Ivory Coast: Behind the post-election political crisis and threat of military intervention

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Ivorians protest against food price increases in 2008.

By Peluola Adewale

Jannuary 5, 2011 -- Democratic Socialist Movement (Nigeria) -- That the November 28, 2010, run-off election in the Ivory Coast has produced two presidents – Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo – is not a surprise, though working people had expected the election to usher a return of peace. The country has been divided into two since the 2002 coup attempt and subsequent rebellion, with each half effectively having its own de facto government. The north is controlled by rebels, Forces Nouvelles (New Forces), while the south is under Gbagbo with the support of the armed forces and youth militia. Therefore, on this account and with the ethnocentric sentiment that has characterised Ivorian politics in the last two decades, it is natural that the results of the election from either half would be bitterly disputed by the party declared the loser of the contest.

The electoral commission declared Ouattara, a northerner and a former prime minister under dictator Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the winner of the election, while a few hours later the Constitutional Court, reportedly headed by a strong ally of Gbagbo, cancelled some votes in the north citing electoral fraud and handed victory to Gbagbo. The international observers said while there were some cases of irregularities across the country, the election was broadly free and fair and that Ouattara won.

On its part, the United Nations mission, which by the terms of the peace accord that set in motion the electoral process is mandated to certify the conduct and outcome of the election, endorsed the victory of Ouattara. Both men have claimed to be president and appointed separate cabinets, while the post-election crisis has already claimed about 173 lives and driven about 20,000, mostly women and children, into refugee camps in Liberia. There is also an allegation by the United Nations of the existence of two mass graves of those killed by Gbagbo's supporters. This has been denied by the Gbagbo's camp

`International community'

The "international community"( the euphemism for Western imperialism); France, the former colonial ruler with massive economic interests in Ivory Coast; the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have mounted sustained pressure on Gbagbo to accept the verdict of the electoral commission and step down as president. The United States and the European Union have imposed a travel ban on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank and the regional West African central bank have frozen his finances in an attempt to weaken his grip on power. Indeed, the leaders of ECOWAS countries, the immediate neighbours of Ivory Coast, have threatened to use "legitimate force" should Gbagbo refuse to relinquish power, something that has not been ruled out by the US and British governments. A few days before ECOWAS announced the possibility of option of force, William Fitzgerald (Deputy Assistant US Secretary of State for African Affairs) had given the hint. He said, "Is there the option of destabilization and sending in a stabilization force? Of course, all options are open, but probably not an American force. It may be an African force" (Bloomberg, December 21, 2010).

However the "international community's" concern for democratic elections is entirely hypocritical. Look at the silence over the massive rigging of Egypt's recent parliamentary elections, let alone the mild criticism of the Nigeria's 2007 election fraud. Imperialism only shouts about election rigging when the "wrong" candidate wins or when it fears the fraud will provoke popular unrest.


So far, Gbagbo has refused to budge and remained defiant to all the pressures and threats. He has continued to whip up nationalist sentiment against the "international plot" to remove him. This has found an echo and support among a section of Ivorian population that has long bought into the principle of "Ivoirite" – the state of being a "true" Ivorian – readily played up by successive sections of the ruling elite in power since 1993 as a means to maintain power and access to loot in the face of socioeconomic hardship. This xenophobic frenzy was not invented by Gbagbo but he has found it useful to preserve himself in power. It was originally devised by Henri Konan Bédié in a previous power struggle with Ouattara over who would to succeed their co-master, Houphouet-Boigny, after he had died in late 1993 after over three decades in office. This was no principled struggle, it was over who would be in a position to make fortune out of the privatisation of public enterprises and cuts in social spending. Before Houphouet-Boigny's death Bédié had been president of the National Assembly while Ouattara had been prime minister.

Bédié's "Ivoirite" policy meant that anybody with one or two parents who were not Ivorian is not eligible to hold political office and enjoy some social rights including ownership of land. This divisive concept has marginalised most people of northern origin, with whom most economic immigrants from neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger share a similar ethnic background. It was able to strike a chord with most Ivorians at a period when the decline in West Africa's once most prosperous economy had reached a head. Hence, it was easy for the ruling elites to make immigrants, who constitute about 30% of the population, scapegoats for the economic woes inflicted by the capitalist crisis.

'Young Patriots'

Together with the army, Gbagbo has at his disposal a youth militia known as "Young Patriots", who are mostly unemployed youths mobilised by "Ivoirite" and morbid nationalism, whom he readily deploys against threats to his leadership. According to the World Bank more than 4 million young men out of the population of about 20 million are unemployed. This is a veritable reservoir of political tools for the self-serving ruling elite. The "Young Patriots", whose leader, Charles Blé Goudé, is a minister in Gbagbo's cabinet, were central to the attacks on the French and white populations in 2004 after the French military destroyed the Ivory Coast Air Force in retaliation for the bombing of a French base in the north which killed nine French soldiers and an American. They are also against the influx of northerners and immigrants, who provide cheap labour and are accused of taking the few available jobs in the south, especially Abidjan, from the original inhabitants. As they did in 2002 after the outbreak of the rebellion, the Young Patriots have been involved in the attacks on northerners since the post-election crisis has broken out.

The "Young Patriots" style themselves as anti-neocolonialists, especially against the French, who firmly control the Ivorian economy as most companies and ports are French owned, and are allegedly out to remove Gbagbo in order to maintain the country as a client state. However, the assaults on northerners and immigrants reveal the "Young Patriots" as being used for xenophobic and ethnic jingoist attacks.

Gbagbo and French imperialism

Gbagbo has never been the first choice of the French imperialism for the leadership of its flagship outpost in Africa. Gbagbo, with a radical background, was at the centre of protests against the one-party "democracy" of Houphouet-Boigny. He ruled the country as his personal fiefdom and made it the goldmine of French exploiters and fortune hunters. Houphouet-Boigny's regime enjoyed unflinching support from Western imperialism since it was good enough for their economic interests and also an instrument against radical and pro-Moscow leaders in Africa in the period of the Cold War. There were reports, for instance, that Houphouet-Boigny played a central role in the removal of Kwame Nkrummah in Ghana and Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso.

After the legalisation of opposition parties Gbagbo was the only opposition leader bold enough to stand up and contest the first -ever presidential election in 1990 against the political juggernaut of Houphouet-Boigny. Ten years later, Gbagbo was indeed ushered into power by mass uprising that swept away the then military dictator, Robert Guei, who had refused to concede defeat in the 2000 presidential election widely believed to have been won by Gbagbo.

Then, in the face of popular support, French imperialism did not have any choice but to accommodate Gbagbo, dropping its earlier call for fresh elections on account of the Supreme Court's exclusion of Ouattara from the ballot on the grounds that he was not Ivorian. But Gbagbo was not a threat to the vast economic interests of the French ruling elite. However despite all the present anti-French imperialism grandstanding of Gbagbo, as a contributor in the Guardian (London), Pierre Haski, revealed, “throughout Gbagbo's 10 years in power, French businesses landed the biggest contracts: Total for oil exploration, Bolloré for the management of Abidjan’s harbour, Bouygues for telecoms” (January 5, 2011). Besides, Gbagbo indeed runs the country on the basis of capitalist neoliberal economic agenda and in 2001 signed a monitoring program that submits the economy to the dictates of IMF. Nevertheless, Gbagbo's relationship with Paris became strained as a result of the 2004 bombing incident, which also reinforced the suspicion of the Gbagbo camp that France had a hand in the largely northern-based rebellion that broke out in 2002.

However, it was the French forces that helped repel the advance of the rebels to the south when it appeared they were strong enough to overrun the country and also facilitated the 2002 ceasefire. The French apparently had to do this in order to safeguard their businesses, which are mostly in the south.

It was a French military base kept as a part of buffer zone in the north after the cease-fire accord that was bombed by Ivorian forces in 2004 who claimed the action was a mistake. Previouly Houphouet-Boigny through a defence pact signed in 1961 had reduced Côte d'Ivoire to a military outpost of France and allowed the retention of a French military presence, with the 43rd Marine Infantry Battalion stationed in Port Bouet on the southern outskirts of Abidjan.

Political crisis – excuse for further attacks on the working people

No doubt, the political crisis occasioned by the civil war has had an adverse effect on economy and livelihood of ordinary people particularly in the north where access to social services like education, health care and electricity have also broken down. The crisis has however provided the excuse for Gbagbo to unleash attacks on ordinary people, workers and farmers, while the access to loot by the ruling elite in Gbagbo camp has been seamless. The only exception is the resources like gold and diamonds in the northern part of the country which are now cash cows for the rebels. Even though there has been international embargo on the sales of diamonds, there are viable outlets for smuggling. The exports of cocoa and other cash crops like coffee mostly from the south have not been fundamentally affected. Besides, the earnings from the export of crude oil rose dramatically in the period of the global oil boom and were only slowed down last year by the global economic recession. Indeed, over the period the revenue from crude oil, which is located offshore and therefore not threatened by rebellion or political crisis, surpassed that of cocoa. There have been widely published cases and reports of financial scandals involving top government officials, especially around revenue from cocoa. As in most African countries there have been no independent audits of cocoa and oil sectors.

The economic policy of the government is designed only to oil the engine of the government and privileges of its functionaries while the ordinary people are put at the back queuing for the crumbs. In order to reserve adequate money for the elements in government, social services and living condition of workers have deteriorated not only in the north but also in the south due to poor funding and neo-liberal attacks. Public expenditure on health as a proportion of GDP is said to be the third lowest in sub-Sahara Africa. The government also squeezes cocoa farmers to boost revenue. According to World Bank figures from 2008, the Ivorian farmers get only 40% of world market prices, in comparison to 65% in Ghana or 85% in Nigeria. A huge proportion of Ivorian farmers, despite being the live wire of the economy, are among the poorest in the country. They had to rely on child labour to reduce the cost of production of cocoa and make something out of the sales.

Fightback by the working people

Of course, there have been fightbacks against the attacks with strikes by workers in different sectors like health, education and local government, especially between November and December 2009. All this has been met with repression by the government with arrests and detention of worker activists, some of whom were arraigned in court and handed suspended sentences. Also in private sector, the workers have not folded their arms. The dock workers and truck drivers went on separate strikes in 2009. Thousands of dock workers braved the repressive measures of their private employers, who invited armed police, and sustained the action for two weeks between June 2 and 17, 2009. There were also different mass protests against an official hike in fuel prices and the increase in food prices in 2008. The farmers also went on strike in 2004 and 2006 to demand decent share in the price of cocoa.

It is clear that the different sections of the working people are ready to struggle for a better deal from the thieving and repressive ruling elites. A taxi driver, Yacouba Fandio, for instance, in Abidjan told IRIN (United Nation news agency) that he, like many people in the city, was interested in taking part in protests but had not done so far. "Many times we hear that a protest will take place against the cost of living but it has been called off at the last minute. Next time a demo is called, the turn out will be so huge (the government) will have to listen", he said (IRIN, March 31, 2008). Unfortunately, there was no viable trade union federation that could harmonise the angers of workers and ordinary people and organise a general strike and mass protest.

Blue-eyed boy of imperialism

However, there is no hope of a better deal for the ordinary Ivorians from the alternatives available at present in the person of Ouattara, a blue-eyed boy of imperialism. One does not need a crystal ball to conclude that Houphouët-Boigny's former prime minister, who later became the deputy managing director of IMF, will run the country according to dictates of world imperialism.

Already, the Ivory Coast has been enlisted in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative program of the World Bank and IMF, as a step towards getting relief from debt burden it was largely plunged into by the archetypal pro-imperialist government of Houphouët-Boigny. This means that the country has to service its debt and implement harsh economic policies of structural adjustment or capitalist neoliberalism, as dictated by the IMF and World Bank, to be eligible for relief. No doubt, Ouattara will not blink from unleashing such neoliberal attacks on the working people. He is an old war horse of imperialism. It should be recalled that he was seconded to help Houphouet-Boigny impose and implement austerity measures and structural adjustment programs in early 1990s. To him, neoliberalism, which has proved to be a nostrum for development particularly in Africa, is the medicine for economic ailments. However, the Ivory Coast reached what is called the decision point of HIPC in March 2009 meaning that Gbagbo has not done badly in implementing the World Bank and IMF dictated neoliberal attacks. The IMF asked Gbagbo to fast track the "reforms" towards HIPC completion point. No doubt, Ouattara, a true-blue IMF agent, will do better than Gbagbo.

It is no secret that Western imperialism, particularly France, has vested economic interests in the Ivory Coast. France for instance has some 500 businesses that dominate important sectors of the economy. The country is the largest producer of cocoa, which is used for chocolate, accounting for 40% of the global output. It is also a major exporter of coffee and timber, while there has been increase in its crude oil production. There are also deposits of gold and diamonds in the north. There is also a report, credited to the International Commission of Enquiry on the allegations of violations of human rights in the Ivory Coast between September 19 and October 15, 2004, of the discovery of oil reserves which could make the country the second- or third-largest African producer of crude oil. The commission also reported the discovery of huge gas deposits with reserves enough for a 100 years' exploitation.

To resume the full exploitation of the economy and resources of the country, it is in the interests of the imperialism for the current civil war to end. By their calculation, this could be achieved with Ouattara, who enjoys mass support in the north having come from the region and supported by the rebels whose leader, Guillaume Soro, he has appointed as the prime minister. He also appeals to some sections in the south as president. It is not impossible for Ouattara to have had huge votes from Baoules, the largest ethnic group in country which Houphouet-Boigny also hailed from, on account of ex-president Bédié who asked them to vote for him. Bédié, who came third in the first round of the presidential election, got most of his votes from Baoules who are mostly cocoa farmers and had some axe to grind with Gbagbo on account of their decreasing share of cocoa prices and his historical opposition to Houphouet-Boigny. Ouattara promised them that if he was elected president Bedie would be his "boss" and that he would immediately start governing from Yamoussoukro, until now the titular capital, which was Houphouet-Boigny's home town.

Spectre of war

So far, the pressure of Western imperialism and its proxy ECOWAS has not offered solution. It is not impossible for ECOWAS, on the prompting of Western imperialism, to make good its threat to use force to oust Gbagbo if all diplomatic means fail. This will no doubt raise the spectre of ethnic conflict among Ivorians and also endanger of the lives and properties of millions of African nationals from other countries, who will come under vicious attacks from the supporters of Gbagbo. The outbreak of war could trigger social unrest and tensions with Burkina Faso, which has about 3 million nationals in the Ivory Coast.

Already, Nigerians living in the Ivory Coast have warned Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan's government against any planned military intervention.

Besides, the Ivory Coast is not Sierra Leone, where ECOMOG ( the ECOWAS Monitoring Group, a military force) could easily remove a coup plotter from power. The Ivorian army, presently loyal to Gbagbo, is not a push over and the fervent nationalist sentiment among a section of the population would make it easy for Gbagbo to mobilise a good number youths, some already organised under the "Young Patriots", to take up arms against foreign forces and occupation. Gbagbo's popularity among some sections of the population in the south, for instance, rose after the France's attacks of 2004.

Labour, socialist and pro-working peoples' organisations in Nigeria and other countries in West Africa should begin to voice and plan mass actions against the planned military interference in the Ivorian crisis and also emphatically call for class unity among the working people and the poor of the Ivory Coast, irrespective of ethic backgrounds, faiths and nationalities.

Even, the "voluntary" exit of Gbagbo is not a guarantee for restoration of a lasting peace. Indeed, the resolution of the stalemate is not currently on the horizon. The option of a power-sharing "unity government" as obtained in similar circumstances in Kenya and Zimbabwe has, so far, been ruled out by the international community. The degeneration into a full-scale civil war with active involvement of foreign forces, both orthodox and mercenary, appears to be the next phase of the crisis. This will be a move from fire to hell, already seen in central Africa, for ordinary working people that have already been the worst hit by the years of capitalist neoliberal attacks and political crisis.

United workers' movement and democratically elected peoples' assembly

It is the unity and organisation of the working people that could stop this horror. With the strikes and mass protests against neoliberal attacks that working people have waged in the last few years, they have proved they could rise above ethnic and religious divides being exploited by the self-serving capitalist ruling elite and get united in fighting for their common interests for a better life.

The problem is that it appears there is no central working-class movement that could mobilise the mass of Ivorians, workers, farmers and artisans, against xenophobia, ethnic jingoism and war, and organise them as a formidable political movement that could wrest power from all the factions of the capitalist ruling elite, who have plunged the country into this abyss of economic and political crises. Hence, there is need for building a genuine united movement of the working people that could also challenge the grip of imperialism on the economy.

Radical trade unions leaders, left activists and socialists should immediately call a conference for the building of a united workers' movement that will unite workers, farmers and the poor of all ethnic and religious divides against xenophobia, Ivoirite and ethnic war, and mobilise a mass resistance against both ethnic and sectarian clashes and also the possible military intervention being considered by ECOWAS.

A movement like this could be the basis for the formation of a working peoples' party, with a socialist program. In opposition to the manoeuvres and struggles of the rival cliques, working people need their own alternative: the creation of a genuine peoples' assembly -- formed by elected representatives of workers, farmers, traders, professionals and ethnic nationalities -- that could form an interim government that would act in the interests of working people and the poor. Such a government would be able to conduct a really free, fresh election, without interference from the pro-capitalist UN, in which a working peoples' party could campaign on the basis of resistance to neoliberal capitalist programs and for a socialist alternative.

Workers, farmers and the poor have to realise that "Ivoirite" and xenophobia are products of the crisis of capitalism that beset the country in the 1990s, and has continued with the aggravation of socioeconomic problems by the anti-poor neoliberal capitalist agenda supported by all the factions of the ruling elite presently at war. Hence, whoever, Gbagbo or Ouattara, comes out victorious in this war for political power, workers and the poor in the Ivory Coast will discover that their living standards will not be fundamentally improved, if not get worse. This will definitely deepen the social discontent and may open possibilities for a mass struggle and search for alternative that could raise consciousness for socialist alternative in the country.

[This article first appeared on the website of Nigeria's Democratic Socialist Movement.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 01/14/2011 - 12:55


By Horace Campbell


2011-01-13, Issue 512 -- On October 31, 2010 the peoples of Cote d'Ivoire voted in the Presidential elections that had been postponed for five years. The results of this electoral contest showed that Laurent Gbagbo, the intellectual turned trade unionist and politician won the first round with about 35 percent of votes cast. Two other opposition leaders were runners up. Alassane Ouattara, the leader of the Rally of Republicans (RDR) and former Prime Minister, captured 32 percent of the votes cast. Ex-president Henri Konan Bedie, leader of the Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI), was in third place with about 25 percent. Because no candidate received an absolute majority of votes in the first round, a second round was held on November 28. When this second round of voting took place, Henri Bedie threw his electoral support behind Outtara and so the Presidential candidate of the RDR emerged the winner and was declared as such by the Independent Electoral Commission of Cote d’Ivoire. Observers from ECOWAS, independent groups in Africa, the African Union and the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) came to the same conclusion. The African Union and the United Nations recognized Ouattara as the winner of the election and since the standoff, the struggles for democratic participation in West Africa has dominated international news and discussions in many continents. These polarized discussions and the challenges of how to give meaning to the results as one expression of the will of the Ivorian people divided the peace and justice movements as the African Union imposed sanctions and declared that all means would be used to resist the illegitimate Presidency of Laurent Gbagbo.

Undoubtedly, the elections had been conducted in a society where the militarization of politics had increased after the death of Félix Houphouët- Boigny. Coups, armed rebellions and mercenary forces had become part of the political landscape with an equal round of peace negotiations and agreements for disarmament and the demobilization of rebel forces. Abidjan that had been the base of international organizations lost its luster as the African Development Bank relocated to Tunisia as lawlessness dominated the scene to the point where political leaders were complicit in the dumping of toxic waste in the middle of a working class neighborhood. Laurent Gbagbo, a veteran freedom fighter who was a leader of the opposition to the one party dictatorship of Félix Houphouët- Boigny, had come to power not only by winning a general election in 2000, but also through popular mass resistance against military dictatorship on an anti-imperialist program. However, once in power this same anti–imperialist embraced international capital to the point where the banking magazine named his finance minister, banker of the year in 2009. Flush with increased revenues from high cocoa prices and new fields of oil and gas, the elements around Gbagbo did not want to relinquish control over the national treasury so they rejected the November 28 election results as declared by the Independent Electoral Commission. Gbagbo swore himself in as President in early December. Ouattara was recognized as the legitimate President by the African Union and by the Security Council of the United Nations.

Our task is to lay out some of the democratic questions in the current struggles in the Cote d'Ivoire. The post-election stalemate in Côte d’Ivoire once again sharpens the demand by African peoples for democratic African societies devoid of leaders who have turned tools of anti-imperialism into tools for the oppression of their own people. From Zimbabwe to Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Ivory Coast, the peoples of Africa have grown impatient with leaders who were anti-imperialist heroes but once they entrenched themselves in power, they did not only become allies of the imperialists they had fought against, they become obstacles to the aspirations of their peoples, who yearn for freedom of movement, freedom of religious expression, gender equality, citizenship, peace, and human dignity. We advocate for a paradigm in which the aspirations and will of the people supersede the selfish interests of leaders and their imperialist accomplices; a paradigm in which neither the likes of Laurent Gbagbo nor Alassane Outtara would have the free rein to betray the mandate and aspirations of the people. This paradigm cannot be guaranteed by the manipulation of anti-imperialist sentiment against the democratic aspirations of citizens as we are currently witnessing in Cote d’Ivoire. In this piece, we also want to place the military question in a context where the use of ECOWAS military force should be entertained as the option of last resort to achieve the aspiration of the Ivorians, bearing in mind that it is the Gbagbo forces who have unleashed military force against the people. It is our proposition that the concentrated and prolonged struggles of the people place the future of democracy beyond the person of Ouattara. Therefore, from the outset our position in this progressive pan African piece differs with the view of the economist, Paul Collier who is calling for a military coup to oust Laurent Gbagbo.


After independence in 1960, Cote d'Ivoire became the cockpit of imperial machinations in West Africa for over 50 years Félix Houphouët-Boigny and his political organization allied with France to dominate the spaces of economic, social, political and cultural interactions. Boigny had matured from the class of rich cocoa plantation owners to enter politics during the dying days of colonialism. Prior to the decline of France in the wake of German occupation, the racism of France excluded even rich plantation owners from political spaces, so this exploiter of migrant workers made common cause with the working people by organizing the Syndicate Agricole Africain (SAA), a union that defended farm workers and planters’ interests. In 1945, Boigny rose to political prominence when he was elected as the Ivory Coast’s deputy to the French Constituent Assembly.

Riding on the wave of anti-colonialism immediately after WWII, Houphouet-Boigny used the base of the nationalist movement of the (SAA) to be a moving force in Côte d’Ivoire’s first independent political party, Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI). The PDCI became part of a larger network of French-speaking West African political parties, known as the Rassemblement Démoctratique Africain (RDA). Supported by the French, this RDA opposed Pan Africanism and undermined efforts aimed at transcending the Berlin borders and the divisions between Francophone and Anglophone Africa. This former supporter of the rights of agricultural workers supported French military oppression in Algeria and Vietnam and with this new orientation became a darling of the economic interests of France in West Africa. France identified Africa as the source as its contention to remain as an international force in the global economy and the domination of West Africa was key to the post war posture of the France to maintain a ‘sphere of influence.’ In the face of the militant nationalism of leaders such as Sekou Toure and Felix-Roland Moumie, the planter class in Côte d’Ivoire was identified as reliable allies for French imperial plans as France maintained troops in the ex-colonies in order to intervene to support the plunder of human and natural resources. With its principal allies in Abidjan, investments poured in from Western Europe and North America and the capital city of Abidjan became a hub for Air France and for anti-colonial planning in Africa. The very spatial organization of this growing urban space articulated the hierarchy of the apartheid conditions with Cocody reserved for Europeans, Plateau for the Lebanese traders and Treichville for the mass of African workers. City planning carried a clear French cultural identity with the public buildings and bridges given names of French leaders, with the bridge named after Charles de Gaulle holding pride of place in the developed infrastructure to ferry the rulers between places of exploitation and leisure.

Houphouet-Boigny was rewarded for his alliance with France against African nationalism in the tense period when France deployed troops across Africa. Before France was exposed for its alliance with the genocidaires in Rwanda, the mantra of France was that it was providing peace keeping for Africa. The real purpose of France in its multiple military interventions has been fully documented in the book France, Soldiers and Africa. These interventions postponed democratic transformations and supported the most conservative elements in Africa. These activities of France provide a cautionary tale to those who would support the logic of the US who have established AFRICOM to replace France as the dominant military force in the repression of the African poor.

French soldiers were garrisoned in Cote d’Ivoire and Boigny opted for a form of relationship with France that ensured that the French franc remained the currency, French teachers remained in the schools of the rich, French food dominated in the restaurants and French soldiers were deployed to defend the interests of France. It was easier to make a telephone call to Paris than to call a neighboring African society. French commercial companies ensured that bottled water was imported by running a poor water supply system. It was this kind of relationship that gave rise to the use of the term neo-colonialism to describe the connections between France and the West African former colonies after these societies became independent in 1960. During these years, the African ruling elite served as the conduit for the export of wealth accumulated from the sweat and brow of the working poor. In the process of taking their cut as junior partners in the chain of exploitation, French nationals poured in as the society was branded as a sea of stability and growth. It was in this period of increased foreign investments that the society became the number one cocoa producer in the world and millions of migrant workers were attracted into the society to work on cocoa, coffee and banana farms. By the end of the 20th century the children of these migrant workers from Liberia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Sierra Leone had contributed greatly to the increased wealth of the planters and the Lebanese merchants. As a planter himself, Boigny understood the importance of these workers for the wealth of the society and tolerated these workers as long as they did not become activists in trade union movements.

Accumulating a personal fortune that was estimated to be above $10 billion, Boigny supported an administration that oppressed workers at home while becoming the godfather of other oppressors such as Mobutu. Along with Mobutu, Boigny became a staunch ally of the apartheid regime in South Africa supporting dialogue with the apartheid leaders, when the African freedom fighters and the frontline societies were calling for increased sanctions. Jonas Savimbi found a base for his activities in this society and diamonds from Angola were mixed with diamonds from Sierra Leone as the buildings in Plateau changed character. With new sources of wealth, elements from within the ruling classes of this society became staunch anti-communist allies of France and the United States. These were the forces that benefited from the destabilization of West Africa and the assassination of Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso. Hence, from even before the death of Boigny in 1993, the ruling elements of this society that were the number one producer of cocoa was profiting from war and misery in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. During his last years as leader millions of scarce foreign exchange were spent on the building of the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, his home community. This was designated the largest cathedral outside of the Vatican, assigning a cultural and political identity for that section of the ruling elite who were members of the Roman Catholic Church.

Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa was like Kenya in East Africa. These were both societies where there were new social forces struggling for democratic rights against both one party dictatorships and intensified exploitation. During the Cold War these forms of repression enjoyed the support of imperial interests.


Laurent Gbagbo, leader of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) was from the educated elite who had joined the anti-dictatorial struggles in the society and earned his stripes as a freedom fighter. He was continuously imprisoned for fighting for the rights of workers during the one party dictatorship of the PDCI. Trained in the Sorbonne in Paris, Laurent Gbagbo and his party emerged as strong contenders for political change when the society was forced to break the stranglehold of the one party dictatorship. When Boigny joined the ancestors in 1993, Bedie who had been the finance Minister under the elder dictator quickly moved to consolidate control over the state resources by moving to disenfranchise workers in general and to exclude Ouattara from the political leadership. Abdul Lamin in his 2005 monograph, “The Conflict in Cote d’Ivoire: South Africa’s Diplomacy, and Prospects for Peace,” documented in detail the twists and turns of the ‘politics of exclusion’ and how this brand of politics became militarized after 1999. The central thrust of this exclusionary political direction was to disenfranchise large sections of the population who were the children and grandchildren of migrant workers. Ouattara was also a target of this exclusion. One of his parents had migrated from Burkina Faso although he himself had joined the ruling circles rising to become Prime Minister under Boigny. Xenophobia was buttressed by religious chauvinism as the opposition to the leadership of Ouattara was wrapped in religious garb. In 1995 President Bedie had disqualified Ouattara from the presidential race on the grounds that he was not a citizen even though less than three years earlier both men had served in the cabinet of Boigny. Ouattara was excluded on grounds of religion and citizenship and disqualification alienated many of the citizens from the North who followed the Islamic faith. This chauvinism and xenophobia was given currency as a cultural force under the label of Ivoirite (Ivorian-ness). In his monograph, Abdul Lamin outlined the mobilization of the spirit of Ivoirite which was then enacted into the legal statutes:

The controversial law, popularly known as Ivoirite, was specifically designed to exclude certain segments of the population from full participation in the political process. A key provision of the law restricted the eligibility requirements for candidates seeking the presidency of the country. According to the now-infamous article 35 of the national constitution, anyone seeking to run for the presidency must first show that they were born in Côte d’Ivoire to parents who were also born to Ivorian nationals. In other words, contrary to previous practice where citizenship was defined by birth within Ivorian territory, to at least one parent of Ivorian nationality, under the new law the conditions were much more stringent, excluding a vital segment of the population.

Lamin’s scholarship drew attention to the ways in which xenophobia at home merged with the militarization of the region so that the ruling elements were benefitting from the war in Liberia and Sierra Leone while fomenting hostility to refugees and the children of migrants. In 1996, Cote d’Ivoire was flooded with 350,000 Liberian refugees, who fled across the border after Charles Taylor began the war from the Ivory Coast in 1990. Regional militarism compounded the regional struggles for democracy. Outtara was the target of the internal struggles within the top echelons but by 1999 the popular opposition to these elements diminished this class of leaders and in December 1999 the military seized power. General Robert Guei emerged as the military leader and he intensified the chauvinism that had been fomented by the Bedie faction of the ruling elements.

It was in the midst of this militarization of the politics that Gbagbo emerged with his freedom fighting credentials and in the parliamentary elections of 2000 his party carried the most votes. A popular uprising elevated Laurent Gbagbo to the Presidency. Gbagbo and his Ivorian Popular Front benefited from both internal popular uprisings and the opposition of the African Union to military interventions. In 1999 the Constitutive Act of the African Union had been drafted and one of the first positions of the AU was opposition to military dictatorships. Thus, Gbabo benefited from both the internal and external pressures for democracy in Africa.

Once he was elevated to becoming the President in 2000 Gbagbo began to consolidate power and did not denounce the chauvinism that sought to exclude millions of Ivoirians from full citizenship rights. Military means of opposing Gbagbo became one option and a rebellion in the North broke out in 2002 when an armed group called the New Forces launched an uprising in the North. Cote d’Ivoire was thrust into the arc of warfare and oppression that spread from Liberia and Sierra Leone into the number one cocoa producer. French trips were landed in the society ostensibly to protect French citizens; and as a member of the Security Council, France managed to give this intervention the stamp of international approval under the mandate of the Security Council. After 2002, Côte d’Ivoire was effectively partitioned into two parts, with the Gbagbo government controlling the mostly economically developed south, and the rebels and their allies controlling the mostly undeveloped north. Regional differentiation and class formation had gone hand in glove so that the South and the region of the cocoa plantation produced the schools, the banks, the infrastructure and the social amenities that reproduced the assertion of an African ruling class. The North that served as a labor reservoir for the South was less developed and so class differentiation was reinforced by religious differences as the majority of the citizens in the North were followers of Islam.

Guillaume Soro emerged as the de facto leader of the rebellion and as part of this war, President Laurent Gbagbo fueled anti-foreigner hatred in the south. Fighting did not only split the country into the rebel-held north and loyalist south, it killed more than 3,000 people and uprooted more than 1 million others. Militarism and violent confrontations dominated the political and regional landscape as various peace conferences were used by the contending factions to bolster their forces. From 2002 to 2005 there were peace talks that focused on the political reunification of the country and the demobilization of the rebel forces. After this peace conference in 2005 a government of national unity was established where the leaders of the rebellion joined the government and Laurent Gbagbo undertook to organize free and fair elections. In January 2002, a court in Abidjan certified the nationality of Alassane Dramane Ouattara clearing the way for him to contest in the politics of the elections.


The military struggles in the society concealed the long battles for full democratic rights by plantation workers. Although this was one of the most urbanized societies in West Africa, the agricultural sector was still very significant with over 69 per cent of the workers employed in enterprises producing coffee, cocoa beans, bananas, palm kernels, corn, rice, manioc (tapioca), sweet potatoes, sugar, cotton, rubber and timber. In this sector, super-exploitation abounded as numerous reports of the International Labor Organization drew attention to the widespread use of child labor on the plantations. According to some of these reports,

• 40% of the world’s cocoa supply comes from the Ivory Coast

• Local activists in Ivory Coast reported that 90% of its cocoa plantations use labour in conditions similar to enslavement

• In 2003 the US State Department estimated there were over 109,000 children in forced labour on Ivory Coast Cocoa farms

• In 2005 The International Labour Organisation (ILO) claimed there were over 150,000 children working under the worst forms of child labour in the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast alone, an estimated 12,000 of whom had been trafficked.

These facts reinforce the point of this commentary that the struggle against child labor and super-exploitation were central components of the democratic struggles in the society. Another component was the struggle for environmental justice. Workers in the society had initiated a legal suit to ban the use of dangerous pesticides in the society since the greatest hazards facing children was the use of pesticides without protective clothing and the use of machetes to clear land. An international movement to support these workers developed around Fair Trade certified chocolate.

In 2008 a US federal appeals court ruled Ivory Coast plantation workers, who claimed they were sterilized by a US-made pesticide, cannot sue the manufacturers and distributors of the chemical in the US, because they can’t show that the companies intended them harm. Some 700 workers had accused US companies of genocide for marketing DBCP abroad after the pesticide was banned in the US. It was in the midst of these legal struggles that elements from the plantation sector strengthened their alliance with sections of the legal confraternity in the USA.

The political leaders in Cote d’Ivoire did not budge and went further to be accomplices to the importation of toxic waste into the country. Probably one of the most heinous crimes carried out by the militarized rulers was the importation of toxic waste into the society. According to one account,

In Ivory Coast waste, which contained hydrogen sulphide, was unloaded from a Panamanian-registered ship, the Probo Koala, at Abidjan port and then dumped in at least eight open air sites, including the city's main rubbish dump. By mid-September 6 people had died and 16,000 had sought treatment. Dutch-based Trafigura Beheer BV, one of the world's leading commodities traders, said it had chartered the ship and said the material was a "mixture of gasoline, water and caustic washings" following the unloading of a cargo of gasoline in Nigeria. The sludge was later blamed for killing 15 people and sickening 100,000 more. In 2009 Greenpeace said it had obtained internal e-mails and other documents that show Trafigura Beheer BV executives were aware the sludge was hazardous.

That hundreds of tons of toxic waste were allowed to be dumped in and around the working class neighborhoods give a clear lie to the idea that the division in the society was just between Southerners and Northerners. This was a divide between capitalists and workers. In September 2009,Trafigura agreed to pay $50m to people in Ivory Coast who were poisoned by the waste. In June 2010, Dutch prosecutors accused Trafigura of illegally exporting hazardous waste to Ivory Coast but the full complicity of the ruling elements was never revealed. Gbagbo reshuffled the government and continued to illegally hold on to power.


Laurent Gbagbo sought to mobilize his anti-imperialist credentials while strengthening a new class of rich Ivoirians. The base for enrichment was enlarged after 2006 when Oil and gas were mined in the country even while supporting a new class of rich persons who were supported by the military; Gbagbo mobilized anti-French rhetoric while mobilizing new sources of political and material support from as far afield as Angola and China. In particular, the Angolans had been attracted to Cote d’Ivoire to gain information on the networks of Jonas Savimbi in the society.

While opposing French political intervention in the society the Gbagbo regime did not use their powers to eradicate the cultural power of France. In effect, what was being played out was not so much opposition to France but opposition to a sector of the French leadership. Gbagbo was supported by elements of the French socialist party and their faction in France. Side by side with these external forces was the stamp of approval accorded to the regime by the IMF and the World Bank as well as Western international bankers.

The World Bank had pulled out of Côte d'Ivoire in 2004 over the non-payment of arrears, but returned in 2008 after the Ouagadougou Peace Accords. The World Bank had embarked on a Country Assistance Programme for 2010-2013, focusing on the usual phrases of “good governance, infrastructural development, improved exports, agricultural development and a revitalized private sector.” The International Development Association (IDA) had a portfolio of 10 investment projects worth US$737 million ($245 million still to be dispersed).

In March 2009, the IMF agreed to provide $565.7 million under a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) arrangement, focusing on economic regeneration, while the World Bank and IMF allowed Côte d'Ivoire to qualify for debt relief under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Both institutions praised Gbagbo’s efforts on “poverty reduction and financial management.” The debt relief offered around $3 billion on a total external debt of around $12.8 billion was premised on the successful holding of elections. HIPC status allowed Côte d'Ivoire to enter into debt arrangements with both the Paris Club and London Club. France and the USA also agreed to important debt relief measures.

It was in this period that the banking magazine named the Finance minister of Cote d’Ivoire as banker of the year.


Despite the fact that there had been a peace agreement, the question of citizenship was never resolved and the debate over Ivorite took place within the technical committees of the electoral commission. After several postponements, which were blamed on technical problems linked to the electoral census, legislative and presidential elections were rescheduled for November 2009. Once again, however, the elections could not be held on this date, despite the fact that the normalisation of the political and security situation depended on these elections going smoothly. After five years of postponing the elections the Gbagbo forces agreed to elections in 2010. Presidential candidates in Cote d'Ivoire had agreed on a new voter registry for an election in October. Disagreements over voter eligibility delayed the election, which was later scheduled for October 31. Supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo rejected earlier lists, which they claimed included ineligible voters, namely citizens with background from neighboring countries, Burkina Faso and Mali. Opposition candidates argued that the objections were attempts to disenfranchise likely opposition supporters. All presidential candidates have agreed on the new list, which was published by the electoral commission by October 12.

After the first round of the elections, the former opponents Bedie and Ouattara joined forces and the supporters of Bedie rallied behind Ouattara. After the second round of voting on November 28, the release of election results were blocked by the followers of the Ivorian Popular Front. On December 2, Election commission Chief Youssouf Bakayoko announced that opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara had won with 54.1% of the vote, compared to 45.9% for Pres. Gbagbo.

Since that time the society was plunged into a deep political and military crisis as the Constitutional Council declared Laurent Gbagbo winner with 51% of the votes. The Constitutional Council annulled results in seven northern regions. The African Union and the UN Security Council rejected this disenfranchisement of over half a million citizens and in December the UN Security Council urged that all parties to recognize Alassane Ouattara as president and, extended the mandate of the peacekeeping force for six months.


After appearing on Democracy Now in the USA one Gnaka Lagoke of AfricanDiplomacy.com repeated the view that Gbagbo won the elections and that there had been fraud. This same government that had earned millions of dollars from dumping Toxic waste had employed the lobbyist Lanny Davis from the USA to represent their side of the argument. In a society where there is over 40 per cent unemployment, the Gbagbo forces were paying this lobbyist US $100,000 per month to represent his view that as a freedom fighter he should continue as President. There is a sophisticated attempt by Gbagbo’s sympathizers to reproduce the xenophobia of the ruling elements while claiming Pan African credentials. Two days later I was in a meeting with the Head of the ECOWAS monitoring group and he categorically supported the figures that Gbagbo had lost the elections.

It was this certainty by both the AU and ECOWAS that led to the unified international position by the EU, the UN, the Carter Center in the USA and other international observers. So, despite the argument that the unified position was a French plot to bring back neo-colonialism, the reality was that French commercial and financial interests were never threatened under Gbagbo.

Unlike in the compromised elections of Kenya and Zimbabwe, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been firm in the rejection of the claims of Gbagbo that he won the elections. This firmness was supported by the Central Bank of West African States that has since December 2010 cut Gbagbo off from Ivory Coast's accounts, giving Ouattara signature rights. Both the African Union and ECOWAS maintained that if Gbagbo remained defiant, "the community will be left with no alternative but to take other measures, including the use of legitimate force, to achieve the goals of the Ivorian people." But the response from Gbagbo's camp has been uncompromising, rejecting the "unacceptable" threat. This threat of military action by ECOWAS and the African Union has created unease in West Africa with the President of Ghana breaking ranks from unified position of the African Union. One of the spokespersons for Gbagbo and the Ivorian Patriotic Front branded the West African move a "Western plot directed by France" and warned that military action could put millions of regional immigrants in Ivory Coast in danger: "The people of Ivory Coast will mobilise. This boosts our patriotism. This strengthens our faith in Ivorian nationalisms.," This “patrotic” and anti-imperialist position of the FPI was backed up by articles exposing the history of Alassane Ouattara as a former official of the IMF and declaring that force will be met with force. Hand in glove with this anti-imperialist position was the unleashing of military and para-military forces within the society to intimidate opposition forces. The armed elements of Gbagbo surrounded the UN that had been guarding Ouattara and the militarization of the political relations escalated with the unleashing of unemployed youths who were deployed as enforcers to threaten the opposition. It was this same government that had unleashed the military in order to illegally stay in power that was now declaring that it was against military intervention. This discourse of state violence conceals an even greater element of structural violence that is being visited on the ordinary citizens. The struggles for basic trade union and citizenship rights place the question of democracy in that society beyond elections. Moreover, the fact that the Gbagbo elements were willing and able to dump toxic waste in the middle of the neighborhoods of the working poor added the issues of environmental justice to the democratic questions to be resolved in that society.

The negotiations undertaken by the AU reflected a new determination within Africa to be united so that dictators do not stay in power against the will of the people. In our analysis of the democratic struggles we highlighted the issues of health and safety of the working peoples as the foremost democratic questions. Supporters of the Gbagbo forces were arguing that Ouattara represented the interests of international capital and was too close to French imperial interests. However, it was our effort to show that despite the verbal declamations of anti-imperialism, the Gbagbo forces were supported by some of the most retrograde sections of international capital. The links to Lanny Davis in the USA and Trafigura in Holland pointed to these linkages.


At the start of the second decade of the 21st century the form and content of the struggles for democracy will have tremendous implications for Africa. All over Africa the impact of the capitalist depression is leading to the intensification of exploitation. Unemployment among the youths provides a ready pool of social elements that can be recruited for warfare. It is this reality with the remobilization of former Liberian fighters by the Ivorian political leaders of the Ivorian Popular Front that should be borne in mind when the AU threatens military intervention. I would like to agree that there are dangers of external military intervention but this discussion should not gloss over the reality that military force is already being deployed against innocent persons by the regime. Despite this reality this author supports intensified political, financial and diplomatic pressures on the Gbagbo regime. It is this prospect of regional war and the unforeseen consequences of warfare that guides this intervention that one must conceptualize democratization in a process of building new peaceful relations. In this context, I want to differ with the position of Paul Collier who is calling for a military coup in Cote d’Ivoire. Collier made his argument in this way, Gbagbo's attempt to remain in power, recognised as illegitimate by the regional authorities, is such an instance. Of course, Gbagbo has taken care to get the army onside: currently it is keeping him in power. But his control of the army is inevitably fragile. Were army officers requested by regional authorities – supported by the international community and Ouattara – to remove Gbagbo in an orderly fashion, his position might start to look precarious. After all, a coup can come from many different levels in the military hierarchy. It is the senior officers, who are closest to Gbagbo, but they would know that a coup from lower-ranking officers would spell their own doom – and that lower-ranking officers would find this an attractive strategy for accelerating their careers. If junior officers ousted Gbagbo, their reward would not be an unstable and high-risk presidency, but secure senior military positions. I disagree with the position of Collier who had earlier articulated these views in a book on wars, guns and voters. These challenges of citizenship, the rights of migrant workers and environmental justice cannot be solved by military power, just as removing Gbagbo by military force could result in a recursive process of militarism.

Only a new paradigm of people’s rights, citizenship, politics of inclusion, and a situation where the wishes of the people supersedes those of leaders would help Africa withstand the 21st century challenges and bring about transformation. Every country in Africa carries the differences that can inspire chauvinism if there are no leaders who will rise above the politicization or region, religion and ethnicity. Let the people’s voice prevail. Ouattara is neither a saint nor a messiah, but a precedent must be set so that the same power of the people that has now voted Gbagbo out of office would prevail over Ouattara should he act contrary to the aspirations of the people. This is the paradigm that Africa needs. Cote d’Ivorie offers another veritable opportunity to set the precedent for this paradigm. Cote d’Ivorie is a litmus test for ECOWAS and the African Union in this regard.


* Horace Campbell is a teacher and writer. Professor Campbell's website is www.horacecampbell.net. His latest book is 'Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA', published by Pluto Press.