of his enemy and the opposition to the ‘international community’s’ interests, but also the aspirations of the African people to the freedom and total independence of Africa. This explains the deceptively anti-colonial propaganda and of the pseudo-nationalisations that have been flowing like a flood since 28 November 2010.

Although strange, unsettling and desperate, the situation of the two ‘presidents’ at the head of the same Côte d’Ivoire is not simply the reproduction of a situation already seen in October 2000. The current situation is the immediate consequence of the failure of various efforts to politically neutralise Ouattara, implemented by men and political parties who, for the needs of the survival of their regime and to prolong their own presence at the head of the state, present themselves to Ivoirians dressed in the banner of red, white and blue. As with Bédié and Guei yesterday, Gbagbo today does not represent the interests of the hurting Ivorian people. He is neither anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist nor patriotic in the sense that to be patriotic means to defend national interests. An examination of Côte d’Ivoire’s economic development since 26 October 2000 is enough to realise this.

Even if Ouattara will not resolve all the problems facing Ivoirians as his campaign slogan leaves one to believe, at the least – hope the Ivoirian masses who still believe in a true democracy – his rule will establish the permanent collapse of chauvinism draped in the coat of patriotism, otherwise known as ‘Ivorité’, and a return to peace. The Ivoirian people undeniably aspire to freedom, justice, peace and bread. Ouattara is suggesting to them that they ‘live together’. It’s the belief in this campaign promise, but above all the aspiration to change which explains, for right or for wrong, the popular support he receives. The future will tell us if this support is justified. As for the real question of freedom, justice, peace and bread, the answer remains subject to the recovery of sovereignty and independence, the liquidation of the domination of the ruling classes and imperialist powers and the liquidation of the current semi-colonial state. In today’s conditions, neither Ouattara nor Gbagbo is capable of bringing an adequate response to this question.


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