Behind calls for intervention in Ivory Coast
Published Jan 5, 2011 4:05 PM
A dispute over a recent election in the West African state of Ivory Coast has
prompted calls by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for President Laurent
Gbagbo to step down. According to the U.N. head, the electoral commission has
determined that opposition leader Alassane Ouattara won the election.
This echoes the position of the U.S. State Department, which says that Gbagbo
must go and that Ouattara is the legitimate leader. The Economic Community of
West African States (ECOWAS) is reported to have threatened military
intervention in Ivory Coast if Gbagbo does not leave office.
These pronouncements and other actions, such as leveling sanctions against the
Gbagbo administration by freezing credit and bank accounts through the
international banking system, have emboldened Ouattara’s supporters
inside the country. In December a group of Ouattara supporters attempted to
seize control of the television station in Abidjan, but were repelled by
government forces, leaving at least 18 people dead.
Why have the U.N. and the Obama administration taken such an interest in
developments in Ivory Coast, a former French colony of 30 million people who
have been through civil unrest, a military coup and a civil war for at least a
decade? Why should Ivory Coast be viewed as a test case for Africa, the African
Union and ECOWAS, when similar developments in Mauritania, Guinea,
Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Madagascar and Kenya were not?
These economic sanctions, public vilifications and threats of invasion are
taking place without any serious efforts by the U.S. and France to reach a
diplomatic solution. Ivory Coast cannot be viewed in isolation from the overall
U.S. and French policy of increasing military involvement in West Africa under
the guise of the so-called “war on terrorism.”
Background of Ivorian crisis & breakdown of neocolonial rule
During the period of French colonialism as well as the first three decades of
its independence (1960-1990), Ivory Coast was promoted as a model of
imperialist rule. Even under colonialism, when the Rassemblement Democratique
Africain and its trade union counterpart, the Union Generale des Travailleurs
de l’Afrique Noire, engaged in militant, mass organizing, France in 1958
offered its colonies in West Africa to either formally accept a subservient
political role under France or strike out independently.
Only Guinea, under the leadership of the Democratic Party of Guinea headed by
Ahmed Sekou Toure, voted overwhelmingly to become an independent state. Guinea
would pay a severe price for its challenge to French imperialism, while Ivory
Coast under Felix Houphouet-Boigny was rewarded with capitalist investment and
Ivory Coast continued as an outpost of France, albeit with a facade of
independence. French author Guy de Lusignan in his book “French-Speaking
Africa Since Independence” gushed: “The Ivory Coast could not be
what it is today without the presence of a large body of Frenchmen, both in
administration and in private business. [President] Houphouet-Boigny and his
team have been policymakers of undeniable worth.”
The author continued, “They staked their all on big business and foreign
capital.” By 1964 Ivory Coast “was the largest African producer of
bananas (114,000 tons), of raw timber (1,450,000 tons), and of coffee (261,000
tons), making it the third largest producer of coffee in the world; in that
year its output of cocoa reached 98,000 tons, making it the fourth largest
cocoa producer in the world.”
After a sharp decline in cocoa prices and other agricultural commodities in
Western markets, Ivory Coast shifted to a more diversified economy. By the late
1960s, industrial production in the Ivory Coast expanded with the establishment
of light electrical plants, chemicals and oils, timber, textiles, building
materials and shoe factories.
This state of affairs served as an ideological challenge to revolutionary armed
struggles in other parts of Africa, as well as the socialist experiments in
Guinea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Angola, Mozambique, Congo-Brazzaville and
other states. The Western imperialists maintained that capitalism was the best
model for development in post-independence Africa.
However, during the early 1990s, severe problems within the French currency
zone had a tremendous impact on Ivory Coast, as well as other African states
aligned with Paris. Unrest, which was thought to have been crushed in the early
1960s, arose again.
By the end of the 1990s, a coup had brought the military to power and fomented
north-south political division of the country. An election in 2000 led to the
presidency of Gbagbo, while Ouattara, a northerner, was disqualified over
claims that he was not of Ivorian origin.
Increasing regional divisions in Ivory Coast had been a factor during the
mid-1990s, when the presence of a large immigrant population as well as the
country’s national diversity were deliberately politicized. Such
divisions helped create the conditions for civil war, which erupted in
The civil war further exacerbated national divisions. France, which deployed
its military forces during the war, was accused of supporting both sides in the
conflict. In 1995, under Gbagbo, Ivorian military forces bombed areas in the
rebel stronghold city of Bouake and killed nine French troops. France claimed
the attacks were deliberate, and has continued to hold the deaths of its
soldiers against Gbagbo.
ECOWAS forces intervened in the Ivory Coast in 2002, but were later replaced by
forces under U.N. control, which still remain. They claim their role is
strictly to monitor the movement of military units of both the central
government and rebel troops in the north. The threat of resumed military
conflict could lead to greater involvement in the internal affairs of Ivory
Coast by France and the U.S.
Military conflict & role of imperialism
The role of the U.S. in Africa has been growing, along with its reliance on oil
from the continent and the increasing presence of Pentagon forces in the
region. In West Africa the U.S. has developed partnerships with Mali, Ghana,
Morocco and other states in the so-called “war on terrorism.”
Washington, stung by revelations related to the release of classified military
documents and diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, has taken up the Ivorian crisis
as a major focus of its foreign policy in Africa. This conflict provides an
avenue for the State Department to re-emerge as a “legitimate
force” in purportedly resolving an African political crisis.
WikiLeaks diplomatic cables revealed that through successive U.S.
administrations, including that of President Barack Obama, the same imperialist
aims and objectives have determined the character of its foreign policy toward
Africa. Obama has increased funding for U.S. military operations there, and is
seeking to influence developments in Nigeria, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Somalia.
Therefore, U.S. imperialism is motivated to further penetrate the economic,
political and military affairs of the continent. The threatened intervention by
ECOWAS would inevitably translate into large-scale deployments of both Nigerian
and Ghanaian troops to Ivory Coast.
Such an intervention would require logistical support from the U.S. and France.
This would place the imperialists in a position to more closely monitor events
in Nigeria, which has its own political problems of regional and
intra-religious conflict, as well as Mali, Sudan and other states.
Nigeria, which has undergone an escalation in violence in its northern states
as well as in the oil-rich Niger Delta, is under severe U.S. pressure. Just
recently the U.S. forced the government to abandon a civil suit against
pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and a criminal complaint against former Vice
President Dick Cheney and his firm of Halliburton/KBR.
Anti-war and peace movements inside the United States must oppose any U.S.
effort to utilize the Ivorian crisis as an excuse to indirectly invade through
funding, coordinating or transporting ECOWAS troops there. Such a course of
action could spark even more bloodshed in West Africa.
The mediation efforts of former South African President Thabo Mbeki provide
some hope of resurrecting a political solution to the crisis. Why should Gbagbo
be given an ultimatum while other states in the region have been able to work
out internal problems through political intervention and negotiations?
The U.S. military presence, known as Africom, has over the last year conducted
large-scale maneuvers on the continent. War games have been conducted in West
Africa under the guise of enhancing the security capacity of African
In the Horn of Africa, U.S. imperialism is propping up the fragile and corrupt
Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu. Off the coast of Somalia, the
U.S. and the European Union are leading flotillas of warships under the guise
of fighting piracy.
Both the U.S. and France have military bases in the nation of Djibouti. The
U.S. presence in the region, WikiLeaks has confirmed, is at the root of one of
the worse humanitarian crises in the current period. In Somalia more than
200,000 people have died in the last four years and more than 2 million have
been displaced as a direct result of intervention by both the Bush and Obama
There is fundamentally no difference in U.S. imperialist policy under Obama.
The current administration has not only escalated U.S. military involvement in
Africa but has expanded the war in Afghanistan and spread it into neighboring
It has shielded members of the Bush administration from civil suits and
criminal prosecution by both domestic and international plaintiffs who have
fallen victim to U.S. war policy, as well as to corporate and official state
It is now targeting anti-war organizations at home with illegal searches and
seizures as well as subpoenas to appear before federal grand juries under
threat of prosecution and long-term prison sentences. The only
“crimes” carried out by these activists is to have spoken out
against U.S. foreign policy in Colombia and Palestine.
Anti-war and peace activists must look beyond Washington’s claims that it
is concerned about “good governance” in Africa when prominent U.S.
officials commit crimes and are then shielded from civil liability and criminal
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Email: [email protected]
Subscribe [email protected]
Support independent news DONATE