Ebony In Ivory.

Should we care, even a little bit, about what is going on in Ivory Coast? It all seems as futile, petty and hideous as what is going on in CoPe. Gbagbo and Ouattara are like two clowns at a circus swatting at each other with heavily-padded sticks and performing pratfalls for the amusement of an audience which has failed to turn up.
Yes, but, like what is going on in CoPe, there is more to this than meets what the eye is permitted to see.
A little unreliable background. Ivory Coast was a French colony and became a French satellite state after the French rushed to neocolonise after their debacles in Vietnam and Algeria. It was ruled by a ruthless right-wing dictator, Houphouet-Boigny, for several decades. Somewhat like Kenya, its American equivalent on the east coast, it managed to stumble along with superficial peace and economic growth (based largely on the single crop of cocoa) although the dictator became increasingly demented and diverted more and more money to fantasy projects, a sort of mini-Mobutu.
But, of course, after the dictator died the wheels came off very fast. For one thing, the Americans were driving commodity prices down and thus generating a global economic crisis which enabled them to seize control of governments via global financial institutions (IMF, World Bank and other big merchant banks). Ivory Coast had run up gigantic debts and, with the death of their French-crony dictator and the collapse of the cocoa price, they were forced to borrow money from the IMF, which, as usual, imposed devastatingly unpopular socio-economic policies on the country in return for the loan. The man put in charge of administering these policies was an American-trained corporate hack named Ouattara.
Meanwhile in the increasingly irrelevant political front, Ivory Coast had become a democracy (that is, it was holding elections to decide who would take the blame for the policies imposed by foreigners). The big winner was a demagogue named Gbagbo, who had strong links to the country’s big business. As everywhere else in coastal West Africa, big business exists chiefly on the coast, where colonial authority was strong, as opposed to the interior, where colonial authority was weak. So Gbagbo was a Southerner. Just to further complicate matters, the coast is Christian or animist, the interior is Muslim. Oh, and there are tribal and linguistic divisions, too. But the biggest issue is money and power.
Gbagbo held power and didn’t want to give it up just because nobody liked him, so he refused to step down when he became unpopular — in part because he was quite popular with business, who put money into his campaign. He lost an election early in the twenty-first century because business had little authority in the interior. (Ouattara came from the interior, and therefore, even though he was a businessman, he had interior credibility; he was their homeboy. However, he wasn’t there at the time.)
The people who were there, however, rose up in their majesty in the north, set up militias and called for Gbagbo to go away and not come back. In the south, Gbagbo said “Shan’t!” and hunkered down behind his army. The result was a couple of years of low-intensity civil war followed by a standoff with occasional planeloads of suits from the African Union flying in to have long and agreeable lunches on the subject of brokering a peace deal the details of which seemed not to exist.
Eventually the Ivorians seem to have become weary of this farce, and Gbagbo agreed to hold an election, which was duly held last year with the American-backed suit Ouattara standing against him. According to the polls, Gbagbo lost and should have stepped down. Gbagbo disputed the result of the polls, claiming that the results in the North were not legitimate and that the votes for him had been disallowed, and demanding instead that loads of Northern votes be disallowed instead, thus ensuring that he won the election. (It was, actually, quite a close poll. It is just possible that Gbagbo may be telling the truth, although his record suggests that we should not buy a used car or a vote from him.)
All this looks quite a lot like Zimbabwe without any of the interesting features. Gbagbo is a bit like a Mugabe without struggle credibility or anti-Western PR skills (Gbagbo has mouthed off a lot of anti-French rhetoric, but in fact he has been in France’s pocket for most of the last decade — part of the conflict, as elsewhere in Western and Central Africa, is driven by the cold war between France and the US over control of the remaining scraps of the French colonial empire.) Ouattara is, like Tsvangirai, the IMF’s man, but without even a trade union history to betray. Presumably, if Gbagbo stays in power, Ivory Coast will be misruled. Presumably, if Ouattara comes to power, Ivory Coast will be misruled. There seems to be no prospect of good governance or real popular power. So far have we come in the evolution of democracy since the Greece of Pericles!
There is violence. People are being killed. It seems that people are being killed in the North and South — although, interestingly, the only actual flight of people is happening from the North. Why people should be fleeing from the North is not clear if Ouattara is the good guy (supposedly they are afraid of civil war, but then why shouldn’t people in the South be equally afraid?). It seems possible that this is, at least to some extent, a publicity stunt intended to legitimate whatever actions might be sought after by the international community, insofar as there is such a thing.
Indeed, outside Ivory Coast the situation is far more interesting. The United States has denounced Gbagbo and proclaimed sanctions against him. The European Union has denounced Gbagbo and proclaimed sanctions against him. The Economic Community of West African States (basically Nigeria and its little friends) has denounced Gbagbo and threatened to invade Ivory Coast to overthrow him. The African Union has denounced Gbagbo although, as is commonplace with the African Union these days, it does not seem able to decide whether anything else should be done. Such vigorous unanimity is nevertheless quite startling. It makes a fascinating contrast with the situation in Sudan, say, where an actual civil war was going on but there the reaction was much less unanimous and clear-cut. Everybody seems to be doing the right thing in step, with freedom on the march.
One should always be suspicious when everybody seems to be doing something altruistic. What are they really getting out of it? In this case, one answer seems to be oil. With the new deep-drilling techniques which so successfully devastated the Gulf of Mexico and reputedly have caused calamity in the Caspian, it will be possible to turn Ivory Coast from a cococracy into a petrostate, thus ensuring that its economy ruins our lungs instead of our teeth. The US is not tremendously interested in controlling the world’s chocolate (the US produces some of the worst chocolate bars in the world) but obviously crude oil is another matter altogether.
So it seems that the US is particularly interested in seeing regime change in Ivory Coast, as in Iraq, in order to secure its control of oil in the region (especially with the Middle East getting all unstable and stuff). Regime change, of course, means putting our sonofabitch in charge, and the designated sonofabitch is Ouattara. Therefore everybody has to pretend that Ouattara is the Nelson Mandela of West Africa, while Gbagbo is a dark evil slimeball like Aristide who must be removed at once. The fact that everybody seems willing to pretend this speaks volumes about the actual independence of West Africa and its environs. It is also rather striking that the AU envoy to Ivory Coast turned out to be the President of Kenya, that country with such a wonderful track record of managing elections and the political clashes arising out of them, who came out with the conclusion that not enough was being done to overthrow the evil Gbagbo.
In the past, the clash between the US and France suggested a possibility that, as in the Cold War, countries could benefit by playing off the opponents against each other. Unfortunately, this clash is no longer so clear-cut, for France is now run by a reactionary nitwit named Sarkozy who has close ties with the United States and is also deeply concerned with domestic issues. Since he wants to crush the French workers in order to imitate the U.S. economic miracle, even though that miracle is a thing of the distant past, Sarkozy is almost certainly willing to bow the knee to the US. Britain, of course, when told to jump by Washington, merely says, on landing, “Was that high enough, master?”. Germany couldn’t care less if West Africa sank into the Gulf of Guinea tomorrow, since Angela Merkel is busy building the Fourth Reich on the ruins of the European Union. Hence the EU/FR and America speak with one forked tongue on the issue, and since Nigeria is an American satellite and has been for decades, so does Ecowas, and so, with Nigeria and Kenya, the two American satellites, in authority, and the third American satellite Ethiopia playing third fiddle in the background, does the African Union. (What would Patrice Lumumba or Kwame Nkrumah have said?) In other words they are all doing what seems to be right in political terms (because Ouattara won the election) for reasons which are wrong in other political terms (both because Ouattara was put there to win the election by outside forces, and people are cheering him on because those outside forces are instructing them to).
It seems that the Americans have made West Africa unfortunately similar to the Middle East from which they are transferring their oily intrigues!
Almost the only people who have gained any credit in the whole sorry shebang have been South African politicians. Thabo Mbeki flew in and suggested a Government of National Unity, which is what he invariably suggests whenever anything goes wrong. It was, at least, smarter than anything anyone else has suggested, but since nobody else outside Ivory Coast was prepared to tolerate Gbagbo in power once they knew that the Americans wanted him out, nothing came of that. Jacob Zuma, oddly, has spoken out strongly in opposition to invading Ivory Coast and has suggested that, instead of invading Ivory Coast it might be an idea to see whether any of Gbagbo’s complaints of election fraud had any validity. That sounds a bit more sensible than once again tearing up the United Nations Charter in order to secure Washington a few more gigabarrels of crude oil. (Note that nobody has the least excuse for invading Ivory Coast, and indeed, nobody has any legitimate pretext for imposing economic sanctions simply on the basis of a disputed election result.)
It may seem odd for the Creator to be speaking out in support of Zuma, but then again, Zuma does come from the ANC and therefore cannot altogether go against its history of sanity and reasonable compromise, however hard he has worked to undermine this. It seems clear that Zuma is less in the back pocket of the United States than most of the other leaders of Africa. However, what is really horrendous is the way in which everybody does what they are told in unison, regardless of validity. It raises big questions about whether revolution in Tunisia, or even in Egypt if that comes off, will really build a new nation, or whether it will simply mean that Uncle Sam will have to untie the strings from his old puppets and tie new ones on in the way that the Wikileaks and Palestine Papers cables have indicated.


One Response to Ebony In Ivory.

  1. ParisianThinker says:

    Count on the USA to continue as it has until the USD no longer is magic.

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