Making Sense of the Ivory Coast Crisis: Oil and Resources

[UPDATE: mainstream reports now strongly suggest Gbagbo has been captured and handed over to the rebels]

Russian Translation

UN and French troops continue to mount ground and air campaigns against Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, who is thought to be hiding within his Presidential compound. Despite civilian deaths, this first official foreign military intervention has been described as a peace-keeping mission to protect the population. Other evidence suggest it’s really about imperialist economic and business interests.

Gbagbo who came to power through the controversial elections in 2000, has refused to step down after the most recent round of voting, which allegations of fraud on both sides. The international community including the UN, African Union, EU and the US are backing Gbagbo’s IMF rival Alessane Ouattara, who they call the unanimous victor. However the Côte d’Ivoire Constitutional Council (the body tasked with confirming the winner) declared Gbagbo as retaining his Presidency.

Gbagbo claims electoral irregularities in the north of the country, which is under the control of Western backed rebel forces allied with Ouattara.

However the UN, who deployed thousands of peacekeeping troops in the region and partly funded the $400m (£255m) election itself, said that even if Gbagbo’s claims of voter fraud in northern areas were true, they would not have changed Ouattara’s victory. Data for this has not been openly presented. [1]

The real result of the election may never be known and might not matter. The ultimate decision lies with France and the Western imperialist powers, who have imposed sanctions and chosen to use brute force until Gbagbo hands over the reigns to their man Ouattara.

It started with the closing of ports and a no-fly zone as we recently saw iwith Libya. It’s ending with unnecessary civilian deaths.

As summarized by the

Up to 1,000 civilians have reportedly been massacred in the town of Duékoué in the West African country of Ivory Coast…Ouattara’s forces have seized most of the country, including the political capital, Yamassoukro, and the main port, San Pedro. They are now fighting to gain control of the commercial capital, Abidjan. Gbagbo retains the support of his 2,500-strong presidential guard, an unknown number of mercenaries and the Patriotic Youth movement. Many elements in the army have shifted their allegiance to Ouattara, following a United Nations Security Council resolution on March 30.

France and Nigeria sponsored the resolution that called on all state officials to recognise Ouattara. This was the signal for the beginning of Ouattara’s military assault on Gbagbo’s forces.

“In a sense, this resolution is maybe the last message that we wanted to send to Gbagbo which is very simple: Gbagbo must go,” France’s ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said. “It is the only way to avoid a full-fledged civil war and maybe bloody violence in the streets of Abidjan,” he claimed.

The exact opposite has been the case. The UN resolution has given the green light for a civil war with disastrous consequences for the civilian population. One million people are thought to have fled the Ivory Coast in recent months. The numbers have swelled in the last few days. Many of them have crossed the border into neighbouring Liberia, which now faces a major humanitarian crisis in overcrowded refugee camps. Abidjan residents are sheltering in their homes as heavy shelling continues around the presidential palace and armed youths roam the streets. Shops and petrol stations have been looted.

Sadly like a lot of modern military conflicts the intervention has been sold as a human rights mission, but with over a thousand dead and the Red Cross burying people on a daily basis, it would appear the imperialist powers are really after stronger control over the country’s resources and financial opportunities.

The Ivory Coast is the world’s leading exporter of cocoa and a large producer of coffee and palm oil. Petroleum also just so happens to be the principal US import from the region.

Oil discoveries began in the mid 90s. In May of 2003 Tullow Oil plc announced further discoveries on the Acajou prospect, confirming the potential for big profits. [2]

In May 2010, Global Natural Resources Inc. (NYSE:GNR) announced another discovery. Then in September of 2010 Tullow made what has been described as the largest oil discovery in Africa during modern times, with the potential of 550 million barrels. [3]

With the CIA coup of Iran’s Mohammad Mosaddegh in the 50s, who had planned to nationalise Iranian oil, the illegal invasion of Iraq, and countless other examples; if there’s oil to be pillaged then there’s human rights missions to be had. The Ivory Coast is no different.

President Gbagbo committed a cardinal sin in the eyes of the business barons and opened up the country’s markets to China and Russia, two of the major road blocks for expansion of Euro-American interests. China got a series of Telecom deals [4] and Russia was allowed in on the oil discoveries.

As noted in the Financial Times:

Russia, whose oil interests off the Ivorian coast give it a foothold in one of the world’s most promising energy frontiers, has opposed efforts to intervene in the Ivorian crisis, diplomats said. While western powers have imposed sanctions on Mr Gbagbo and his entourage, Russia led objections to such moves in the UN Security Council, where it holds a veto.

Concerned about implications for its own restive regions, such as Chechnya, Russia has traditionally sought to thwart Security Council actions regarding nations’ sovereignty. But one western diplomat said Russian considerations over Ivory Coast were “90 per cent about oil, 10 per cent about sovereignty”.

According to Ann Talbot writing on the World Socialist Website:

“Gbagbo…believes he can use the revenue from oil to keep himself in power despite international disapproval. Equally, the prospect that Ivory Coast has viable oil reserves makes it more important strategically for the West. France and the U.S. want a trustworthy figure in control of a country that has a longstanding regional significance”

IMF trained Alassane Ouattara

Gbagbo’s rival is Alassane Ouattara, a United States taught economist who has worked within the IMF and global banking scene since 1968. [5].

Ouattara is viewed as a legitimate democratic leader that can bring stability and unity, but the destabilization of the country is directly linked to his former employer’s at the IMF.

The global financial giant extended loans to the Ivory Coast during the 80s [6]; but doing business with the mob doesn’t come without a catch. That catch being a Structural Adjustment Program, a snazzy way to say “you must do this…else we bankrupt you”.

The Ivory Coast initially saw strong economic growth starting in the 60s, but falling world prices for cocoa and coffee saw their economy crash and burn through the 80s. But it was ok, the IMF were there to save them!

Well kind of.

As reported in The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, February 2011:

Under the SAP, the country was required to cut government spending by 30%, capital expenditures by 15%, privatize state enterprises, deregulate the labour market and eliminate price controls and public subsidies. State firms in the telecommunications, transport, electricity and water supply sectors were all privatised. The country is now indebted and beholden to the corporations, and in Gbagbo’s case, he was working with the WRONG corporations.

With economic collapse naturally comes social collapse and this has left the country both politically and militarily divided between north and south since a northern-based rebellion in 2002. The imperialist backed North is predominantly Muslim and with Ouattara, while the South is made up of Christians, who have a stronger support for Gbagbo.

True to form the cocoa corporations have been playing both sides off against each other. According to the 2007 Global Witness report, Hot Chocolate: How Cocoa Fuelled the Conflict in Ivory Coast, the rebels are estimated to get around $30 million a year in cocoa revenues by enforcing a tax on corporate exports.

On the government side, the national cocoa institutions…have directly contributed at least $20.3 million to the war effort. The big cocoa and coffee exporters union, the Groupement Professionel de Exportateurs de Cafe-Cacao (GEPEX) whose members include multinational companies such as Cargill and European companies such as ED and F Man Holdings Ltd. [British], was represented on the board of the Bourse du Cafe et Cacao (BCC), one of the national cocoa institutions that decided to make this contribution to the war effort.

It is deeply disturbing that fat oblivious westerners, stuffing their faces with chocolate are funding a civil war in Africa.

The points brought up in this article only scratch the surface of the corruption in The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Who funded the rebels? Where do both sides get their arms from? And why is so much money missing?

You can probably guess the answers to those questions.

Imperialism never ended, it just put on a suit.

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