19 October 2021, New African
The reporting of the crisis so far by the international media has, as usual, skirted the core of the problem in Côte d’Ivoire, which goes beyond the presidential election. In fact, the presidential election is only the tip of the iceberg. According to keen observers of the Ivorian scene, the real problem is not even between Gbagbo and Ouattara; they say it is between Gbagbo and France, the former colonial master whose huge tentacles are still firmly planted in Côte d’Ivoire and in the other 13 Francophone countries in Africa. They say until the French connection is understood and resolved, real peace will be difficult to achieve in a severely polarised Côte d’Ivoire.
According to President Gbagbo’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Koffi Charles (Ouattara has since sent his own UN ambassador to New York), “the core of the problem in Côte d’Ivoire is a conspiracy by the French government to use any means necessary to remove Gbagbo from power because they think he is dangerous and inimical to their interests in Francophone Africa. But Gbagbo will not allow the French to control and run Côte d’Ivoire on their own terms.”
According to Gbagbo and the left-leaning intellectuals grouped around him, “the French problem” goes back a long way. Gbagbo is a professor of history by career. So he and the intellectuals around him know inside-out the Colonial Pact that France signed with its former African colonies before granting them independence in 1960. Gbagbo and his group hate with passion the Colonial Pact and the Cooperation Agreements attached to it!
And not only them – across Francophone Africa in general, thousands of intellectuals and discerning people hate the Colonial Pact as well. And they want it abrogated.
They think the Pact gives France too much control over their “so-called independent” countries.
Gbagbo and his like-minded group of intellectuals have yearned to break free from the tight French stranglehold on their countries. But there is danger attached. If France allows Côte d’Ivoire out of its grip, the other 13 CFA member countries might go the same way, and France would be a king without clothes. In fact, it would seriously affect not only French prestige internationally, but also its economy. France without Francophone Africa would be like a pot of soup without salt.
So France cannot let that happen. In the past, before Gbagbo’s time in government, any Francophone African president who as much as whispered the thought of breaking free from the French grip or even advocating for an amendment of the CFA arrangements, was given a nice send-off via a coup d’état. Thus fear immobilized the Francophone leaders, preventing them from doing anything about the Colonial Pact.
The French knew Gbagbo and his group very well, long before he became president. They knew his agenda, that he wanted to throw them out of Côte d’Ivoire; so for years they tried to stop him from becoming president. But he slipped through.
Of course, France could not leave Gbagbo alone, to triumph over them in the long term! Some experts have even suggested that the coup of 2002 that nearly overthrew Gbagbo had the mark of French hands all over it. Gbagbo was on a visit to Italy when the coup happened. Insiders say he was offered a super-attractive political asylum in France by President Jacques Chirac but Gbagbo turned it down and rushed home in the middle of the counter-assault by his loyalist troops to re-take the capital, Abidjan. That fighting, unfortunately, developed into a rebellion that split the country into two – a civil war between the now government-controlled South and the Forces Nouvelles-controlled North. As expected, President Jacques Chirac’s antagonistic policies towards Gbagbo have been continued by his successor, President Nicolas Sarkozy. Ironically, in the early months after the baton passed from Chirac to Sarkozy, Gbagbo told a foreign TV interviewer that “since Chirac left the Elysée Palace, I can go to sleep without thinking that a military expedition is coming to get me in my bed.”
Gbagbo’s side has forever accused the French of being the masters behind the rebels in the North. They even say the French are using the rebels to restore the status quo ante. Thus, to Gbagbo and his supporters, a Ouatarra presidency is another name for French control of Côte d’Ivoire. They say this is why France and its allies have overlooked Gbagbo’s complaints of “massive electoral fraud” perpetrated in eight districts in the North, to give Ouattara victory in the presidential run-off.
According to Koffi Charles: “The French tried to help Ouattara to steal the elections because they know they can use him to serve their interests in the country. Well, the French can choose to disrespect us as an African country but we are proud of who we are and will never, ever again allow them to bully and cheat us.”
Charles’ view is shared by Gbagbo’s legal advisor, Augustin Douoguih: “Some people have simply reduced the Ivorian crisis to just an election dispute. No! The election impasse is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said in a major interview published in mid January. “To better understand the complexities of the crisis, one has to know the role and the culpability of the French in it and the French hidden agenda.”
He continued: “Beneath all the noise going on is a quiet struggle by President Gbagbo to free Côte d’Ivoire from French economic exploitation and a vicious French government using any means necessary to bring him down.
Charles added: “President Gbagbo has called for an international panel to investigate and analyse the electoral process and the results to settle the dispute, but the French and Ouattara say no.
“The African Union’s first envoy to Côte d’Ivoire, former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki, after carefully reviewing the situation, made similar recommendations. Where is Mbeki now and what happened to his report and recommendations?”
Charles then made his strongest statement yet. “The military, the police and the people are all solidly behind President Gbagbo,” he said. “We will resist any foreign intervention with the last drop of our blood and till the last man falls. No one should underestimate our resolve to defend our constitutionally-elected president, our country and its sovereignty. Any attempt by Ecowas or any foreign power to forcibly remove President Gbagbo will lead to a bloody civil war that may engulf the whole of West Africa. About a third of the Ivorian population is from neighbouring countries; Burkinabes alone number about three million.
“Some Ecowas leaders have been hoodwinked by the French into rushing to consider military action without thinking through things for themselves. Does it make sense to plunge West Africa into war and destabilise the region over an election dispute?” Koffi Charles asked defiantly.
All said and done, natural justice demands that Gbagbo’s complaints of electoral fraud and rigging in the North must be investigated for what they are by a truly impartial international community. Rigging an election against a sitting president is as bad as rigging it against an opposition candidate.
If the investigation finds Gbagbo’s complaints to have no
merit, then he can be forced out if he doesn’t go peacefully. If his complaints turn out to have merit, then the demands of the Ivorian Constitution should be allowed to hold sway. A new election should then be supervised by truly impartial international observers who will be free to go anywhere in the country, without fear, let or hindrance.
Until such an investigation is carried out, any threat of military action and the imposition of economic and other sanctions (as already applied by the European Union, France, America and their allies) is against natural justice and will not bring real peace to Côte d’Ivoire. Such things may succeed in putting Ouattara in power, but experience from Iraq and elsewhere say such impositions are no solutions at all as they bring no real peace to countries polarised like Côte d’Ivoire.
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