Socialist Worker

Imperialism isn't the answer in the Ivory Coast

by Ken Olende
Issue No. 2233

The US and the European Union are stepping up the pressure to decide who will govern in West Africa’s Ivory Coast. Most observers declared that Alassane Ouattara beat sitting president Laurent Gbagbo in the election on 28 November 2010.

Gbagbo, who refuses to accept defeat, claims the intervention is an imperialist ploy.

He was a trade union organiser who came to power in 2000 after mass protests against military rule following a fixed election.

But once he became president he implemented harsh pro-market polices.

A civil war began in 2002, dividing the country between the largely Muslim north and the mostly Christian south.

Some 9,000 United Nations (UN) troops from African countries have staffed a buffer zone since 2004.

The “common sense” view is that only external intervention can restore democracy.

Gbagbo keeps some popularity through opposition to the West. His claims that the

country’s problems flow from France, the former imperial power, make a lot of sense to many Ivorians.

Mani Tanoh, a socialist from neighbouring Ghana, told Socialist Worker, “Almost all the left in Africa supports Gbagbo, seeing him as anti-imperialist.

“The French left, which has many links to Ivorian socialists, tends to support Ouattara in the name of democracy.


“But socialists shouldn’t support either. Both attacked independent voices in the media and the unions, even before they started fighting each other.

“Both were involved in vote rigging and encouraged ethnic bigotry.”

The French maintained their empire through divide and rule. Catholics in the south were encouraged to think of themselves as more authentically “Ivorian”. This ignored the fact that a small majority of the country’s population is Muslim.

Ouattara, who is a Muslim, has become the West’s favoured choice.

In the 1980s he was deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), then head of the West African Central Bank. Pro-Western president Houphouet-Boigny, who ruled for 33 years, made him prime minister of Ivory Coast.

Now he has looked to popular support, calling a general strike against the government.

Mani said, “The response of Ouattara’s call for a general strike has been very mixed, with a lot more success in his strongholds in the north. But a solid transport strike has stopped buses across the country.

“The stronger the working class basis of the movement the more it cuts across ethnicity and religion. The call was a tactic by one element of the ruling class, but it gives the possibility of mass participation.”

The violence on the streets is real. A special session of the UN human rights council in Geneva reported 173 killings and 90 cases of torture or ill treatment.

However foreign intervention will not resolve the situation.


France’s record of intervention in post-colonial Africa is appalling—its low point being the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Its almost 3,000 troops defended a “safe zone” that the the government that carried out the killings used as a corridor to get its troops out the country.

Military intervention from Western or African forces will not stop violence across Africa.

The solution is for ordinary people to fight for real change from below.

Mani said, “Its not abstract to talk about an uprising from below.

“It is only ten years since we saw Ivorian workers on the streets bringing Gbagbo to power after the military tried to fix an election.”

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Article information

Tue 4 Jan 2011, 17:30 GMT
Issue No. 2233
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