The failure of the French intervention in Ivory Coast

We publish this translation of an article that originally appeared in the last issue of La Riposte, the Marxist journal in France. The article analyses the role of French imperialism in the latest conflicts, and looks at the perspectives for future French involvement in the region. 

Considering the complexity of the situation on the ground, the successive assertions and denials, the fog and disinformation inherent in all armed conflicts, many workers and youth in France find it difficult to follow what is happening in Ivory Coast.

The French army never left Ivory Coast, but considerable reinforcements have been sent there in order to support President Gbagbo against the northern rebels. It is only thanks to the French intervention under the cover of Operation Unicorn, said to “maintain peace”, that the regime of Gbagbo was able to stop the advance of the rebels from the north into Abidjan. Then, we learned that on November 6 2004, planes from Gbagbo’s camp bombed the positions held by the French army, and that the French army also opened fire on a pro-Gbagbo demonstration.

The rebellion of 2002

The sending of French troops was not a mission of “peace”, but a military intervention against the northerners, upon whom the French army opened fire three times in the course of the first few weeks of the operation.

This rebellion began with the incursion of deserters from the Ivory Coast from Burkina Faso. This attempted coup d’etat failed, but it provoked a generalised insurrectionary movement in the northern half of the country.

The police and soldiers from Abidjan, notoriously corrupt, are motivated more by the extortion of money than in confronting enemies who are shooting at them. They would not have offered any resistance to the northern offensive. Without the French intervention a large section of the country was at risk of falling into the hands of the “new forces”. Chirac and Villepin knew this perfectly, and it is for this reason that the military expedition was ordered.

Thus, even though we have no illusions in the northern rebel forces, the fact is that the policies of Chirac consist of support for the reactionary regime of Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo has perpetuated the propaganda initiated by former president Bédié. This strategy of division aims to fuel friction and violence between the native population and the immigrants coming from neighbouring countries, and to prohibit at the same time presidential candidate Alassane Outtara from holding office. Outtara, the president of the north, is no better than Gbagbo. It is a choice between a former minister under the dictatorship of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, and a former representative of the International Monetary Fund.

The “peace keeping” forces

The Marcoussis accords, signed in February 2003 and triumphantly hailed by Villepin, have as an objective to buy time for Gbagbo and allow him to buy large quantities of arms on international markets (principally in Eastern Europe and Israel), in order to prepare an offensive against the rebels. France did not do anything to force Gbagbo to respect the accords. Admittedly, Gbagbo was committed to allowing Outtara participate in the presidential elections set for 2005, but the fact that the parliament, largely dominated by the FPI (Gbagbo’s party) rejected this concession goes a long way to show his real intentions.

French diplomats claim to not have known about Gbagbo’s purchasing of arms. The French intelligence services and the army in place there did not apparently see anything. If that were true, it would be a sad comment on the efficiency of French security and military intelligence. But it is a lie. Not only must France have known about the purchasing of arms, but considering her important position in the international armaments market, she largely facilitated them.

The complicity of France in Abidjan can be seen in the behaviour of the French army there. It did not do anything as long as government forces were content to attack the rebels, and was mindful of its neutrality until Gbagbo’s missiles began to rain down on French barracks. With the destruction of Gbagbo’s military aircraft as a reprisal for these attacks, and the imposition of the international embargo on Ivory Coast, the case for departure returned. Neither the government nor the rebels are strong enough to impose themselves across the entire national territory. Chirac, who wanted to help Gbagbo re-conquer the north in 2002 and 2003, spoke, last November 14, of the “fascist drift” of the regime of Abidjan. The 5,500 French soldiers thus faced enemies to the north and the south.

Imperialist manoeuvres in Africa

The profound causes for the pillaging and violence against the French expatriates during the days that the followed the strikes of the French army, are evident enough. The regular drop in the standard of living of the population, the mass unemployment, the dreadful misery of the shantytowns, the fall in the price of cacao and the control of French enterprises over the economic resources of the country form the backdrop to the events which are taking place in the country. The Ivory Coast is nominally “independent”, but economically colonised. We can easily imagine the psychological and political impact of the machine guns and helicopters of the former colonial power firing into a crowd of demonstrators on the youth of Ivory Coast. It was not necessary to push a part of population farther, notably the most desperate, to turn on those who are in their eyes – correctly or incorrectly – the privileged and the exploiters.

The failure of the French military intervention in Ivory Coast is new evidence of the weakening of French capitalism internationally – to the profit, notably, of the United States. France does not want to absolutely lose its influence in Ivory Coast. But the situation is getting out of hand, and the next evolution of the conflict in the country runs the risk of forcing France to make a choice similar to that of the Americans in Iraq, who intervened militarily in order to safeguard their economic and strategic interests. Either French imperialism abandons the country, or it will be progressively driven, by the logic of the events themselves, into an undeclared “colonial” war and will find itself complicit in ethnic massacres – as was the case in Rwanda in the 1990s.