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France And The Ivory Coast-The Empire Strikes Back

December 15, 2010

Currently there is an impasse in the runoff of the Presidential elections in the Ivory Coast. The French-linked and funded electoral commission declared that Allasane Outtara won the election while the Constitutional Court declared incumbent President Gbagbo as the victor.

Currently there is an impasse in the runoff of the Presidential elections in the Ivory Coast. The French-linked and funded electoral commission declared that Allasane Outtara won the election while the Constitutional Court declared incumbent President Gbagbo as the victor.

The ‘international community’ of Western countries, NGOS, UN appeasers, and a variety of Francafrique cowards and bed-wetters support Ouattara even though massive fraud has been demonstrated at the polls in the rebel-held North.

This result should be no surprise to anyone. There has been no effective disarmament of the tinpot rebel warlords of the North and no unification of the country in anticipation of the election. A ‘security’ dividing line between the North and the South has been maintained by the occupying French forces pretending to be U.N. troops. Even so-called peacemakers like Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso pretend to be neutral. Campaore, an unindicted war criminal with a track record of subversion, arms smuggling and war profiteering in Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Cost is somehow portrayed as a neutral.

When arms were being shipped to the West African wars by Chirac and Ghadaffi they arrived at their destinations after having passed through the hands of Campaore and Tandja (who both profited on the deliveries), Ouattara, known as the “Father of the Rebellion” in the Ivory Coast was sustained by operating from a safe haven in Burkina Faso when he was not busy maintaining his close personal ties to Sarkozy’s first wife in Paris.  There was no mystery about the Ouattara-Campaore joint effort. Several hours of tapes exist which recorded the meetings called by Campaore in Burkina Faso which garnered support for Ouattara among the Northerners and actively plotted with two French military officers sent from Paris to attempt coups against the Gbagbo Government.

Voter fraud and deception was the rule in the North for over seven years. Even when the AU originally appointed Banny as the interim Prime minister ad Thabo Mbeki as the mediator the frauds persisted. President Mbeki visited the Ivory Coast and invited the warring factions to meet with President Gbagbo in Pretoria where two sets of agreements were made. These Pretoria Agreements achieved a resolution of most of the outstanding issues between the two sides, because President Gbagbo made concessions to achieve these ends. The most important point made in Pretoria was that there would be disarmament of the rebels.

This was, indeed, a requisite of the original cease-fire agreement at Linas-Marcoussis , Article 3 (g) “In order to contribute to restoring security of persons and property throughout the national territory, the Government of National Reconciliation will organise the regrouping and subsequent disarming of all forces. It will ensure that no mercenaries remain within the country's borders.”

This was agreed at Linas-Marcoussis and at Pretoria. However, no disarmament took place. The rebels agreed to disarmament plans, schedules and procedures but missed every deadline. They rejected President Mbeki as a mediator because he insisted that the rebels fulfil their agreement to disarm. To this day there has been no disarmament, despite calls by the UN Security Council.

The UN issued Resolution 1633 which extended the deadline for the election of a President from October 30, 2005 (as written in the Constitution) for another year on the basis that a free and fair election could not be held under existing conditions and created the post of Prime Minister with elevated powers. It demanded that “all the parties signatories to the Linas-Marcoussis, Accra III and Pretoria Agreements, as well as all the Ivorian parties concerned, implement it fully and without delay”. These responsibilities were clearly delineated further on in the Resolution

“14. Demands that the Forces Nouvelles proceed without delay with the DDR programme in order to facilitate the restoration of the authority of the State throughout the national territory, the reunification of the country and the organization of the elections as soon as possible;

“15. Affirms that the identification process must also start without delay;”

Since then there has been no effective progress on disarmament. This is the root of the crisis.

There was a program in place to ‘identify’ Ivorian citizens in an effort to create a current electoral roll. The question of ‘identity’ goes to the heart of the rebellion. Without a solution, there could be no elections and no serious hopes of peace between the armed camps.

Since 1993, when Henri Konan Bédié succeeded Félix Houphouët-Boigny as President, Muslim northerners have struggled to get identity papers; officials have accused them of hiding their foreign origins and abuses linked to constant identity checks have mounted. North-south tensions became personalised in the face-off between Bédié, from the south-west, and Houphouët's former Premier, Alassane Dramane Ouattara ('ADO'), who is both northern and Muslim, and a former International Monetary Fund Deputy Managing Director. Konan Bédié promoted the nationalist concept of Ivoirité and changed the constitution to allow only '100 per cent' Ivoirians to stand for the presidency. He claimed that Ouattara's family came from Burkina Faso and that he had faked his identity papers to hide the fact. Security agents carried on tearing up northerners' documents or made it impossible to renew them, effectively depriving them of their nationality. Bédié’s first act as President included expelling 12,000 Ivory Coast residents on the grounds that they were really from Burkina Faso. This was Bedie, not Gbagbo!.

 Banny's cabinet approved a fresh identification process, together with new identity cards and a new electoral register. Gbagbo and the FPI disagreed with the Banny program because it did not provide for disarmament in advance of the registration. This was insisted on because under the Ivorian Constitution, registration could only legally be conducted by Registrars appointed by the Institut National de la Statistique who would draw up the electoral roll and issue voters' cards. The INS was run by the Planning Minister, former FPI Finance Minister Paul Bohoun Boubre. Banny's scheme was being run by an ad hoc Office National d'Identification, which is not provided for by the Constitution. Without disarmament it was not safe for licensed registrars to visit the rebel-held North to examine the documentation of putative voters and citizens. Banny has said that a ‘village council’ could meet and make the necessary identification. Since these councils were dominated and controlled by the local rebel bands, this meant that whoever the rebels said is an Ivorian became one on the spot. Fraud becomes the byword.

In fact this type of fraud was widely reported. The National Assembly announced that the police had brought evidence which showed that the RDR (Ouattara’s party) was ‘selling’ registration documents. The President of the National Assembly, Mamadou Koulbaly, held up the purported registration of a man who claimed to be Ivorian and who used the existing documentation of a man, Sanago Aboubacar, to register. The real Sanago Aboubacar is a FPI delegate from Abobo and was very surprised to see someone else’s face on his identity document. The police reported that these false identification papers are being sold for the sum of 15 000 FCFA by the RDR village councillors in the North. The whole process is in disrepute because no one trained and licensed to perform the process of identification is able to attend these ‘village councils’. Any electoral roll prepared by this process is seriously flawed and incredible as a valid electoral roll.

The nub of the issue is that at least over half of the rebel forces grouped under the rubric “Forces Nouvelles” are not Ivoirians and never were. They were gathered as mercenaries and hired thugs by the French from Burkina Faso, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone and from the assorted other bands of riff-raff engaged in internecine warfare in West Africa. They were transported to the Ivory Coast and armed by the French, with the support and participation of Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and Toure and Tandja of Mali and Niger.

There has been a peace treaty in place in the Ivory Coast since 2003. During the interval the ‘international community’ has intervened in the political process of the Ivory Coast. It has wrung concessions from Gbagbo and the FPI Government and made formal agreements with the rebel bands. To date these commitments by the rebel bands have not been implemented or enforced. The international community has been resourceful in pushing Gbagbo but has refused to deal in any meaningful way with the rebels. These rebels have not brought good government to their occupied areas. They have destroyed the infrastructure of the North. They have billeted themselves on a resistant population; stolen their houses, cars, children, jobs and opportunities. All of this has been done in defiance of the law, customary traditions and supposed UN standards. They pay no taxes; they pay no rent; they pay no customs duties. And yet, the UN and the international community has done nothing to stop them or to assist the poor disenfranchised, impoverished and supine citizens of the North

The rebels steal the cocoa, the cotton, the wood and the wool and make small fortunes which they bank in Ouagadougou. The international community, to be fair, has no love for the rebels – they have been led in their deliberations by the French who have a lot at stake in this country.

After 46 years of independence, France still controls most of the infrastructure and holds its foreign currency reserves as part of the 14-nation Franc Zone. The airline, telephone, electricity and water companies, and some major banks, are French-controlled. 'Accords de coopération', signed after Independence by the late President Félix Houphouët-Boigny and France's then Premier, Michel Debré, are still technically applicable. France maintains a stranglehold of Ivorian commerce and currency which vitiates national initiatives towards independence.

This privileged position of France is confirmed by a report from the UN Commission: "The testimony we have assembled has also enabled us to see that the law of 1998 concerning rural property is linked to the dominant position that France and French interests occupy in Cote d'Ivoire

According to these sources, the French own 45% of the land and, curiously, the buildings of the Presidency of the Republic and of the Ivorian National Assembly are subject to leases concluded with the French. French interests are said to control the sectors of water and electricity.” The report only superficially touched the dominance of French interests in Cote d'Ivoire, but they are not hard to find. Below are some of leading players of the French business class in Cote d'Ivoire:

Bollore, leader in French maritime transport and principal operator of maritime transport in Cote d'Ivoire along with Saga, SDV (Switched Digital Video) See switched video.  and Delmas, controls the port of Abidjan, the leading transit port in West Africa West Africa. Bollore also controls the Ivorian-Burkinabe railway, Sitarail. Although it has recently withdrawn from the cocoa business, it has maintained its leading position in tobacco and rubber.

Bouygues (leader in construction and public works public works) dominates Ivorian construction projects, such as highways or dams, financed by public funds and constructed by the government. Since Ivoirian independence it has been the number one company in construction and public works (we also find Colas, third-ranking firm in road building in France). Bouygues also has, through privatisation  has obtained additional concessions, control of water distribution (Societe des Eaux de Cote d'Ivoire), of production and distribution of electricity through the Compagnie Ivoirienne d'Electricite and the Compagnie Ivoirienne de Production d'Electricite. It has also been involved in the recent exploitation of Ivorian oil.

Total (the biggest French oil company) holds a quarter of the shares of the Societe Ivoirienne de Raffinage Oil Refinery (number one in Cote d'Ivoire) and owns 160 petrol stations and controls the bitumen supply

France Telecom (seventh in rank among companies in France and leader in the telecoms sector) is the main shareholder of Cote d'Ivoire Telecom and of the Societe Ivoirienne des Mobiles (it holds about 85% of the capital), since concessions were granted in this sector, in the context of the privatisation of public enterprises.

In the banking and insurance sector, there is the Societe Generale (sixth bank in France--the Societe Generale des Banques de Cote d'Ivoire has 55 branches) as well as  Credit Lyonnais and BNP-Paribas. AXA (the second largest company in France and leader of the insurance sector) has been present in Cote d'Ivoire since the colonial period.

The most long-established of the French companies in Cote d'Ivoire is the Groupe Compagnie Francaise de l'Afrique de l'Ouest de Cote d'Ivoire (CFAO-CI). It operates in many sectors (cars, pharmaceuticals, new technology, etc). For a long time, CFAO monopolised exports and the retail trade, and its profits (not a single year of loss, since its creation in 1887) led to it being taken over recently by the Pinault-Printemps-La Redoute group.

There is also "the former boss of French bosses", Baron Ernest-Antoine Seilleres, through Technip (plant for the oil sector) and Bivac (which recently installed a new scanner at the port of Abidjan).

The presence of French capital is a demonstration of the profitability of Cote d'Ivoire. And although French direct investment is only Euro 3.5bn--the most profitable former state enterprises having been acquired at knock-down prices--the annual profits from this investment are enormous.

Despite the flight of some French nationals during the rebel war of recent years, French business presence in Cote d'Ivoire has returned and has recovered its former levels.

One of the most important influences in the economic and political life of African states which were formerly French colonies is the impact of a common currency; the Communuate Financiere de l’Afrique (‘CFA’) franc. There are actually two separate CFA francs in circulation. The first is that of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) which comprises eight West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. The second is that of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) which comprises six Central African countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad,  Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon), This division corresponds to the pre-colonial AOF (Afrique Occidentale Française) and the AEF (Afrique Équatoriale Française), with the exception that Guinea-Bissau was formerly Portuguese and Equatorial Guinea Spanish).

Each of these two groups issues its own CFA franc. The WAEMU CFA franc is issued by the BCEAO (Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest) and the CEMAC CFA franc is issued by the BEAC (Banque des Etats de l’Afrique Centrale). These currencies were originally both pegged at 100 CFA for each French franc but, after France joined the European Community’s Euro zone at a fixed rate of 6.65957 French francs to one Euro, the CFA rate to the Euro was fixed at CFA 665,957 to each Euro, maintaining the 100 to 1 ratio. It is important to note that it is the responsibility of the French Treasury to guarantee the convertibility of the CFA to the Euro.

The monetary policy governing such a diverse aggregation of countries is uncomplicated because it is, in fact, operated by the French Treasury, without reference to the central fiscal authorities of any of the WAEMU or the CEMAC. Under the terms of the agreement which set up these banks and the CFA the Central Bank of each African country is obliged to keep at least 65% of its foreign exchange reserves in an “operations account” held at the French Treasury, as well as another 20% to cover financial liabilities.

The CFA central banks also impose a cap on credit extended to each member country equivalent to 20% of that country’s public revenue in the preceding year. Even though the BEAC and the BCEAO have an overdraft facility with the French Treasury, the drawdowns on those overdraft facilities are subject to the consent of the French Treasury. The final say is that of the French Treasury which has invested the foreign reserves of the African countries in its own name on the Paris Bourse.

The creation and maintenance of the French domination of the francophone African economies is the product of a long period of French colonialism and the learned dependence of the African states. For most of francophone Africa there are only limited powers allocated to their central banks. These are economies whose vulnerability to an increasingly globalised economy expands daily. There can be no trade policy without reference to currency; there can be no investment without reference to reserves. The African politicians and parties elected to promote growth, reform, changes in trade and fiscal policies are made irrelevant except with the consent of the French Treasury which rations their funds.

The key to all this was the agreement signed between France and its newly-liberated African colonies which locked these colonies into the economic and military embrace of France. This Colonial Pact not only created the institution of the CFA franc, it created a legal mechanism under which France obtained a special place in the political and economic life of its colonies.
The Pacte Colonial Agreement enshrined a special preference for France in the political, commercial and defence processes in the African countries. On defence it agreed two types of continuing contact. The first was the open agreement on military co-operation or Technical Military Aid (AMT) agreements, which weren’t legally binding, and could be suspended according to the circumstances. They covered education, training of servicemen and African security forces. The second type, secret and binding, were defence agreements supervised and implemented by the French Ministry of Defence, which served as a legal basis for French interventions. These agreements allowed France to have predeployed troops in Africa; in other words, French army units present permanently and by rotation in bases and military facilities in Africa; run entirely by the French.

In summary, the colonial pact maintained the French control over the economies of the African states; it took possession of their foreign currency reserves; it controlled the strategic raw materials of the country; it stationed troops in the country with the right of free passage; it demanded that all military equipment be acquired from France; it took over the training of the police and army; it required that French businesses be allowed to maintain monopoly enterprises in key areas (water, electricity, ports, transport, energy, etc.).  It is difficult to imagine what the changes were from colonial rule to today that aren’t merely cosmetic.

The civil war which broke out between the North and the South in the Ivory Coast was largely about the efforts of the Gbagbo government seeking to achieve real independence; a breakaway from the colonial dominance of the French which controlled almost every aspect of national life. He had the support of the Ivorian people. However now, after all the fighting and suffering by both sides, the current policy of Gbagbo seemed to veer away from confrontation to a policy of restoring the status quo ante; French neo-colonialism. This didn’t work. It fostered is a level of bitterness and rancour among a people who were watching the yoke placed on their necks again and, despite their current apathy and discouragement after years of fighting and sacrifice, they realised that, North and South, they had nothing to lose by sweeping the board clean of their black Frenchmen and installing genuine Ivorian patriots in their place.

Unfortunately this was not an option in the ballot. The problem with trying to rectify these problems by negotiation was that there has been a government which was at war with itself. After Linas-Marcoussis and the subsequent agreements since 2002, culminating in the Ouagadougou Agreement the Cabinet has been made up of representatives from the legitimate parties of the past (FPI, PDCI, RDR, PIT) and a bunch of jumped up warlord rebel parties. Each has had its own ministry or ministries at its disposal.  Government reshuffles didn’t change much but the cast of characters. There is no Cabinet; there is competitive anarchy. These imposed Cabinet members drew hefty salaries and expenses and rode in chauffeur-driven cars as they plotted the downfall of their Cabinet colleagues and the impoverishment of their fellow citizens. The National Assembly has not been elected since 2000 and many of the delegates are dead, dying or haven’t visited their constituencies in years. They present no hope for the populace.

Just there is lawless theft in the North the South is not much better. In the years since the rebellion the power brokers of the South have found an accommodation with the companies which thrive in the large rich harvests of cocoa and coffee. Even more importantly they have taken large pieces of the burgeoning oil and gas businesses which are expanding rapidly. A new refinery is being built. New pipelines are being connected. The rebels in the North have not had a chance to dine at those tables so feel that what they steal from the public purse is justified in comparison to what the Southern politicians are harvesting. Just as the rebels in the North are not likely to give up their piratical enterprises for a peace and national unity where they go back to being shoemakers and truck drivers; the fat cats of the South are not going to take the fast money from the business community and put that cash into roads, schools, electricity and hospitals. That is why the election is was a sham and without a clear conclusion

The French, buoyed by their successful intervention in Guinea where they managed to advance their candidate, Alpha Conde, to the Presidency, were sure that their manipulation of the voters’ roll and their protection of the Northern rebel leadership would give them an unassailable lead in the runoff election. However, the blatant vote-rigging in several Northern constituencies (where more people voted than were on the electoral roll) and where armed rebel troops surrounded the polling stations making sure that voters voted ‘correctly’ were so blatant that a real count could not be made in the requisite period. The Constitutional Court examined the situation and the voting procedures and declared that President Gbagbo was re-elected. This was in opposition to the Ouattara electoral commission which declared their man as the winner. Now there are, putatatively, two presidents. The Army remains loyal to Gbagbo, despite tasty offers from the French Army and diplomats to the Army higher echelons.

The French were able to convince the ‘international community’ (a euphemism for those who do not really want to be involved and who are satisfied with posturing) that the election results were free and fair. This is, of course, preposterous. In a country divided into two camps, occupied by a group of foreign military ’peacekeepers’ under the guidance of the former colonial master, and armed to the teeth at the same time, what kind of ‘free and fair’ are they talking about? The French used their influence on neighbouring francophone states to parrot their conclusions of ‘free and fair’. This is even more bizarre. How is it possible that the unindicted war criminals of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali who have given open support to the rebel north on behalf of their French masters are taken seriously by the international community. Their countries are economic basket cases; their leaders are despots and they govern without democratic institutions. They survive by French subsidies and what they can steal from the Ivory Coast. The rise of the Assassin of Abidjan, Michèle Alliot-Marie, to the post of Foreign Minister of France gives no comfort to anyone. It was she, as Defence Minister, who ordered the French soldiers to shoot down unarmed demonstrators at the Hotel Ivoire in November 2006 which killed sixty-eight men, women and children and wounded a thousand others.

This situation cannot last. There are always fears that there will be another military confrontation. The international community has hobbled the military preparedness of the Ivory Coast by sanctions and shooting down the Ivorian Air Force. However, there is no need for violence if the new Gbagbo Government decides to take affirmative action in dealing with the rebel North. What is needed is a bloodless and legal retaliation against the current situation. The North survives on the goodwill of the South. The time is ripe for the Gbagbo Government to insist that this is paid for as contracted. Let then shut off the water pipes to the North; let them turn off the electrical power; let the interrupt the communications links to the North; and let them stop the shipment of fuel from the South to the North. The North isn’t paying for them; they are not paying income taxes or corporate taxes; they do not pay customs duties.

Let the government act by shutting down these services to the North. Let the French bring in water, electricity, fuel and telephone links. If they want colonialism let them pay for their colonial ambitions. There is no need for war or conflict. Shut the valves and switches on a commercial basis. That will certainly bring the North and their glove puppeteers to a better understanding. France doesn’t have the funds to do this and desperately doesn’t want Francafrique to be an issue in the electoral campaign. This is the time to act.

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