Behaving just like a gang of muggers, the “international community” of imperialist powers once more want to play the criminal game of “regime change”. This time the target of the bullies is the West African state of Ivory Coast.
The scene is familiar: elections are held, the incumbent head of state is declared elected by the country’s electoral authorities – but the declared result is not to the taste of imperialism, which favours the opposition candidate. The consequence? The United Nations dismisses the verdict of the country’s own Constitutional Council, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling on President Gbagbo to “step down and allow his elected successor to assume office without further interference”. The refusal to withdraw the 9,000 UN “peace-keepers” as requested by the government at a stroke transforms the blue helmets into an open instrument of imperialist coercion acting in concert with the permanent French garrison. 800 of these blue helmets defend the hotel from which the failed opposition candidate Ouattara heads up the coup attempt. For good measure the European Union incites the country’s armed forces to rebel against their president, giving succour to the rebels firing on government troops in Abidjan and Tievissou.
In cahoots with Washington, the EU imposes travel bans on the country’s head of state. The World Bank freezes loans to the country, whilst the Central Bank of West African States is prevailed upon to block the president’s access to the country’s funds, instead handing the keys of the safe to imperialism’s preferred candidate. Meanwhile, in an effort to present the attempted imperialist coup as the brainchild of the country’s African neighbours, the Presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde are bundled off to Ivory Coast to tell the president “that he must step down as quickly as possible or face legitimate military force.”
Imperialism’s phony concern over elections
The legitimacy or otherwise of elections is of no interest whatever to imperialism, happy enough propping up undemocratic feudal relics like the Saudi regime so long as they dance to the imperialist tune, or organising sham elections at gunpoint in Afghanistan and Iraq. The problem only arises when it is feared that the outcome of an election might stiffen the national backbone, making it harder for the interests of imperialism to prevail over those of the sovereign nation. For example, the spirited defence of national independence associated with the continued electoral success of ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe and of President Ahmadinejad’s government in Iran is what triggers the vicious campaign of destabilisation orchestrated by the West, not any high-minded attachment to democratic ideals.
It would seem from the scalded reaction to Laurent Gbagbo’s November re-election, a reaction apparently shared by every imperialist power on earth, that this former ambassador to the US no longer enjoys the trust of his former masters. Whilst none of the leading contenders for power emerges from decades of corrupted comprador politics smelling of roses, all having risen to prominence in the squabble for place and profit under conditions of neo-colonial exploitation, it is clear from this unwonted imperialist unity that there is a good deal more riding on the present stand-off than personal ambition alone. All progressive opinion will speak with one voice against this flagrant attack upon the sovereignty of Ivory Coast.
How imperialism ‘helps’ the Ivory Coast
Just as the old colonial oppressors used to piously beat their breasts over having to bear the “white man’s burden”, fulfilling their historical destiny by leading the benighted blacks towards the light of civilisation, today’s neo-colonial busybodies would have us believe that all the troubles of countries like Ivory Coast spring from African backwardness – bad governance, corruption, greed, tribalism etc – which the long-suffering “international community” tries so terribly hard to overcome.
Whilst few now dare defend the genocidal record of open colonial oppression, so irreversible has been the anti-colonial tide unleashed by October 1917, the same old self-serving racist assumptions lie undisturbed beneath the neo-colonial surface. Yet a glance at Ivory Coast’s history since independence in 1960 should convince any honest observer that, so far from being the antidote to that country’s post-colonial problems, continued imperialist meddling has been their cause.
An article in this journal published in 2007 explains the way in which the government was able to arrange matters so that continued neo-colonial subjection to France could be combined with a degree of national economic development, with ample scope for profit-taking by the comprador elite at the helm.
“At the time, under the one-party government rule of the Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast (PDCI) led by an old collaborator with French imperialism, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a canny person of more or less social-democratic persuasion, the Ivorian ruling class was able to negotiate with the French the right for Ivorians to retain control of a fair proportion of the economy, including public services and vast amounts of agrarian production, most of which technically belonged to the Ivorian state. As a result, while French multinationals were accorded plenty of juicy concessions at very low cost, enough was left for the Ivorian ruling class to be able to develop the country and its economy for their own benefit and even, to a limited extent, for the benefit of the masses of the people. The government was able through the sale of agricultural produce in particular (mainly coffee and cocoa) to generate the income to upgrade roads, improve communications and raise the educational level of the masses. It also set up very many local production units (factories) to try to ensure that it did not become import-dependent, producing not only consumer goods but also ‘intermediate’ goods, i.e., commodities used in the production of consumer goods, such as textiles and chemicals.”
This sweetheart arrangement persisted for the best part of forty years, permitting a degree of national development alongside the enrichment of the kleptocratic elite but all the time preserving France’s neo-colonial sway, so rendering the country vulnerable when the next wave of world capitalist crisis hit – as it did towards the end of the ‘70s. The price of its major export commodities, cocoa and coffee, plunged, coincident with a rise in fuel prices and interest rates. In order to go on funding infrastructural development, the economy needed to sweat maximum profit out of the narrow export regime to which neo-colonial policy had kept agriculture tied. However with the price of cocoa down through the floor this could only be done by depressing the wages of rural workers. Yet how was home industry to continue developing if the commodities it produced could not be absorbed by poverty-stricken rural workers? Exposed in this way to the rigors of the overproduction crisis, the economy fell easy prey to inflation and unemployment. All the while the comprador elite continued feathering their own nest, whilst the tree on which that nest sat rocked harder and harder. Between 1981 and 1984 agricultural GDP fell by 12.2% and industrial by 33%; after a brief respite in 1984-86, the overall GDP sank another 5.8%, with coffee exports alone plunging by 62%.
From this dire emergency, itself the result of the failure to challenge France’s neo-colonial grip post independence, the philanthropists of world capitalism offered to “rescue” the country – by twisting the neo-colonial knife in harder. All the most flourishing sectors of the economy were privatised and grabbed by France, in return for which sacrifice Ivory Coast was permitted to run up unpayable debts with the World Bank. The growing importance of oil production in the ‘90s and beyond, far from strengthening national development, rather hastened national disintegration as it made the country’s resources a yet more attractive target for imperialist exploitation whilst multiplying the opportunities for ethnic, regional and confessional division.
Imperialism’s present to the Ivory Coast: Civil War
In Houphouët-Boigny’s honeymoon years of economic expansion, a shortage of labour had begun pulling in a lot of migrant workers from Burkina Faso and elsewhere, so that by the late ‘90s they totalled over a quarter of the population. Right from the start, whilst happy to exploit this labour, the elite also made effective use of this circumstance to spread division in the masses. Amongst Houphouët-Boigny’s successors, witch hunts were launched against rivals who could not prove a “pure” Ivorian blood-line back to their grand-parents. Tensions also grew between the predominantly Christian and better-resourced south and the predominantly Muslim north. When economic crisis had sufficiently destabilised the country, it was around this north-south divide that civil war raged between 2002 and 2007 and threatens to re-ignite today – with the active participation of both French imperialism (as in 2004 when the French military bombed Ivorian planes and slew over 50 demonstrators), UN troops, and whatever proxies imperialism can prevail upon to help undermine the country’s sovereignty.
The manner in which the jackals of international monopoly capital pretend to be helping Ivory Coast heal the wounds of civil strife, whilst intensifying the very exploitation from which those divisions spring, outrages all civilised opinion. It is not in essence the backwardness of Africa which condemns the masses to such repeated tragedies, but the degeneracy of imperialism.
Hands off the Ivory Coast!