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.