[Marxism] Imperialist France attacks Ivory Coast: the class that brought us the Algerian war is still in business

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Nov 13 16:09:17 MST 2004

Weekend Edition
November 13 / 14, 2004

Bloody Intervention in Côte d'Ivoire
Imperialist France Destroys an African Air Force

During those first demonstrations against the war on Iraq, when some
marchers sported "Chirac for President!" and "Vive la France" placards,
I thought all the Francophilia naïve. France is, after all, an
imperialist country, and while a midget in comparison with the U.S.
juggernaut, it has some 33,000 troops stationed at bases in the
Caribbean, Polynesia, East and West Africa, the Indian Ocean and
elsewhere. In recent history as a NATO member, it has routinely joined
with the U.S. in conducting imperial crusades in the Persian Gulf
(1991), the Balkans (1993-present), and Afghanistan (2001-present). It
retains colonies in the Caribbean, South America, the Indian Ocean and
South Pacific, and a dominant role in the economies of some foreign

Chirac's government challenged the U.S. on Iraq, not because of some
higher Gallic moral standard, nor because of cozy business ties with
Saddam (such as the neocons alleged as they pronounced this old ally an
"enemy"). It opposed the invasion because it understood its goal: to
secure U.S. hegemony over the entire, strategically located and oil-rich
Middle East, to ensure that in what the neocons posit as the "New
American Century" no other power (including a united Europe) will be
able to challenge America's "full spectrum dominance" of the planet.

We are back to the early twentieth century, to the world before the
socialist camp and Cold War, when international conflicts stemmed from
mere competition for resources, markets, and turf. But in this
particular phase of inter-capitalist rivalry, the leading powers
opposing U.S. imperial designs (France, Germany, Russia, etc.) can
sometimes appear as the proponents of gentility and reason. This is
because the neocon-led global power grab by a single hyperpuissance
(French for "hyperpower") is so blatant, so nakedly dependent on the
cultivation of fascistic idiocy among impressionable strata of the
American people, that its international opponents can pose as cultured
and moderate. They can posture as proponents of what Albert Camus called
la mesure, and as guardians of a civilized history of multilateralism
and international accords. But it is only a pose.

As if to extend an olive branch to the deeply miffed hyperpower, France
cooperated with the U.S. in "restoring order" in Haiti following the
orchestrated ouster of the democratically-elected regime of
Jean-Bertrand Aristide last February. Snubbing diplomatic efforts by the
association of Caribbean states (CARICOM) to prevent Aristide's
overthrow by foreign-funded thugs, French Foreign Minister Dominique de
Villepin (the same official who had a year before eloquently denounced
U.S. plans to attack Iraq, receiving warm applause from the UN General
Assembly) declared that the Aristide government had "already shaken off
constitutional legality." While the U.S. dispatched to Haiti some 2,200
marines from the 24th Expeditionary Unit, the French redeployed 300
troops from their nearby colony of Martinique "to ensure the safety of
French citizens" in what was once the most prosperous French colony in
the Americas. By April about 1,000 French forces were working with U.S.
and Canadian troops to stabilize the unruly Black state, while Aristide
in exile railed against the injustice of his state-sponsored kidnapping.

Whatever the fate of the Haitians, the French had indicated good will
towards the U.S. in offering such unexpected assistance to Washington's
effort to depose an unreliable client. (Among other things, Aristide had
accepted Cuban assistance, in the form of hundreds of physicians
providing invaluable assistance---which France had actually praised and
considered underwriting in 2000.) And this was not all. While providing
about 10% of the "international forces" working with the U.S. in Bosnia,
Kosovo, and Afghanistan, France further aligned with Washington by
cosponsoring an unusual UN resolution (1559) in September demanding the
withdrawal of foreign (Syrian) troops in Lebanon, which, like Haiti, is
a former French colony. The Lebanese state had not requested the vote.
The Syrian troops, authorized by the Arab League, have been stationed in
Lebanon for three decades. Licit or not, their presence is hardly more
offensive to regional sensibilities than the U.S. occupation of Iraq, or
the Israeli occupation of Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian land.
President Chirac surely understands that this resolution is designed to
build the case for "regime change" in Syria as planned by the U.S. and
Israeli governments. But this time, he's apparently on board the


The Main Sanglante of Chirac in Côte d'Ivoire

So it is perhaps appropriate that this hypocritical French regime
receive its comeuppance at the hands of the people of another former
French possession, placed midway between Haiti and Lebanon: Côte
d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). The West African nation, gradually colonized by
Frenchmen from 1637 and granted formal independence in 1960, is the
jewel in crown of France's former African empire, producing four-tenths
of the world's cocoa. Half the population is employed in the production
of cocoa and coffee. Despite wild fluctuations in the prices of these
products, they have historically sustained one of the most prosperous
economies in West Africa; from 1960 to 1980, the Ivorian economy grew
about 8% per year. The city of Abidjan remains the financial center of
West Africa. But from the seventies, when world prices for its products
fell while imports necessary for its infrastructure rose, the country
has fallen deeply into debt and now suffers from high unemployment,
crime, and the AIDS crisis. IMF-imposed structural adjustment programs
have contributed to decline. Growth has been negative since 2000. In
June the World Bank withdrew support.

French corporations deserve much of the blame for the deteriorating
situation. They dominate the economy, described by the International
Crisis Group as a "kind of Enron-type structure of front companies,
secret bank accounts, and transfer of funds with multiple layers of
insulation between the criminal acts and their eventual beneficiaries."
French capital controls privatized telecommunications, electricity,
water and transport sectors. France supplies 33% of Côte d'Ivoire's
imports and receives 19% of its exports, and guarantees the CFA franc
(franc of the French Community in Africa) that serves as the Ivorian

Until recently 20,000 French citizens lived in Côte d'Ivoire. France has
maintained a military base in Abidjan since the 1960s. The colonial
master never really left, but nurtured an eerily stable political order
until a military coup toppled the president in 1999. After a turbulent
interval the current president, Laurent Gbagbo, took power, but in late
2002, having survived a coup attempt, he lost control over the northern
(mostly Muslim) half of the country. A brief civil war followed, ending
with the signing of the French-sponsored Linas-Marcoussis Peace Accord
in January 2003. This brought northern rebel forces (the New Forces or
FN) into the government, and UN peacekeepers to monitor a cease-fire.
(The French had already augmented their 1200 troops in the country with
500 Foreign Legionnaires, paratroopers and Marines, making for the
largest French military deployment in Africa in two decades. Under an
unusual arrangement, the present force of 4000 French soldiers is part
of the UN force but under separate command.) 

The agreement has repeatedly broken down. Government forces killed 120
demonstrators in Abidjan in March, prompting a brief NF withdrawal from
the government. The UN High Commission for Human Rights called the
attack "carefully planned and executed operation by the security
forces...and the so-called parallel forces under the direction and
responsibility of the highest authorities of the state." Last month the
NF and an opposition party again stepped down, while fighting resumed.
On November 4, on Gbagbo's orders, the government began "a full-scale
assault" on rebel-held areas, and aircraft began daily air strikes on
the north. Two days later, nine French soldiers (referred to in the
mainstream media as "peacekeepers") were killed by an air strike. This
may well have been an accident; "Ivory Coast is not at war with France,"
Gbago declares, "and gave no order to kill these French troops."

But the French responded with a calculated attack, ordered by Jacques
Chirac himself, on the Ivorian state. They destroyed its air force of
two fighter jets and some helicopters on the tarmac in the capital of
Yamoussoukro, predictably prompting enraged citizens to explode in huge
anti-French protests. So far over 60 have been killed, and over 1000
injured, in anti-French rioting. The French say they will hold Gbagbo
responsible for such riots, which is tantamount to saying they plan to
get rid of him to better reassert neocolonial control. On November 9
French forces opened fire on pro-government demonstrators in Abidjan,
killing seven and injuring about 200. The Ivorian regime seems genuinely
puzzled at the behavior of these hostile "peacekeepers." "We love
France, it is a friendly country,"' declares the ambassador to France,
Philippe Djangone-Bi, but he questions their right to "fire at our
presidential palace, destroy our forces, humiliate us, and shoot at our
civilians from helicopters." You might suppose that Ivory Coast would
protest to the UN, but of course France wields veto power in the
Security Council. The UNSC has however issued a resolution condemning
the killing of the nine Frenchmen, and demanding that the Ivorian
government adhere to the 2003 French-brokered peace accord. 

Several thousand of the 14,000 French citizens remaining in the Ivory
Coast now await evacuation. The former colony has become a dangerous
place for them. Several dozen white women have been raped. "The
government is pushing to kill white people," claims an evacuee quoted
Nov. 10 by CBS News, while a UN spokesman, Philippe Moreux, reports that
crowds are chanting "All the whites out," and "Everybody get his white!"
Such an outcome of French-UN intervention should not come as a surprise.
Already in January 2003 Libération ran an article headlined, "France
caught in a trap," comparing French involvement in Côte d'Ivoire to the
U.S. in Vietnam. "First, we send soldiers to protect our nationals,"
declared diplomatic correspondent Christophe Ayad. "Then, we send more
soldiers to protect the soldiers protecting our nationals. In the end,
we send soldiers to decide a war." Nearly two years later, France
remains ensnared, with too much at stake to detach itself, given global
addiction to chocolate and caffeine (and petroleum, rubber and palm
oil). Mais bien sur, France must prevail in this struggle with the
anti-white fanatics. "Terroristes," should be call them?

Ironically Washington, rankled at French intransigence on the Iraq
attack, initially opposed the French deployment. In January 2003 State
Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that UN backing for French
troops would be "inappropriate." But in February the U.S. agreed with a
UN resolution endorsing it. Today the neocons bogged down in Iraq must
be smacking their lips with satisfaction to see their sometimes
uncooperative ally faced with its own untidy imperial crisis. Meanwhile,
those in the U.S. antiwar movement who once idolized Monsieur Chirac
should note the obvious. France, too, is an imperialist country,
constantly creating new enemies among weak, humble people who resort to
whatever means are available to resist their oppression. The French
president, like the American, has a lot of blood on his hands. 

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct
Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants,
Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors:
The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial
Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also
a contributor to CounterPunch's merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq,
Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp at granite.tufts.edu

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