CÔTE D'IVOIRE: France schemes to control Ivory Coast
Dr. Gary K. Busch

France has attacked the Ivory Coast once more and, again, is seeking UN blessing for its aggression and barbarism. Under the rubric of 'peacekeeping' the French have been supporting the rebels, known as the "New Forces". These rebels take defensive positions which abut French peacekeeper's lines and fire over their heads at the FANCI (Ivory Coast Army) soldiers. The French continue to protect these rebels, arm them, feed them, transport them and offer them tactical communication facilities. The notion of 'peacekeeping' is a total farce and a travesty.

The French are determined to oust the democratically-elected President of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo. After years of struggle against a country ruled by 'Black Frenchmen' with a French advisor in every civil service post, the FPI (Gbagbo's party) managed a democratic victory at the polls. Since then, the French have been trying to oust Gbagbo and put in another Black Frenchmen whom they shelter in Paris awaiting the great day.

The current debacle has its roots in the post-election period in September 2002, when Gbagbo was on a state visit to Rome. The military dictator Guei had recently been defeated at the ballot box and the new Ivorian government was busy untying the stranglehold of French corporations over the nation's economy. The team of the President and his two Ministers represented a powerful force for change in the Ivory Coast and had substantial support from the Ivory Coast population. Change and reform in the Ivory Coast meant a struggle to relax the control by the French over banking, insurance, transport, cocoa trading and energy policies. The Gbagbo government had demonstrated, during its short term in power, a spirit of nationalism, which had mobilised the population. It was also threatening the French hold over the Ivory Coast economy by inviting in companies from other countries to tender for Government projects.

On the Wednesday in September 2002 when the rebellion began, there were about 650 rebels holed up in Bouake. These were Guei appointees who had been purged from the Army. They had little equipment and ammunition, as they had expected a conflict of no more than five days. President Gbagbo was in Rome, meeting the Pope, and the rebels felt sure that the coup could take place quickly with the President out of the country.

As the coup began in the second largest town, Bouake, the loyalist troops (FANCI) under Lida Kouassi responded. They were able to surround the rebels, trapping them in the city, and killing about 320 of them. They were positioned for a final onslaught on the remaining 300 rebels but were suddenly stopped by the French commander of the body of French troops stationed in the Ivory Coast. He demanded a delay of 48 hours to evacuate the French nationals and some US personnel in the town. The FANCI demanded to be allowed to attack Bouake to put down the rebels but the French insisted on the delay. As soon as there was a delay, the French dropped parachutists into Bouake who took up positions alongside the rebels. This made it impossible for the FANCI to attack without killing a lot of Frenchmen at the same time. U.S. Special Forces from Ghana went in and out in twelve hours rescuing some American students trapped there.

During those 48 hours the French military command chartered three Antonov-12 aircraft, which were picked up in Franceville in Gabon. These Ukrainian-registered aircraft were filled with military supplies stocked by the French in Central Africa. Two of the planes started their journey in Durban where Ukrainian equipment and military personnel were loaded on board. The chartered planes flew to Nimba County, Liberia (on the Ivory Coast border) and then on to the rebel areas in Ivory Coast (Bouake and Korhogo) where they were handed to the rebels. Busloads of troops were transported from Burkina Faso to Korhogo dressed in civilian clothes where they were equipped with the military supplies brought in by the French from Central Africa and the Ukraine.
 
All of a sudden there were 2,500 fully armed soldiers on the rebel side as mercenaries from Liberia and Sierra Leone were also brought in by the same planes. They were equipped with Kalashnikovs and other East bloc equipment which was never part of the Ivory Coast arsenal. France supplied sophisticated communications equipment as well. Once the rebels were rearmed and equipped, the French gradually withdrew, leaving operational control to the Eastern European mercenaries who directed the rebels in co-ordination with the French headquarters at Yamoussoukro. The French continued to subvert the loyalist army at every turn and attempted to purge the army of its key officers.

One of the reasons for the French unhappiness with Gbagbo was that he refused to carry on with the traditional French corruption of the Ivory Coast. At the time of the coup, the country was virtually out of fuel. The director of the S.I.R (Société Ivoirienne de Raffinage) had emptied the reserves of the country's energy coffers. He fled to France with the money where he was offered sanctuary and immunity for his theft from the French. There was no fuel and no money to buy fuel. The representative of Total-Elf visited Gbagbo's office with the French ambassador and said that they had two ships standing by off the Ivory Coast ports, which they could offer to Gbagbo. All they wanted in return was the country's only oil refinery, which they would purchase for one symbolic franc. The French would operate the refinery as it wished, using the high-priced oil Total would supply. They brought a bag full of money for Gbagbo. He ordered them out of his office and told them not to forget the bag of money they had left. A similar exchange took place with the cocoa entrepreneurs.

The same was true for the Companie Eléctricité Ivoirienne, the national power company. The contract with the CIE was due for renewal in early 2004 and the French (SAUR) demanded the right to continue to operate the national electricity grid in the way in which they had been operating previously. The Ivory Coast government consumed about 170 billion CFA francs (about 260 € million) a year. The French would supply overpriced gas to the ABB Azito gas power plant as their rent on the power station and grid but would charge everyone else fees for power. These fees were not to be taxed as revenue to the operators but remitted directly to them. There was no value added to the national economy, no amortisation of the debt incurred in building the stations and the grid and with no control over the prices. Gbagbo and his ministers said that this was unreasonable and promised that when the current contract ran out it would be open for international tender. The French were fuming.

The French (Bouygues) had agreed with President Bedie in 1999 to build a new bridge in Abidjan. The price agreed was 120 billion CFA francs (183€ million) or 200 billion if it were to be a bridge with an upper and lower level. When Gbagbo took office he was appalled at this gross overspend and cancelled the contract. When Gbagbo was in China the Chinese said they could do it for 60 billion (for an upper and lower bridge) and they were given the contract in May 2002. The French were furious but could only continue to plot against Gbagbo. There were many such conflicts. The French knew their game was up and decided to do something about it. The decided that, whatever the cost, they would remove Gbagbo from office or make the country ungovernable (except with French help).

France has had decades of experience in undermining African governments and ushering in the massacre of thousands of Africans. During and after the genocide unleashed in Rwanda during April 1994, France was shown to have played a similar role in this horrendous crime, which caused the deaths of at least 800,000 people. Belgium, France and the United Nations knew in advance that preparations were being made to exterminate the Tutsi minority in Rwanda, and did nothing to prevent it. The French government, which kept the Hutu-led government in power, protected the killers and supplied them with weapons while the massacres were in progress. "Operation Amaryllis," the French code name for the evacuation of European civilians in Rwanda in 1994, also organized the removal to France of Hutu "extremists" centrally involved in the genocide. At the same time the French military refused to evacuate Tutsi employees of the French embassy in Kigali, who faced extermination. A second evacuation, "Operation Turquoise," was mounted later, as the RPF offensive was on the brink of taking power, to bring Rwandan government and military leaders to safety in France while French officers managed the "transition" to RPF rule. The French armed the Hutu militias for a period of ten days after the genocide began and intervened to protect the Hutu military when it was endangered.

France's allies in the Ivory Coast were among the most bloodthirsty of Africa's irregular soldiers/killers. Most of these rebels were not Ivorian at all. They were the wandering mercenaries of the Liberian and Sierra Leone wars who had attached themselves to the military coup leader, Robert Guei whom Gbagbo defeated in a free election. There were three rebel groups which appeared in the Ivory Coast: The Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement (MPCI) - which was the first to take up arms against the government; The Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP); and The Ivorian Popular Movement of the Great West (MPIGO). Of these the MPCI had a political base within the Ivory Coast formed from Guei supporters and the large immigrant communities of Burkinabes, Malians and Guineans who had come to Ivory Coast as economic migrants. (They were better known by their initials Mouvement Pour Les Cons Ivres - because they showed up in battles drunk and drugged.) The other two were ad hoc groups of Liberians, defeated Sierra Leonean rebels and Guinean dissidents offered shelter and support by Charles Taylor of Liberia. The familiar faces from the Liberian civil war were seen in the television clips of the rebels. Moskito Bockarie from Sierra Leone was familiar face among the rebels. Ukrainian pilots and mercenaries from these wars and the wars in the Congos and Angola appear regularly. A substantial proportion of the rebels spoke English with each other rather than French.

After a period of sustained fighting a temporary cease-fire was agreed. In this the rebels were in control of a large portion of the West and North of the country. This didn't mean peace for the poor Ivorians living in rebel-controlled areas. On the 15th of February 2003 the UN Humanitarian Envoy for the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, Carolyn McAskie, reported that "Western Cote d'Ivoire, extending roughly from the coastal town of Tabou to the mountain towns of Man, Danane and Touba, remains highly insecure because of continued fighting between armed elements and the national army. The presence of Liberian militias running rampant and drugged kids committing every kind of atrocity possible has rendered the area a 'no-go' zone. She went on, including the North, "The complete interruption of all administrative functions, including banking, in rebel-held areas since September 2002 is causing a crippling lack of cash flow, especially in the north, and the continued paralysis of health services." There are almost one million internal refugees inside the Ivory Coast.

In that climate of civil disorder, the French invited all the warring parties, to a peace-making session from 15 to 23 January 2003 at Linas-Marcoussis, in France. Attending the meeting were representatives of the legitimate Ivory Coast Government as well as the rebel factions and the other major Ivory Coast political parties who were not in the government. At that meeting the political opponents of the Gbagbo Government and the rebel military forces agreed to create a government of reconciliation, which would include them. The term of the current elected government does not end until 2005 and the French and the rebels decided that during the period until the end of the presidential term, the opposition would play a crucial part in the running of the government. They demanded the posts of Minister of Defence and Minister of the Interior. This was never to be. However, a 'neutral' Prime Minister Seydou Diallo, was put in to supervise the harmony.

After a long period of delay, the ministers from the New Forces took their place in the Cabinet. Their ranks were diminished by the fallout of the end to the war in Liberia where Charles Taylor was driven from office. Many of the Liberians fighting in the Ivory Coast went home and left a power vacuum among the rebels. These started fighting among themselves and several leaders were murdered. There was a minor civil war going on among the rebels, with each faction blaming the French for not protecting them. These rebels are being attacked by other rebels; not the FANCI. 

In May 2004, the UN found mass graves in the northern town of Korhogo. Later there were gun battles between rival rebel factions which left 22 people dead in Korhogo and the central town of Bouake. These firefights began with a late-night attack on June 20 by "heavily-armed elements" on a convoy travelling from Burkina Faso to Korhogo carrying rebel leader Guillaume Soro. The violence in June followed what forces loyal to rebel leader Guillaume Soro described as an assassination attempt, for which they blamed his Paris-based rival Ibrahim Coulibaly, known as IB.  Internecine warfare spread across the rebel-held areas.

On 29 February 2004 the UN Security Council agreed to send a peacekeeping force of more than 6,000 troops to Cote d'Ivoire to supervise the disarmament of rebel forces and to prepare for the presidential elections due in October 2005. The council voted unanimously in favour of creating the new peacekeeping force after the United States dropped its earlier opposition to the proposal. The UN Operation in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) formally came into existence on April 4 for an initial period of 12 months. It replaced the existing UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire, known by its French acronym MINUCI, which included a handful of military liaison officers.

France made clear that its 4,000 troops in Cote d'Ivoire would not become part of the UN peacekeeping force, numbering itself 6,000 UN troops. The French soldiers kept the peace and everything else they could find. Twelve French soldiers on peacekeeping duties in Ivory Coast were arrested in connection with a bank theft there in September 2004. The troops had been assigned to protect a branch of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) and were charged with stealing $120,000 (100,000 euros). This is not a unique case of the French stealing.
 
Throughout 2004 the rebels refused to carry out their agreed disarmament. They were engaged in an internal struggle and a continuous struggle against the FANCI. They continued to refuse to allow normalcy (schools, hospitals, public services) to be restored across the country. On November 4, 2004, the Ivory Coast government launched air strikes against rebel positions in the northern part of the country, around the self-proclaimed rebel capital town of Bouake. The air strikes forced the UN to suspend its humanitarian operations, and marked the first hostilities since the signing of a ceasefire in May 2003.

On November 6, 2004, aircraft from the Ivorian Government struck a French military base where the rebels had been given shelter, resulting in the deaths of nine French troops and the wounding of an additional 31. In retaliation, the French military destroyed two Sukhoi-25 aircraft, in addition to five helicopters and an Ivorian army weapons cache, effectively destroying the Ivory Coast Air Force. The order to retaliate was reported to have come directly from French President Jacques Chirac. The U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, held an emergency session to discuss the situation in the country and called for an end to all military operations by Ivory Coast forces.

In the meantime, pro-Gbagbo militants began setting fire to a number of French schools in the capital, Abidjan, and looting French property. In response to escalating tensions, the French military dispatched three Mirage jet aircraft to another French military base in Libreville in nearby Gabon, to be put on standby. The French Ministry of Defence, on the following day, announced that it was dispatching as well an additional 600 troops as reinforcements; 300 of which were dispatched from Libreville, while the remaining 300, along with a squadron of gendarmes, were sent from France.

The destruction of the Ivorian Air Force was a serious blow, as this was the Government's main advantage over the rebels; the control of the skies. The French have destroyed this. This will allow the rebels to continue and allow the French to continue to manipulate the Ivory Coast at its pleasure. However, there are thousands of French nationals in the Ivory Coast and it is likely that there will be retaliation by irate Ivorians against them.

This came up for debate in the United Nations. An emergency UN Security Council meeting in New York condemned the bombing raid as a violation of the May 2003 cease-fire and gave the 10,000-strong peacekeeping force permission to use "all necessary means" to stop the fighting. It didn't recognise that the troops who should be suppressed are the French troops. As the Ivory Coast spokesman, Desire Tagro, "The Security Council ought to be taking action against France; we are going to inform the entire world... that France has come to attack us."

It is crucial that the friends of the Ivory Coast stand up to support the elected Gbagbo government and reject the French moves to take over the effective control of the country. Particularly, it is not in the interests of the U.S. to allow French-induced anarchy to return the Ivory Coast to French power. It is not in U.S. long-term or short-term interests to allow the French to get away with this coup-de-theatre putsch in Abidjan. The African friends of elected democracy will suffer from such an example. The U.S. must stand by the Ivory Coast at its time of need and allow democracy and enlightened self-interest to prevail.