THIS IS the latest phase of a centuries-old history of imperialism. And it is a directly colonial history which is still far from ended.
Since 1960, when independence supposedly came to much of France’s empire, there has been on average one major French military intervention in Africa every year.
Today France has some 9,000 troops in Africa—and it frequently takes action to save or remove leaders of states. And France and the US have repeatedly clashed over who should have the controlling influence on the continent.
This has become increasingly important as Western powers hungrily contemplate Africa’s oil.
Although imperialism has abandoned vast swathes of Africa to their fate there are some countries which have very valuable resources. Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest cocoa producer, and every twist and turn of Ivorian politics produces tremors on the global market.
France had a vast African empire from the 19th century. Its treatment of Africans was extremely brutal.
As the writer Adam Hochschild says, “In France’s African territories almost all land was divided among concession companies. Forced labour, hostages, slave chains, starving porters, burned villages and the chicotte (whip) were the order of the day.”
African independence was won as a result of growing popular movements and the increasing problems of colonialism. But France hardly lifted its domination over the places it had controlled.
Some 15 countries were drawn into the French franc economic zone (and many currencies are still essentially French controlled).
In Ivory Coast, France ensured that Felix Houphouet-Boigny was installed as leader. He was to rule for 33 years. In 1972 he had Ivory Coast vote against admitting China to the United Nations.
Houphouet-Boigny was a staunch supporter of Israel since 1967, condemned the Algerian resistance, supported French nuclear testing in the Sahara and backed French imperialist intervention throughout Africa.
He was followed as president by Henri Konan Bedie, who was then deposed in a military coup of 1999 by Robert Guei. Guei then claimed he had won the 2000 presidential elections but, after evidence of massive fraud, large numbers took to the streets and installed Laurent Gbagbo, the present leader, as president.
Gbagbo uses leftist rhetoric and has links to Western parties like the French Socialist Party. But he has implemented harsh pro-market polices and followed, until recently, French direction.
He has also whipped up ethnic division in order to divide the opposition and attacked the rebels who have taken over the northern half of the country.
Gbagbo’s refusal to do a deal with the rebels has enraged France, which would probably like him out. The recent invasion is designed to secure Ivory Coast for French interests and either remove Gbagbo or bring him to heel.
France must get out—from Ivory Coast and the rest of Africa—and we want no more puppet rulers or rulers who put the profits of the multinationals before people’s needs.
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