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The Hague Comes of Age

I am delighted by the acquittal of Laurent Gbagbo at the International Criminal Court. As I explained at the time in a series of articles, Gbagbo was ousted as President of Ivory Coast by a corrupt election and an armed insurgency, both funded by Western oil interests, chiefly but not solely by Trafigura plc.

Gbagbo was guilty in western eyes of failing to do what left wing African leaders are supposed to do, allow himself to be quickly butchered and his supporters massacred. So Gbagbo ended up at the International Criminal Court as a war criminal, while Big Oil’s puppet, Alassane Ouattara, is now comfortably ensconced in the Presidential Palace of Ivory Coast, and getting very rich indeed.

So the acquittal of Gbagbo today – which comes as something of a shock – represents a very important coming of age for the Hague. I have always, as an internationalist, supported the International Criminal Court, but its failure to be pro-active in prosecuting Tony Blair on the Nuremburg aggressive war precedent, and its serial record of convicting only the Western powers’ designated enemies, made it very difficult to defend.

The media, insofar as they have noticed the Gbagbo acquittal, portray it as a failure and an embarrassment for the court, as though the role of a court is simply to declare guilty and bang up everyone before it. In fact this may be the occasion on which the ICC finally came of age and discovered a nodding acquaintance with the concept of justice.

The number of foreign correspondents employed by British newspapers has fallen by over 90% in 20 years. One purpose of this blog is to supply information on countries and situations which I know personally, to which the MSM simply do not pay attention. It is worth noting that this blog has been campaigning against Chinese persecution of the Uighurs for 12 years before it became the latest fashionable cause or pretext for neo-cons to pretend concern about. Indeed when I started writing about the Uighurs in 2005, I am willing to bet not one of the MSM so-called journalists who have recently churned out copy and paste articles on the subject, had ever heard of them. In a fortnight’s time I am heading for other areas where the FCO travel advice strongly advises British citizens not to venture.

Remember tonight, there is a world beyond the Brexit debate and the crass and sordid mess of Westminster politics.

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A New Low for the International Criminal Court

The ICC really has plumbed new depths in the current trial of ex-Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo. I do urge you to read the analysis I wrote at the time of his overthrow. Gbagbo certainly was guilty of crimes, but much more killing and violence was done by current Ivory Coast President, and former Deputy MD of the IMF, Alassane Ouattara. My article was written at the time to counter an extremely misleading one written by Thalia Griffiths, editor of African Energy, and published in the Guardian. I have since discovered more about the role of Trafigura in funding Ouattara’s forces, and the picture becomes ever clearer.

Ouattara killed more than Gbagbo but now sits in the Presidential palace, secure with his French and CIA backers, and confines Gbagbo to the International Criminal Court. That institution shames itself by making itself a simple instrument of victor’s justice, or of prosecuting the side that the major western powers were fighting against. To underline the hypocrisy of this, yesterday Ouattara granted Ivorian citizenship to his ally Blaise Compaore, former President of Burkina Faso, to help him avoid an international arrest warrant for crimes including the murder of his predecessor. Compaore had helped Ouattara fix his election.

Please note, it is very important to avoid the fallacy of “goodies” and “baddies” in African politics. The Ivorien election was extremely unsafe and characterised by cheating on all sides. I am in no sense defending Gbagbo as an innocent.

Yesterday I met with a Western diplomat who told me they are in fact well aware that Campaore’s hand was behind the attacks in Ougadougou a month ago that were blamed on Al Qaida. It would be unfair to say that any Western security service planned or even approved of it. But it benefits their narrative in a number of ways to go along with it. Re-establishing Compaore in Burkina Faso remains a French objective, and the CIA are happy to play ball.

I am in West Africa until Saturday.

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Truth and Ivory Coast

An article in the Guardian yesterday by Thalia Griffiths quite rightly pointed out the huge problems facing Alassane Ouattara in uniting and governing Ivory Coast. But the article is remarkably uncritical of Ouattara, and follows the common Western fallacy of promoting a “good guy” in a civil war when the leaders on all sides are “bad guys”.

This is the fundamental flaw in liberal interventionism. It inevitably leads to the imposition of governments like the ultra-corrupt coastal elite of Sierra Leone, like Bosnian and Albanian gangster mafias or like Alassane Ouattara. I wrote what I believe is the only genuine, full and eye-witness analysis of the truth of Blair’s Sierra Leone intervention in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo. The essential advice is simple. Follow the money.

That approach leads you quickly to note that Thalia Griffiths is the editor of African Energy. Ivory Coast is newly oil rich with extremely prospective deep fields under further exploration. That is why French army tanks finally crushed Gbagbo. That is why Sarkozy put such huge effort into establishing Ouattara.

Now we must not make the reverse error of glorifying the Gbagbo side. Gbagbo clung to office and postponed elections too long. He played the ethnic card. He indulged in nepotism. His forces killed the innocent. He was one of those noble and longstanding opposition figures who becomes something of a nightmare in power. His side cheated, beat and intimidated just as much as Ouattara’s side in elections which it is farcical to claim were free, fair and properly administered, or were any kind of realistic guide to the will of the people of a deeply riven state. I hope that Gbagbo is decently treated, but do not regret his loss of power.

That said, the attempt by Thalia Griffiths to puff Ouattara is simply a symptom of the saccharine treatment he will get in future by all those connected to western oil interests, including western governments. There were massacres on both sides, but the most startling were carried out by Ouattara’s forces, by ethnic militias which Ouattara deliberately mobilised with French money, including fighters brought in from neighbouring Liberia.

This by Thalia is an absolute disgrace:

Recent reports of atrocities in the west have blamed Ouattara supporters, but while conflicts over land pit northerners against southerners, it is cruel but convenient to blame Ouattara for the latest flare-up of conflicts that have existed for a generation. It is land conflict coupled with a breakdown in state security – not urban Abidjan politics – that are behind reports of killings in the west. Clashes like these are vile, but nothing new.

That is simply untrue. The massacre of 800 people at Duekoue a fortnight ago is thankfully extremely rare, and was without doubt committed by Ouattara mobilised militias. To try to lessen this is crass.

Consider this about Ouattara. He was Prime Minister to a truly dreadful African despot, Houphouet-Boigny, who was dictator of Ivory Coast for 33 years. Houphouet-Boigny moved the capital to his home village and spent US$300 million on building the world’s largest church there. He looted US$9 billion from the people of Ivory Coast. Ouattara was his ally, his finance minister then prime minister, and has never disavowed him. All that Thalia notes about H-B is that he had a policy of ethinic inclusion. That again is disgraceful journalism.

But also Houphouet-Boigny and Ouattara’s Ivory Coast was the base for both French military and CIA operations throughout the continent and for promoting the very worst kind of western interests – which is why Africans view with huge suspicion Ouattara’s instalment by Western forces.

Ivory Coast was allied to apartheid South Africa and was the sanctions busting capital of Africa. Vast amounts of goods, including but not limited to oil, were consigned to Ivory Coast on their papers and trans-shipped to the apartheid regime to bust sanctions. Ivory Coast also provided all the logistic back-up to Jonas Savimbi and UNITA and it was in Abidjan that the CIA and apartheid regime worked together to promote the terrible Angolan civil war.

It was also in Abidjan that the CIA organised the coup that overthrew Kwame Nkrumah and planned the death of Patrice Lumumba. (Again, we should not fall into the goodies and baddies trap. The CIA and Ivory Coast regime were definitely bad. But Nkrumah too had become a cruel dictator – again, read The Catholic Orangemen of Togo.)

Ouattara became head of the african department and deputy managing director of the IMF in the 1980s when that organisation was forcing disastrous structural adjustment programmes all over the continent. African nations were forced to liberalise, reduce tariffs and open up their economies when no such constraints were placed on the developing nations with which they were trading. To give just one example of how this worked, which I personally tried but failed to counter: Nigeria was forced by the IMF to reduce tariffs on imported sugar. The EU then flooded Nigeria with millions of tons of sugar, at one third of the cost of its production, with the remaining two thirds paid to European farmers as export subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy. Nigeria’s sugar plantations – which were actually very efficient – collapsed under the unfair subsidised competition from which Nigeria was not allowed to protect them. That was Ouattara. France was very happy with him.

So not only does Ouattara need to heal the deep divisions in his own population, he has to prove to the rest of Africa he is not just a western tool. That will not be easy. I pointed out in an earlier posting that there is dislike between Ouattara and Zuma; I hope that this gives you some idea why.

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Ivory Coast Tragedy

In the short term, military force might be able to install Ouattara as President of Ivory Coast. But the ethnic and religious divisions of the civil war have been reopened, and deepened. Ivory Coast desperately needs a healing figure, somebody who is not Ouattara or Gbagbo. Having been imposed on Abidjan by force, Ouattara will only stay there by force. The future looks bleak.

Many thousands have been killed in the last week. The massacre of 800 civilians at Duekoue is only the worst individual event. It was carried out by fighters from the old LURD camp in the Liberian civil war, brought across the border by Ouattara with French money. That money has also brought in Burkinese and Senegalese fighters for Ouattara.

This is a tragedy for Africa, because it devalues democracy. Ouattara, with a strong personal push from Sarkozy, secured international recognition for his election victory. In truth it was an extremely dubious election, with no freedom for Ouattara supporters in the South or for Gbagbo supporters in the North in a poisonous contest. It would have been better for everyone if Gbagbo had accepted that he lost and left quietly. But the truth is that both sides’ claims of victory are fallacious. This was nothing like a free and fair election. Somehow the UN and the international community finds itself in the position of imposing by force, fighting alongside the perpetrators of massacre, the “democratically elected” victor. This denigrates democracy.

Nor should it be forgotten that Gbagbo’s forces had been responsible for plenty of killing of innocent civilians, particularly among the Ouattara minority in Abidjan itself. The international community should declare that both men have shown they are unfit to rule, and disqualify both from new elections.

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The Puzzle of National Identity

Ivory Coast, like its neighbour Ghana, has recently discovered significant volumes of deepwater oil which is just coming in to commercial exploitation. That does much to explain the unusually hight degree of Western interest in its electoral standoff, and particularly the strenuous French support for President-elect Alassane Ouattara, who is close to French oil interests.

Unfortunately an apparently united international community and strenuous economic sanctions have done nothing to move Mr Ouattara closer to power, and he remains a virtual prisoner in a 5 star hotel, protected by concentric rings of UN APCs. The large majority of the population of the capital, Abidjan, would string Mr Ouattara up given half the chance. The distinct “incomer” districts where Ouattara’s Abidjan supporters live have been pillaged and terrorised by supporters, of Laurent Gbagbo including the army and police. At least thirty Ouattara supporters have been killed this weekend already, as Ivory Coast threatens to plunge back into civil war.

Like most West African states, Ivory Coast has a sharp cultural split between Northerners and Southerners. Meet any Gbagbo supporter and they will immediately tell you that Ouattara is not really an Ivorien at all, but rather from Burkina Faso or Mali.

The root cause of the conflict is the nonsensical colonial boundaries drawn up between the British, French and the US sponsors of Liberia. Again like West Africa in general, the boundaries bear no reference to tribal, cultural, economic or social divisions, other than those since inculcated artificially by the existence of the boundaries themselves. Cultural identities, tribal and chieftaincy loyalties have no relation to these boundaries – and divisions within the artificial nation are potent and dangerous.

Yet is is also true that new national identities do take hold to an extraordinary degree. Cross the border from Ghana and you instantly see a completely different world – Gitanes, scooters, everybody speaking French. Football matches are a vital component of national pride, and the Ivory Coast team is supported enthusiastically by Northerner and Southerner alike. Yet individual national identities are blurred where the border has no tribal meaning.

Artifical borders are not the only unfortunate colonial legacy in Ivory Coast. To a large extent traditional landholding systems were overturned and replaced with large plantations, that made Ivory Coast the world’s largest producer of cocoa. But it also brought landlessness, rural poverty, urban drift and the use of child labour on plantations. Given existing ethnic tensions and this weak social structure, increasing migration from drought affected Mali and Burkina Faso helped create the current tinderbox.

Nor is the international community as united behind Ouatarra as the endorsement of the EU, Ecowas and African Union would appear to suggest. Gbagbo has strong support, including practical covert assistance, from Ghana, where the NDC government views him as an important ideological ally. More crucially still, Gbagbo enjoys strong personal support from Jacob Zuma, who detests Ouattara and views him as a colonial puppet. The Chinese hope that if Gbagbo can be kept in power, the west will be punished and they rewarded with oil contracts. And the electoral situation was not as clear as it seems; the electoral commission and the constitutional court declared different victors, free and fair polling was not really possible in either the North or the South as supporters of both candidates terrorised the minority in the areas they respectfully control. There is also the great unsaid, but which everybody who knows Ivory Coast understands; there are a great many more voters on the register in the north than there are actual people living there.

All of which makes it quite remarkable that Ouatarra received so much international endorsement in the first place. They keys to this are strong and very active personal support from Sarkozy, and the firm backing of Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali.

All the signs are that this protracted standoff is going to decline into something much more violent. Neither “President” is interested in compromise. Ouattara is notably vainglorious, while Gbagbo is something of a thug. The Ivory Coast needs to be shot of both of them and to discover younger leaders and a politics that unites its people, rather than serves the interests of opposing northern and southern elites.

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