News of a potential assault on the government of the Ivory Coast by ECOMOG forces to dislodge self-crowned President Laurent Gbagbo is eliciting many responses around the region, some very thoughtful. And for good reasons. As one who yearns to see true democracy and open governments flourish throughout Africa, my first instinct is to applaud and support Ecowas’ resolve to speak the only language Gbagbo and his “African Strongman” clique understand – more brutal force than they possess.
Yet, as much as I’d like to see Gbagbo given a dose of his own medicine, I feel a little conflicted.
That is partly due to the fact that one has to be blind not to see that once again, Africans are being used by Western powers as proxies to fight their dirty war for them. The drumbeat for the ousting of Gbagbo has little or nothing to do with strengthening democracy in that sister country. Rather, as usual, “democracy” just happens to be a convenient cover for the real motivations behind the “international community’s” push to uproot a stubborn Strongman who wouldn’t play ball their way.
Just as Rwanda and Ugandan soldiers were sent by unnamed members of “international community” into the Democratic Republic of the Congo over ten years ago to prevent a surprisingly defiant Laurent Kabila from changing the decades-old status quo in his country, (foreign control and the mindless looting of the country’s vast mineral wealth -especially uranium,) West Africans are being prodded to go into the Ivory Coast to kill their own just so that the status quo could be maintained.
The push by the west to install Ouatara has nothing to do with his contested win at the polls, it has everything to do with his cozy relationship with the anal and manipulative French. I loved Ouattara until I started to dig in, to do more research on the gentleman. Now, I find myself qualifying my statements regarding him. You see, of all the former European colonialists, the French remain the one people who are adamant not to let go of the inhumane and corrupt system that colonialism was. In any former French colony, a good barometer of any public official’s nationalist bent is his or her relationship with the French. As simplistic as this may sound, the more the French like an African public official, the less independent or nationalistic that person normally is. Anyone willing to sell their country to them for pennies on the dollar is “mon ami,” while nationalists are quickly plotted against. That’s how they bankrolled the ousting and murder of Thomas Sankara by his erstwhile bosom buddy – now life president, Blaise Campaore.
The Portuguese might be more brutal, but the French are more manipulative and unrelenting. From the insulting and counterintuitive financial and security arrangements they imposed on their “independent” colonies, to their primary involvement with public sector Cash Cows in those countries to this day, they continue to devise devious ways of scheming Africans out of their resources – of course with collaboration from puppet leaders.
Gbagbo, whether out of cunning or opportunism, has latched onto Ouattara’s closeness to the French high society, to tremendous benefit. Many, who would ordinarily excoriate Gbagbo pull back because his suggestion about Ouattara being a French stooge resonates with them. This is key, and other west African leaders should keep this in mind.
The current state of affairs in the Ivory Coast is that the French still rule through the back door. If the plain truth be told, the Ivory Coast, like most of the former French colonies, remain a vast plantation designed and sustained purposely to serve as a source of cheap raw materials for multiple French industries. France is determined to continue maintaining its stranglehold on Ivory Coast. We shouldn’t let our people be the donkeys on which they hop back on their gravy train.
Gbagbo has serous issues, no doubt. In so many ways, he took over from where Henrie Conan Bedie left off in the insidious ethnic jingoism that is at the root of the civil discord that has torn the Ivory Coast apart in the last ten years. At the heart of that dirty game is the classification of mainly northern migrant workers, -many, decades-old residents of the country, and their offspring as ‘foreigners.” Somehow, “real” Ivoirians are Western or Southern Ivoirians. The usual foreign religion divisiveness is also at play.
In fairness to Gbagbo, this mentality is pervasive among Ivoirians. A friend of mine, whose paternal side is in fact Malagasy by origin, and who can only claim Ivorian citizenship through his Southerner mother, ironically holds very strong anti-Ouatara views because the man is a “foreigner.” Like I point out to him, the vast majority of professionals in very critical areas of the US economy like IT, Space Exploration, and many branches of Medical Research are all foreign-born. Using the Ivoirian yardstick, none of those people, as indeed many of us African professionals in the US, will ever qualify as US citizens.
What ought to separate a citizen from a noncitizen is the degree of passion and dedication one brings to solving national problems, not the accident of birth. Many of the people who are routinely disparaged and harangued as “foreigners” in that country happen to be among the hardest working people in the country. They do for Ivory Coast exactly what Latin American immigrants do for the US – work on agricultural farms to produce cheap food for the population, work on physically demanding construction works, and do all manner of menial work for little pay. They are the lubricants that keep the Ivorian economy kicking. Yet, they endure unspeakable abuse at the hands of self-ascribed “real Ivoirians,” the same way so many fellow Africans are now at the receiving end of the shameful xenophobia from a mostly ungrateful Black South Africa. At the very basic level, the specter of Africans denigrating each other as ‘foreigners’ in any African country in this day and age is disgraceful.
Like I made a case for before, one of our main problems in Africa is that we don’t learn much from past lessons. Neither do we imitate others’ good ideas. There’s nothing wrong with copying someone else’s good idea. When George Bush and Tony Blair conspired to remove Saddam Hussein from power, they did not confine themselves to the military aspect alone. In fact, they drew up plans regarding the country’s entire restructuring, especially as it relates to resource control. The duo of course, arrogated to themselves the power to determine who controls what in the post-Saddam era, going as far as publicly excluding nations that were resistant to be bamboozled into taking part in what was in fact a choice war for resource grab.
Substantively, we should do no different in Ivory Coast. Let me elaborate.
It’s pretty obvious that only one West African country –Nigeria, has the military resources to go in and uproot Laurent Gbagbo. However, in the best case scenario, this is likely to be very costly in both human and material resources. And if history is anything to go by, other than being lauded with meaningless diplomatic platitudes, Nigeria would not reap anything from where it actually sowed something. Liberia is a good case in point, yet is not an exception.
Instead, one can bet that the considerable reconstruction funds that are almost certain to follow the soldiers, would without any doubt all be given to “companies with experience” (note the usual euphemism.) But even worse than that, the Ivory Coast will go right back to being the French plantation run remotely by absentee le’ blue landlords and capitalists that it is. Old wine will go right into new bottles and nothing will change.
As such, what needs to be straightened before one West African soldier’s blood is shed is the New Normal that has to be established in the Ivory Coast. The ten largest banks in Nigeria have the capital to underwrite serious infrastructural and capital investments in the Ivory Coast to mutual benefit – especially if the banks handle the nation’s finances on the terms that the French banks currently do. Nigeria especially HAS to demand this! The culture of stepping in to help a sister republic only to watch outsiders come and reap the benefits doesn’t help Africa in any way. There is adequate professional knowhow in West Africa to take over from the French in the Ivory Coast. And unlike the French, Africans under Nigerian leadership, can devise a formula under which Ivory Coast will actually benefit more from its resources than it has in the past. Obasanjo, for all his problems had it right when he kept questioning why West Africa continues to sell raw cocoa produce at give-away prices when with just a little processing, we could triple our income. Allassane Ouattara has to agree to this new arrangement before a single soldier heads his way.
The good news is, Ouattara does not have much of a choice. His French friends cannot get him into power because the French public has no stomach for any more criminal adventure by its elites under whatever guise. And Gbagbo’s posture is such that, their Ivoirian lackeys are seriously limited in what they can do under the table. This is why the French are pushing hard for the UN to egg on fellow West Africans. For once, we shouldn’t be fools. What is good for the French goose is good for the Nigerian gander!
It’s because of the calamitous leadership situation, but otherwise, this shouldn’t even be a subject of long discussion. A Nigeria properly led, would have long exerted its version of Manifest Destiny in West Africa! But we all know the situation with Nigerian national leadership.
Goodluck Jonathan is an extraordinarily lucky man (to get as far as he has on so obviously paltry political mettle and personal forte,) but to anyone discerning, the man is out of his league. The spate of bombings in Nigeria recently, the dismal failure on the electricity situation even as we learn that Nigeria’s once enviable foreign reserves are almost depleted, are clear indictments on Jonathan’s leadership. It is also because of Jonathan’s lack of force of personality that a criminal cabal toyed with Nigerians a year ago. Any VP worth his or her mettle would have called off the Yar'Adua cabal’s bluff to end the charade they had going on months before the man’s death. As such, we cannot trust Jonathan to stand up to the French and their powerful allies including Barack Obama. It is noteworthy that Jonathan quickly convened the Abuja Ecowas meeting as soon as Obama gave him his marching orders.
This is where civil society comes in. We need civil groups to put pressure on Jonathan to exact concessions from Ouattara before one Nigerian soldier leaves for Abidjan. Call it quid pro quo if you will. I chose to call it The New African Brotherhood. We can spread our continent’s wealth among ourselves, instead of watching others continue to loot it, only to turn around and throw pittance at us with benign contempt as “aid.”
Criminal carnage in Nigeria
My heart goes out to the families of the innocent people who just happened to have been at the wrong place at the wrong time. May the souls of the dead rest in eternal peace, and the wounded get speedy recovery. One can only hope that the Nigerian government will rise up to its responsibility to protect ALL its citizens from criminals regardless of hue. Those responsible for killing innocent people should be brought to justice.