Côte d’Ivoire: Gbagbo and the Ivorian Test – Moving Beyond Anti-Imperialist Rhetoric
By Horace Campbell
Côte d’Ivoire remains in a troubling state of political deadlock, Horace Campbell discusses the increasing militarisation of politics, the history of external interests in the country and broader conditions behind the contested 2010 election.
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 HouphouÃƒ«t- 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.
CLASSIC NEO-COLONIALSM AND THE COCKPIT OF IMPERIAL INTERESTS IN COTE D’IVOIRE
After independence in 1960, Cote d’Ivoire became the cockpit of imperial machinations in West Africa for over 50 years Félix HouphouÃƒ«t-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.
BEYOND XENOPHOBIA AND CHAUVINISM IN THE PAN AFRICAN WORLD
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.
DEEPENING DEMOCRATIC STRUGGLES IN COTE D’IVOIRE
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.
STAMP OF APPROVAL BY INTERNATIONAL CAPITAL
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.
THE 2010 ELECTIONS
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.
A TEST FOR THE AFRICAN UNION
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.
BEYOND MILITARIZATION AND DEMOCRACY BEYOND ELECTIONS
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.
Original date published: 13 January 2011
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