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Quagmire in Côte d’Ivoire

Posted by Helen Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Parliamentary Speaker of the Ivory Coast, Mamadou Koulibaly, has accused France of imperialist occupation and promised them a war that will be “their Vietnam”. Which shows that in the Ivory Coast they follow the European and American media closely, for is that not the constant hysterical refrain about the United States in Iraq? On the other hand, in France they are paralyzed with surprise at the Ivorians’ reaction.

Professor Philippe Moreau Defarge of the Institute of International Relations said heartbrokenly that they thought they had understood the former French colony but it seems they do not.

In the first place, permit us to disagree with M Koulibaly on historical parallels. France’s Vietnam was …. Vietnam. Just try saying Diem Bien Phu to a Frenchman d’un certain âge. (Although, as it happens, actual French losses were not all that high. The military command had cheerfully abandoned their camarades of the foreign legion to their fate.)

France had always maintained that her relations with most of her ex-colonies, particularly the Ivory Coast, were warm, close and friendly. Furthermore, unlike many other African states, the Ivory Coast, remained peaceful and relatively prosperous, until 1999 that is, when simmering tensions between the Muslims in the north and the Christians in the south broke out into an open rebellion.

As there are many French residents in the country and as this is the centre of the cocoa trade, French paratroopers went in to sort things out. They did not have UN approval but one cannot expect logic when an ex-colony is having problems.

Last year a truce of sorts was brokered and other UN troops, this time with the approval of the ineffable Kofi Annan (father of Kojo of food-for-oil scandal fame). The truce lasted about as long as any truce of that kind does and now there are riots again as we have mentioned before.

President Laurent Gbakbo’s government has intimated that they did not think the French were as neutral as they always maintained, but favoured the northern rebels, though the spokesman also insisted that the killing of the nine French soldiers during an attack on a rebel stronghold was an accident.

The French thought otherwise, destroyed the tiny Ivorian air force and brought in more reinforcements. They needed them as the Ivorians, possibly egged on by unknown government officials, went on an anti-French rampage and the many expatriates had to be saved at the last minute.

It is all a bit of a mess; a “fiasco” to quote Michel Barnier’s favourite word about Iraq; in fact, a quagmire. French reprisals go far beyond the purported UN mandate but that is not going to be a problem for anybody. And we are ready to lay odds on Kofi Annan’s reaction: he will approve ex post facto. While the end remains nowhere in sight.