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Proletarian issue 40 (Februrary 2011)
Ivory Coast fights back
Imperialism counts its chickens before they are hatched.
When the news broke over Christmas that imperialism was on the regime-change warpath in west Africa, it seemed likely that Alassane Ouattara, the man the West wanted to install as the new president of Ivory Coast, would be shuffled into place before the festive decorations were down, with the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo pushed quietly into exile. The opinion of the country’s own constitutional authorities would surely count for little when stacked up against the diktat of the ‘international community’.

Tipped the wink, the electoral commission jumped the gun to announce that November’s polls had delivered victory to former IMF man Ouattara and defeat to the existing president, ignoring the fact that ballot-rigging and intimidation had made a mockery of the poll in rebel-held northern areas. It seemed safe for the West to assume that the united chorus of former colonial masters, with France and the USA for the moment singing from the same songsheet, and backed up by the UN’s pliant Ban Ki-moon, would easily drown out any voice of resistance to this outrageous meddling in Ivory Coast’s sovereign affairs.

Even Britain’s own pipsqueak foreign secretary William Hague felt emboldened to pipe his support for an invasion if sanctioned by the UN, despite the continued drubbing being suffered by British troops at the hands of the Afghan resistance.

Yet, at the time of writing, the government of Ivory Coast, led by Laurent Gbagbo, has so far defied all imperialist expectations, refusing to succumb to pressure, despite threats of military invasion and economic blackmail, which continue to escalate. Nor has imperialist bullying proved entirely successful in isolating the country within Africa, as Angola has given support and Ghana has counselled against invasion.

It is a clear indication of the wide support President Gbagbo enjoys within his country that it has proved necessary to install his opponent Ouattara in a luxury hotel guarded by an unholy alliance of UN, French and northern rebel troops. Only within this compound, under the watchful eye of his colonial masters, is the wannabe ‘president’ able to play at assembling a shadow government composed of old comprador hands like Soro and Bedie, in between issuing ‘patriotic’ calls for his country to be invaded.

And perhaps the most telling indication that Laurent Gbagbo has in western eyes come to represent the biggest obstacle to his country’s colonial subjugation is the uncharacteristic willingness of Paris and Washington to subordinate their rival ambitions in Africa to their common concern to oust Gbagbo from office.

The truth about the elections

The truth that refuses to die, despite the campaign of demonisation against Gbagbo mounted throughout all the capitalist media (and echoed in many supposedly ‘left’ quarters), is that Ivory Coast is the victim of a cynical and brutal mugging by the ‘international community’, reinforced and sanitised by a corrupted and partial United Nations.

Ivory Coast found herself bounced into elections that could not possibly be ‘free and fair’, given the virtual civil-war conditions in which the nation has become mired, with large swathes of the north terrorised by rocket launcher-toting Ouattara supporters. The whole process was predictably marred from the outset by violence and vote-rigging. In a number of northern constituencies, the number of ballots counted actually exceeded the total population!

Gbagbo’s campaign manager had a robust answer for those who asked why his government had ever agreed to go ahead with elections under such conditions. He told them, “You can’t ask someone whose house is burgled why they moved into that neighbourhood.”

After years of pushing for elections under effective civil-war conditions, the West was hell-bent on getting the result they wanted – hence their scalded reaction when the country’s constitutional authorities refused to rubberstamp the bogus results prematurely released by members of the electoral commission, instead confirming Gbagbo’s continued presidency, subject to an internationally supervised recount of the disputed votes.

President Gbagbo has repeatedly called for an international investigation of the election involving all parties, including Russia and China, a proposal which has repeatedly been rejected. Once imperialism has made up its mind who it wants as the leader of somebody else’s country, it has no intention of confusing itself with mere facts.

Instead, imperialism has trampled on regardless, transforming the 9,000 UN ‘peace-keepers’ into an open instrument of imperialist coercion. In this, they are acting in concert with French colonial troops barracked on Ivorian soil since independence in 1961, whose ranks are now swollen by reinforcements and sanitised by the donning of blue helmets.

For its part, the EU has tried to incite the country’s armed forces to rebel against their head of state, so far with conspicuous lack of success. The World Bank has frozen loans to the country, whilst the Central Bank of West African States (controlled from Paris) has blocked the president’s access to the country’s funds, instead handing the keys of the safe to Ouattara.

Meanwhile, in a transparent attempt to present the attempted imperialist coup as the brainchild of the country’s African neighbours, the presidents of neo-colonial vassals Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde were bundled off to Ivory Coast to tell the president that, in the words of Benin’s foreign minister Jean Marie Ehouzou, “he must step down as quickly as possible or face legitimate military force”.

History of neo-colonial rule

The roots of this neo-colonial oppression go back to the early days of Ivory Coast’s formal political independence.

The temporary period of relative prosperity and stability that coincided with the comprador leadership of Houphouët-Boigny came to an end with the collapse of commodity prices in the 1970s. Ivory Coast descended into a spiral of indebtedness, structural adjustment, privatisation and intensified looting of its resources, not least its oil reserves.

Since then, the civil-war tensions that have dominated the suffering country in the first decade of this century, manipulated primarily by French imperialism in its drive to strengthen its neo-colonial grip upon the Francophone countries of the region, have continued to undermine the country’s economic and social development, leaving its people mired in an internecine conflict from which none but the bloodsuckers of the West can profit.

By its behaviour in recent years, especially since the presidency of Laurent Gbagbo commenced in 2000, French imperialism has made it clear that, if it can no longer secure its neo-colonial grip on a united Ivory Coast through the good offices of another trusted comprador stooge like Houphouët-Boigny, then it would rather risk breaking the country in two than losing hold of it altogether.

Whereas formerly, in the time of post-war boom, the neo-colonial master was content to allow Ivory Coast to retain enough control over some public services and agriculture to permit a degree of national economic development (so long as neither the imperialist looting of the country nor the nest-feathering of the local plutocrats was seriously impeded), this game ended once the crash in commodity prices threw the country onto the tender mercies of the World Bank and the IMF.

Whole sectors of the economy were then sold into private hands in the scramble to meet crucifying debt repayments. Indeed, behind all the present crocodile tears about the fate of Ivorian democracy lie much more prosaic concerns for imperialism – like which president, if any, is going to stump up the latest Eurobond payment?

Since Laurent Gbagbo took over the leadership in 2000, imperialism has played on regional rivalries in an effort to weaken the country’s independence. Every internationally brokered agreement, intended to reconcile the more prosperous, mainly hristian south and the rebellious, predominantly muslim north, has been set to nought by imperialist mischief-making.

Eager to use the northern rebellion as a lever to force the establishment of a fully comprador regime, imperialism did nothing to make Ouattara’s rebel forces disarm as agreed, meanwhile piling endless pressure on the Gbagbo government to press on with elections, despite the continuing civil war.

Whatever grievances the north might legitimately entertain against the south, Ouattara’s long track record of service to imperialism, not least in his one-time deputy directorship of the IMF’s structural adjustment programme, make it clear enough whose interests he really serves – not those of a united and free Ivorian people.

By contrast, Gbagbo’s record (including a period of imprisonment for resistance to Houphouët-Boigny’s comprador rule, a long association with leftist parties and now a strong advocacy of his country’s sovereign rights) does not endear him to the would-be king-makers of the ‘international community’.

France and USA: allies and rivals

The behaviour of French imperialism in particular has increasingly regressed in this period of crisis from neo-colonial deal-making to straightforward colonial intervention, most notably in 2004 when French forces destroyed two planes and five helicopters belonging to the government and seized control of Abidjan airport.

Such reversion to brutal type rapidly brought in its wake evil consequences for the would-be colonial masters, however, as enraged Ivorian patriots turned their wrath on French settlers, forcing them into a hasty helicopter departure from their own rooftops that invited uneasy parallels with the US flight from Saigon.

The apparent readiness of the White House to duck behind the Elysée palace in the current criminal adventure, despite obvious imperialist rivalries over access to African resources and markets, suggests two things.

One, that Uncle Sam, once so cocksure of the lessons he could teach the old colonial powers about how to dominate the post-colonial world, is now so badly demoralised by economic crisis and military humiliation that he is reduced, for the moment, to tucking in behind the old Gallic colonial tradition he so despises.

Two, that what neither Paris nor Washington can stomach is the prospect of seeing the imperialist project of recolonising Africa shoved fatally off-course by the appearance on the scene of other trading partners like Russia and, most significantly, China.

The discovery of off-shore oil reserves in Ivorian waters, so far from signalling an end to the economic woes of an Ivory Coast largely tied to cocoa production, has merely raised the stakes for rival European and US exploiters eager to monopolise the market, further heating up the civil-war tensions besetting the beleaguered nation.

However, there are signs now that other players are entering the market. Russia’s second-largest oil company, Lukoil, in September reported to have pledged investment of $780m in oil exploration activities in Ivory Coast and Ghana, in the expectation that Africa holds greater reserves than Russia.

Worse yet in imperialist – especially US – eyes have been indications from President Gbagbo that he views friendship and trade deals with socialist China as a better alternative to reliance upon the West. The ongoing tussle between Exxon and the Chinese CNOOC over crucial deep-sea reserves off the shores of Ivory Coast’s southerly neighbour Ghana is a reminder of the nightmare prospect for Washington of seeing former comprador states in the region forming non-exploitative trade and diplomatic alliances with socialist China.

Solidarity with the resistance

We salute the courage of Ivory Coast in resisting the efforts of imperialism to evade the consequences of its own economic crisis by turning the clock back and recolonising Africa. By standing in solidarity with the Ivorian national resistance, British workers will strengthen their own resistance to the class-war attacks being made against them at home.

We cannot predict what will be the outcome of the present stand-off between the sovereign people of Ivory Coast and the motley crew of imperialist exploiters and comprador stooges ranged against them. By promoting this would-be coup, western imperialists have made it plain that they would rather see Ivory Coast tortured by yet more years of civil war than tolerate the emergence of a united and independent country beyond its control.

Yet the strong anti-colonial popular sentiments unleashed by this unashamed bullying must sooner or later prove overwhelming. The heavier the rock imperialism picks up to crush its enemies, the more painful will prove the moment when it drops it upon its own feet. May this moment come soon.

Solidarity with the patriotic forces of Ivory Coast!

Hands off Africa!


> US moves to threaten Denounce the imperialist mugging of the Ivory Coast - Lalkar January 2011
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