Cote d’Ivoire - Another Victim of Imperialism

The overthrow of Laurent Gbagbo by French and UN forces assisting the forces of his rival, Alassane Ouattara, is not the end of the agony for the Ivorian population. In the last few months alone thousands have been murdered, burned alive, raped and had their homes destroyed by the militias on both sides. Two million have become refugees either as “internally displaced persons” [IDPs] or by fleeing to Liberia or another of Cote d’Ivoire’s neighbours. And about half the country don’t accept that the new President is anything other than a French stooge. And who can argue with them since it was French forces (the so-called Operation Licorne (Unicorn) force) which basically get rid of Gbagbo. But this is nothing new in Ivorian history which is almost a text book example of Africa’s experience with imperialism.

Colonialism and Neo-colonialism

Lenin argued in “Imperialism - the Highest Stage of Capitalism” that the resistance of colonial peoples against imperialism would spell crisis for the capitalist system. After the Second World War nothing could have been further from the truth. Colonialism was gradually and reluctantly abandoned by powers like Britain and France who had been bankrupted by war but there was no general crisis of capitalism. Indeed the period of decolonisation coincided with the greatest boom in capitalist history.

The old imperialist nations, of course, did not always want to go quietly. The Portuguese fought bitterly to hold on to their African Empire (in wars that brought down a half century old dictatorship in Lisbon) until the 1970s. France was not far behind with its traumatic defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1953 outmatched only by the horrors of the Algerian War. The British reluctantly abandoned India in 1947 and fought brutally to suppress the Mau Mau in Kenya, but long before the end of the 1950s they realised that the colonial game was up. In the end however it turned out to be blessing for the old imperialist powers. Neocolonialism cut the military cost of imperialism without losing all of its benefits. By maintaining close ties with the new ruling class, training their elites (particularly their military), the old colonisers could maintain their access to the primary products on which their empires had relied.

Nowhere was this better exemplified than in the Ivory Coast/Cote d’Ivoire. Here Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who had even been a member of French Governments in the 1950s, seamlessly slipped into the role of Cote d’Ivoire’s first President with virtually no opposition in 1960. He was to remain in office until his death in 1993. A staunch supporter of France, he halved the size of the security forces to less than 2000, preferring to rely on French troops to keep him in power. And just in case this small army were to mutiny he built an underground tunnel from the Presidential Palace to the French Embassy. Significantly when his support from France dwindled, Laurent Gbagbo later bricked it up. In his thirty three year rule Houphouët-Boigny faithfully carried out the aims of French (and Western) foreign policy throughout Africa from Senegal to the Congo.

At first Cote d’Ivoire enjoyed a startling economic growth (in double digits in the 1960s) by allowing in foreign capital which could repatriate 90% of its profits. This produced “growth without development” since little was re-invested. Although it has some oil and natural gas as well as gold production, the country largely remained an agricultural exporter of commodities whose prices were set in the markets of Europe and the US. Nevertheless Cote d’Ivoire was the most successful economy in West Africa. In this period Africans from outside Cote d’Ivoire (largely from what is now Burkina Faso) migrated to the coffee and cocoa plantations. But in 1978 world commodity prices tumbled as a result of the impact of the global slowdown in the world economy. The Ivorian economy nosedived and the number living in absolute poverty rose from 11% in 1978 to 31% in 1993. At the same time Houphouët-Boigny had accumulated a personal fortune calculated to be some $11 billion. Small wonder that in 1990 riots broke out against “the Sage of Africa”, who now became “thief Boigny” and “corrupt Boigny”. The army also mutinied twice in the space of two years. With the old USSR gone, African dictators were no longer useful as bulwarks against communism by the West so even a loyal servant like Houphouët-Boigny was forced to dissolve the one party state and begin the process of democratisation. One of those who had made himself conspicuous in the fight for democracy was a university union leader called Laurent Gbagbo. He was the first person to stand, and lose, against Houphouët-Boigny in 1990. And Houphouët-Boigny’s Prime Minister at the time of his death in 1993 was Alassane Ouattara …

The Roots of the Crisis

The press make much of the fact that Gbagbo is from the Christian South and Ouattara is from the Muslim north but the real social divide is over the declining economy and, behind that, the question of land ownership. The richest plantations are in the South and in the boom years migrants from the North (as well as Muslims from other states like Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia and Mali) have come to work the land, often tending previously uncultivated plots for which they have no legal claim. About a quarter of Cote d’Ivoire’s population is made of these recent migrants. This was exploited by the rulers who followed Houphouët-Boigny, like Henri Konan Bédié who deliberately provoked ethnic tensions and proclaimed a policy of “Ivoirité” which prevented the migrants from registering as citizens. Without an identity card you cannot gain access to anything, and are subject to constant harassment by the police. The policy was also used to exclude Ouattara from standing for President on the grounds that his father was a Burkinabé but it also disenfranchised thousands in the north of the country.

In 1999 General Robert Guéi seized power but the following year Gbagbo ousted him after another disputed election. Being a member of the Socialist International (just like Hosni Mubarak and Zinedine Ben Ali), and close to Lionel Jospin, he received French support at this point. However the continued ban on Ouattara from standing in the election led to more serious fighting and the country descended into civil war. In the north another rebel force the Forces Nouvelles (FN) took over in 2002 and the country was divided. Gbagbo accepted this in a power-sharing agreement signed in Paris in 2003 but in 2004 he violated it and attacked the north. In the course of this attempted move against the FN he killed 9 French troops. Chirac, the French President, sent in more troops who destroyed the Ivorian air force and called for UN intervention. The UN now deployed 11,000 troops (UNOCI) to halt the massacres. Gbagbo was not only forced to sign a ceasefire (2004) but to accept the leader of the FN, Guillaume Soro, as the Prime Minister. In practice this continued the de facto partition of the country where the FN became totally parasitic on the northern population whilst Gbagbo’s Jeunes Patriotes (in reality death squads) terrorised anyone of the wrong ethnicity in the South.

However the economic decline which had started in the 1970s gathered pace. The largest producer of cocoa in the world accounting for 40% of world production and selling to Mars, Kraft and Nestle etc found that its production was disrupted by both sides. It has been calculated that $112 million was extorted by both the FN and Gbagbo during the civil war. Ivory Coast sank from 156th place on the UN Human Development Index in 2002 to 163 in 2004. All this was a disaster for the local population but it was also not in the interests of the Western powers either. They wanted a restoration of a unified and stable country to better easily extract its raw materials particularly from the $1.2 billion cocoa industry.

The Fall of Gbagbo

For five years the French put pressure on Gbabgo to hold fresh elections, five times he postponed them. Only at the end of 2010 and under enormous French pressure did he finally agree to call new ones. He actually garnered the most votes in the first round of the UN-supervised elections but in the run off (and with other northern candidates eliminated) Ouattara took 54% of the vote to his 46%. The subsequent action of the French and the UN have done more than underline the accusation voiced by the Gbagbo camp that the election result had also been rigged. There are no heroes in this tale. Within Cote d’Ivoire this is an inter-bourgeois faction fight with the usual African mixture of religious and ethnic tribal rivalries. The artificial state boundaries (often just lines on a map) created by colonialism have fostered such conflicts across the continent. And, as the state has become the major source of patronage through which to control the country, the battles to seize power have become zero sum games. This has made a nonsense of the schemes of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) set up by the African Union in 2001. The brainchild of South Africa’s pro-Western ex-President Thabo Mbeki, the idea is that good governance and economic liberalisation along the “Washington consensus” will solve Africa’s economic and social problems. Ouattara, a former IMF top official, married to a French woman in a ceremony by Nicholas Sarkozy when he was Mayor of Neuilly, has all the credentials to be the West’s man in Cote d’Ivoire.

In order to assist their protégé the French deny that they actually ousted Gbagbo, but as it took place in the middle of the night, and as Sarkozy phoned Ouattara within minutes of the arrest of Gbagbo, you can draw your own conclusions. In truth we are seeing in Africa (both North and West) a greater readiness of Western powers to take military action. This is largely a result of increasing Chinese influence in Africa as they try to secure the same raw materials for their expanding production that previously went to the West. And as both Libya and Cote d’Ivoire show they are increasingly using the UN Security Council to legitimise their actions under the bogus cry of “humanitarian intervention”. Once they get a resolution from the Security Council (with Russia and China abstaining to keep their own imperialist options open) they interpret it how they like. Whilst UN Security Council resolution 1975 authorised the protection of (primarily the 12,000 French) civilians it did not authorise the placing of UNOCI’s heavy weapons alongside those of France to assist Ouattara and the FN to attack the Presidential palace. But once Ban Ki-moon told them they could use “all necessary means” to stop Gbagbo’s troops this gave the go-ahead for an all-out onslaught. All these months no effort has been made to spare the innocent civilians of Abidjan from the horrifically murderous activities of the militias of both sides. The “peacekeepers” were too busy focusing on their real target - the removal of Gbagbo.

A Fraught Future

The agony for Ivorians is not over. Even if the IMF comes in with emergency money to pay civil service wages, even if the sanctions against the country are lifted immediately so that it can sell its principal exports (cocoa prices went down as soon as Gbagbo was arrested on the assumption that all will return to normal) the scars of the conflict remain. Politically Ouattara has to convince the southern tribes that he will not exclude them from the system. Western advice pouring from the opinion columns of the papers tells him to appoint a southerner as Prime Minister. Ouattara has southern allies. However the issue is not so simple. He arrived in power with the help of the Forces Nouvelles and their leader is the current Prime Minister Guillaume Soro. Their militia is many times the size of the army. To ditch him now could split the alliance that brought him to power.

Worse is the social mess that the wars of the last decade or so have created. With hundreds of thousands of what the UN calls IDPs the land problem has got worse. Those who fled had their land occupied by new people coming from elsewhere. Returning they find they have to fight for it. This creates a thousand conflicts at local level amongst desperate people. The Ouattara regime will, like Houphouët-Boigny in 1960, be hoping that the French and the UN will remain to help re-establish “order” but Sarkozy has an election coming up. Dare he keep French troops on the ground in what might become another long drawn out conflict? Such are the dilemmas of modern imperialism. Humanity and humanitarianism does not enter into it.



The devastation the many african states continues daily and attention is rightly given to Cote Ivoire.

Within africa, all countries depend on each other. Not a single corner on the continent that is now under the heel of the capital, no country within this continent produces everything it needs.

Competition between capitalist countries and republics within africa, leads ultimately to a policy of conquest and war, so why cannot competition be peaceful?

As Bukharin notes 'When two manufacturers are competing, they are not engaged in a peaceful tussle, but jump on each other knife in hand...'

As the article above notes the painful colonial and post colonial history of the country, with little or no sign of increased revolutionary communist activity as Gagnon puts it:

'the decisive importance of propaganda is irrefutable. Its role is to uncover, on the basis of the current struggles of the working class and working people in general, the various contradictions between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, to relate these contradictions to the basic elements of the situation at the time, and out of this to draw necessary and useful lessons for more important, significant and decisive struggles.'

We look therefore to radicalised proletarian propagandising group to begin this task, away from the tools of capatalist barbarism and war that have devastated this nation and cost the lives of millions of africans.

We reach out in support and to encourage the working class of Cote Ivoire who through websites and resources provided by this organisation and others, know they do not struggle alone, who look towards international cooperation and send fraternal greetings to the revolutionary communist party of Cote Ivoire, perhaps the only radicalised (marxist-leninst) party within the country currently working in opposition to the slaughter and calling for communist revolution.

Dear comrade,

The PCR of Côte d'Ivoire is an ultra-stalinist, pro-albanian party. I don't see much hope there.


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