Cote D’ivoire: Ouattara’s Forces Close to Bloody Conquest of Abidjan

The civil war in Côte d’Ivoire seems to be taking a decisive turn towards a bloody end, as Cote d’Ivoire’s Republican Forces (FRCI) loyal to Alassane Ouattara have seized control of the West African country’s port city San Pedro more than 200 km west of the economic capital Abidjan.

Xinhua reports that the pro-Ouattara forces have managed to take control of strategic towns in the west, central-west and east of the country after opening an all-out war to force the step-down of Gbagbo, who has repeatedly rejected calls to cede power.

Ouattara was internationally recognized as the president-elect after the Nov. 28 election.

In a desperate sign that Gbagbo’s forces cannot defend Abidjan, the head of the Army, Phillippe Mangou, along with his wife and children, has sought asylum at the South African embassy.

The background to the conflict goes back to  the attempted coup against Gbagbo in 2002, as Sanou Mbaye reports

In 2002 Côte d’Ivoire was rocked by a rebel uprising that partitioned the country into two parts, with the government led by President Laurent Gbagbo controlling the south, the rebels the north and the French army camping between the two. As a member of the Security Council, France managed to give this intervention the stamp of international approval under a UN mandate. In 2004, to avenge the death of nine French soldiers, the French army destroyed Côte d’Ivoire air defence and killed dozens of unarmed civilian demonstrators.

After a peace conference in 2005 a government of national unity was established. In November 2010 Laurent Gbagbo organised a much-delayed presidential election. His opponents were former president Henri Konan Bédié and former prime minister Alassane Ouattara. Once it was all done with, the country ended up with two stated presidents. Ouattara was declared winner by the independent electoral commission and the international community. Gbagbo was confirmed re-elected by the Constitutional Court.

This was not a normal election. Ouattara had launched an attempted military coup in 2002 that led to a brief and brutal civil war; but the provocation for that coup was a new nationality law which had excluded Ouattara from running for president, due to his birth in Burkino Faso. Given that over a quarter of Côte d’Ivoire’s population are Burkinabés, this was an explosive issue.

Since the civil war the predominantly Muslim north of the country has been in rebel hands. In the Presidential election in 2010, Ouattara was declared to have 54% of the vote, but the ruling FPI party contested the results before the Constitutional Council, charging massive fraud in the northern departments controlled by the rebels of the Forces Nouvelles de Côte d’Ivoire (FNCI). As a result the Constitutional Council declared that Laurent Gbagbo was the winner with 51% of the vote.

Gbagbo’s complaint of electoral fraud is plausible, so there are two presidents, both of which have a credible claim.

There are three important things to note here.

Firstly the election was close, and that both candidates have a substantial base of support.

Secondly, that the preconditions for a smooth transition of power were absent, the electorate is bitterly split on ethnic, economic and religious lines, there is a recent background of civil war, and lack of respect for the law by both parties.

Thirdly, and very importantly, as Pierre Sané (former secretary general of Amnesty International, former assistant director general of UNESCO, and currently president of the think-tank Imagine Africa) observes, this is a domestic political dispute within Côte d’Ivoire, and the sovereign and competent body to decide such a dispute is the Constitutional Council as defined in the Ivorian constitution.

There is a simple electoral dispute and the country’s Constitutional Council came to a decision and invested Laurent Gbagbo as president. The international community, [does not have] any authority to name a president in the Côte d’Ivoire …, Alassane Ouattara is, therefore, in fact a ‘self-proclaimed’ president, having himself in vain sought investiture by the Constitutional Council, and this being the case, he has continued to violate Ivorian law for the past three months.

So who is Ouattara?

as head of the Africa desk of the IMF, governor of the West African central bank, prime minister of Côte d’Ivoire, and deputy-managing director of the IMF, Ouattara presided over the deregulation and the liberalisation of the Côte d’Ivoire economy. He liquidated Côte d’Ivoire’s valuable and strategic assets to French conglomerates at knockdown prices after the 100 per cent devaluation in 1994 of the CFA franc. Ouattara kept for years pocketing a double salary as a prime minister and central bank governor. He stopped this practice only when this was discovered and exposed by then opposition leader, Gbagbo, whom he jailed.

France’s active involvement runs all through this crisis; and it is Sarkosy’s government that has orchestrated a regime of international sanctions, including pressurising former French colonies in Africa to back its position over Côte d’Ivoire. France’s continued power over its former African colonies is exercised not only by the presence of French troops, but by control of their currency

France, … granted independence to its former African colonies on condition that French troops remained stationed on their territories and they maintain the colonial CFA franc as their common currency. The CFA franc is convertible and its convertibility is guaranteed by the French Treasury which holds a right of veto over the management of the two central banks which issue the currency: BCEAO of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and BEAC of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), which would issue the currency. A capital control limits the free transfer of the currency to France. The credit that these central banks could extend to each member country was capped at 20 per cent of any country’s public revenue in the preceding year. These countries also signed up to an obligation to keep 65 per cent of their foreign exchange reserves in a ‘compte d’operations’ held at the French Treasury, as well as another 20 per cent to cover financial liabilities. According to figures published by Banque de France, foreign exchange reserves were estimated in 2008 at US$15.8 billion for CEMAC and US$9.3 billion for WAEMU. Except from the French mandarins from Banque de France and the Treasury, nobody, not least African officials, has access to these figures, and no independent audit has ever been carried out.

At a fixed-rate of 665.957 to each Euro, the exchange rate of the CFA franc is grossly overvalued. This is tantamount to an economic suicide when one considers that countries around the world battle to keep their exchanges rates low in order to make their exports competitive. But this suits French businesses, which can transfer all their earnings to France at this very advantageous exchange rate.

So France achieved a cosmetic end to direct colonial rule, while maintaining economic suzerainity through controlling the fiscal policies of the former colonies via the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (EMUWA) .

It has been France leading the campaign of economic sanctions against Côte d’Ivoire, as Sané reports:

we see the strategy of the absurd unfurling unafraid of contradictions. We are being promised an ‘economic and financial strangulation’ of the Côte d’Ivoire: A ban on the exportation of cocoa, banks banned from ‘cooperating’ with the regime of Laurent Gbagbo, a ban on the payment of the salaries of civil servants and soldiers, a freeze on the assets of individuals and national and private companies, restrictions on travel, just so many measures whose legality is at the very least doubtful.

… the only other actions taken against the Côte d’Ivoire and the inhabitants of the country have come from the seven other countries of the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (EMUWA), and from Alassane Ouattara himself.

The temporary ban proclaimed by Alassane Ouattara on the exportation of cocoa beans is especially going to suit speculators who made purchases ahead of time and are going to profit from the surge in prices. In particular, the Armajaro company of the trader Anthony Ward, which in July 2010 acquired 240,000 tons cocoa, totalling 20 per cent of Ivorian production and 15 per cent of the world’s stocks. This company invested US$1 billion and will profit substantially from it just as a consequence of this decision by Alassane Ouattara, whose 35 year-old stepson, Loïc Folloroux, is none other than Anthony Ward’s director for Africa. Pure coincidence, needless to say.

Incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, is himself a complex figure. During his ten-year tenure, Gbagbo sought to build a reputation of opposition to French neo-colonialism, and his socialist and anti-imperialist credentials. Meanwhile he strengthened the position of a new class of rich Ivoirians including the military. Their sources of enrichment were enhanced in 2006 when oil and gas revenues supplemented the traditional cocoa and coffee incomes. Gbagbo has also sought to play a nationalist card favouring indigenous Ivorians, itself a porous concept in a multi-ethnic state that owes its borders to a French colonial legacy.

The African Union declared in favour of Ouattara, who is also supported by the United Nations.

 However, it must be remembered that Gbagbo did receive votes from half the population, and has a substantial social base in the Christian south, and among state employees, the military and the indigenous capitalists and business class. It is because the two claimants to the presidency both have such different social bases of support that has led to such bitter fighting.

16 comments on “Cote D’ivoire: Ouattara’s Forces Close to Bloody Conquest of Abidjan

  1. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “France, … granted independence to its former African colonies on condition that French troops remained stationed on their territories and they maintain the colonial CFA franc as their common currency. ”

    This is not at all true.

    in 1958 De Gaulle offered France’s colonies a continued “close” relationship — i.e., membership of the Fench African Union — or immediate independence — Guinea, then ruled by Sekou Tourre chose the later.

    The French packed up and left, although they punished the Guinean government (and people) by withdrawing all aid, assistance, and stripping out a great deal of French colonial government-owned property. A colleague of mine from Guinea purports (somewhat believably) that the French took the wall plugs from colonial government offices.

  2. #1

    so when you say

    “This is not at all true. “

    You mean, this is mostly true, but with exceptions.

    I could counter to your example of Guinea that Gabon, the most extreme example of the Francafrique policy, is still virtually a colony.

    the policy you describe towards Guinea is what the British caled “scuttle”, which the Empire loyalist right-wing sought to do to India, but were isolated within the British establishment. Clearly, the choice gave its colonies was heavily weighted towards adopting Francafrique, or risk scuttle.

  3. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    No — its untrue Andy.

    Pierre Sané’s statement makes it sound that the French only offered independence at the price of membership of the French African Union. Thus the inference is that refusal to join the semi-colonial FAU would result in non-independence.

    But that is not the case. While what de Gaulle offered was not a palatable choice, it was not the choice that Sané says it was. It was the choice between a semi-colonial relationship (which Gabon and others took) or complete independence (at the costs I describe above — and which you call a scuttle which I agree is a fair characterisation). Of course de Gaulle hoped that no-one would opt for the later; especially after he punished Guinea. I agree that you are right that “the choice [that France] gave its colonies was heavily weighted towards adopting Francafrique, or risk scuttle.”

  4. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    of course, de Gaulle overlooked the fact that Guinea would — and did — turn to the USSR for aid.

  5. Darkness at Noon on said:

    “I could counter to your example of Guinea that Gabon, the most extreme example of the Francafrique policy, is still virtually a colony”

    A bit hyperbolic – there is indeed a closer relationship with France and dependencies on the IMF, but Gabon is as independent a nation as any in Africa.

    At least its stable, fairly homogenous and has managed to avoid the bloodshed and ethnic turmoil of many of its neighbours. In Africa that is a blessing not to be sneered at. If that is the upside of ‘colonialism’ in this context then there are worse scenarios, just like the autocratic Houphouet-Boigny.

    The bane of Africa is ethnic and religious strife.

  6. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “Gabon is as independent a nation as any in Africa.”

    I think this is a fair bit of hyperbole itself. The miserable rule of M’ba — which preceded the miserable rule of Bongo — was literally guaranteed by the French — who invaded to restore him to the presidency in 1964, I believe.

    Also, to call Gabon “homogeneous” is pretty far-fetched. While most people are of Bantu ethnic groups, there are upwards of 40 of these ethnic groups.

  7. Darkness at Noon on said:

    Hi Harsanyi:

    When I say that Gabon is as independent as any other nation I refer to today’s Gabon. It is no less or no more a ‘colony’ than other dependent African nations.

    Also, to me homogeneity in Gabon is reflected in the fact that ethnic strife has thankfully remained low. Tribal and other ethnic distinctions are a hallmark of almost any African nation.

  8. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “Also, to me homogeneity in Gabon is reflected in the fact that ethnic strife has thankfully remained low. ”

    Yes, that is a good thing of course — Bongo sought to use his single party rule to subsume ethnic differences. He wasn’t, of course, unique in that — Nyerere did the same and even Toure too. Ethnic strife has been less common, though, than one might think, in a great deal of Africa. Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia (in recent times — even under SA occupation), Gabon, Zambia and so on have had not a great deal of such problems. These modest successes are often overshadowed by the religious problems in the Sahal and NE Africa, and ethnic problems in Zimbabwe (attacks on the Matabele for instance), Central Africa and Madagascar.

  9. I do hope that if the next general election is a clear but narrow Labour victory that DC doesn’t behave like LG just because he has a large majority of supporters in the south.

  10. #4

    “of course, de Gaulle overlooked the fact that Guinea would — and did — turn to the USSR for aid.”

    It is worth pointing out that British de-colonisation could also be perfidious. Note on a different continent the invasion of British Guiana and overthrow of Cheddi Jaggan’s government for exhibitng pro-Soviet symptathies (which wasn’t even accurate information); and the invasion of Egypt in 1956.

  11. paul fauvet on said:

    The person directly responsible for the current bloodshed in Ivory Coast is certainly Laurent Gbagbo.

    The battle for Abidjan is futile, since Gbagdo cannot possibly win. His generals have been defecting, Ouattara’s forces control most of the country, and every significant international player backs Ouattara.

    Even if Gbagbo sincerely believes that he won the election, the only politically and morally acceptable course of action for him to take now is to step down.

    Andy is right that Ivory Coast is deeply divided – along ethnic, religious and political lines. But those divisions will not be healed by a desperate rearguard action fought by Gbagbo’s men in Abidjan.

    Indeed, the longer Gbagbo fights on, the less likely Ouattara is to form an inclusive government.

    Andy seems to believe that Ouattara’s election victory was the result of fraud – if so, he was remarkably successful in pulling the wool over the eyes of all observers.

    The Constitutional Council gave no detailed explanation of the supposed fraud, and just tossed out hundreds of thousands of votes.

    There certainly were serious irregularities and the results from some polling stations do indeed look fraudulent. But the number of votes involved are not enough to bridge the gap between Ouattara and Gbagbo.

    Of course Ouattara is in no way a progressive candidates – but neither is Gbagbo. Ouattara’s sole virtue is that he does seem to have won the election – and if the Gbagbo camp has convincing proof that he did not, why haven’t they published it?

  12. Paul


    It is not me who thinks that Ouattara’s election was fraudulent, it was the ruling by the constitutional court of the soveriegn nation of Côte d’Ivoire.

    In a state run according to the principle of the rule of law, then a defeated candidate who loses in court still respects the decision, as Al Gore did relating to the electoral irregularities in Florida.

    Whatever international support Ouattara may have, he was the one who turned to arms.

    Nowhere have I said that i support Gbagbo or that i consider him a progressive; but I do observe that an election for a powerful presidency in a country as bitterly divided as Côte d’Ivoire, and where there is limited respect for the rule of law by both parties, is pregnant with the potential of disaster.

  13. paul fauvet on said:

    You’re being very legalistic here, Andy. The Constitutional Council did not explain why it thought so many votes had been cast fraudulently.

    It was because there was no convincing explanation that the African Union recognised Ouattara.

    The South African government, despite longstanding ties between the ANC and Gbagbo’s party, eventually also accepted that Ouattara had won.

    South African President Jacob Zuma said the Constitutional Council had acted improperly by rejecting the results not only from four disputed northern regions, but from three others, as well.

    “They [the council] found three more regions, and eventually emerged with a result in favour of Gbagbo… They decided [the results from the three regions] were fraudulent and changed the result… They pronounced Gbagbo as a winner”, said Zuma, answering questions in the South African parliament on 17 March.

    The African Union panel set up to consider the Ivoirien crisis, thus considered that the Council “did not act honourably”.

    If you do something as serious as tossing out hundreds of thousands of votes, you have to give a detailed explanation of why you think those votes were fraudulent.

    It is not acceptable just to say “We’re the Constitutional Council, we’re in charge and we can do what we like”.

  14. frank on said:

    6. The bane of Africa is imperialist domination, as anyone with passing acquaintance with the economies of Africa would know.