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In scenes redolent of the kidnapping of Patrice Lumumba and storming of Salvador Allende’s presidential palace, France’s recent activities in Côte d’Ivoire have been purely about establishing self-interested ‘regime change’, argues Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe.

‘Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century.’
French President François Mitterand, March 1998

‘A little country, with a small amount of strength, we can move a planet because [of our] … relations with 15 or 20 African countries.’
Jacques Godfrain, former head, French foreign ministry, March 1998

For whoever wished to know, it was evident, right from the outset, that the French mission in Côte d’Ivoire since November 2010 had little to do with the locally disputed presidential elections. If France’s ambitions were to help resolve a fractious presidential poll, it indeed was confronted with a pressing opportunity during the period within its own European homeland – in Belarus, just a thousand miles away. Perhaps for a ‘nobler’ transcontinental effect, if it felt so compelled, it could have sought to resolve that mother of all presidential disputes that has dragged on for 21 years in Myanmar between Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s aging military junta.

No, France had no and has no such lofty aspirations. In Côte d’Ivoire, to employ that late 20th century/early 21st century awful euphemism for the flagrant invasion and occupation of a country and the overthrow of its government by an aggressor state, the French objective here has been nothing but ‘regime change’. It achieved this so ferociously and viciously recently by unleashing a raging cascade of violence in Abidjan that was at once aimed at recreating, on the African scene, the bestial kidnapping of Congo’s Patrice Lumumba in 1960 (centrally organised, we mustn’t fail to recall, by France’s Belgian francophonie cousin) and the 1973 attack and virtual destruction of Salvador Allende’s presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, by Augusto Pinochet’s putschist military. Hundreds of Ivoirians and others were murdered during this brigandage, with one report placing the final casualty tally at 2,300. On the morrow of its Abidjan rampage on 6 April 2011, the brute seized President Gbagbo, along with his wife and family and aides, dismissed him from office and turned him over to his very implacable electoral foes for incarceration or worse. Finally, the brute imposed Alassane Ouattara, its francophonie acolyte and barely competent ex-IMF (International Monetary Fund) official, on the peoples of Côte d’Ivoire as le président de la république!

But why Côte d’Ivoire, a sovereign African country 3,000 miles away from France? Why indeed Africa? France has long been wracked by chronic anxieties about its ‘status’ and ‘prestige’ in the world since its military was dealt a humiliating defeat during a 12-year old uprising by enslaved African military forces led by Toussaint L’Ouverture in French-occupied San Domingo (Haiti) – the ‘greatest individual market’ of the 18th century European enslavement of the African humanity, which accounted for two-thirds of French foreign trade at the time. The Africans of San Domingo, ‘The Black Jacobins’, as C.L.R. James, the illustrious African-Caribbean scholar would describe them in such searing irony and sardonicism in his 1938-published classic of the same title on the subject, ‘defeated in turn the local whites and the soldiers of the French monarchy, a Spanish invasion, a British expedition of some 60,000 men, and a French expedition of similar size under [Napoleon] Bonaparte’s brother-in-law’. Following the latter’s victory in 1803, the Africans proclaimed and established their republic of Haiti.

France has yet to recover from the catastrophic damage to its psyche, elicited by its losses in San Domingo. The transformation of enslaved Africans, as James notes perceptively in his study, ‘trembling in hundreds before a single white man … into a people able to organise themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day … is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement’. Consequently, in its relationship with Africans, wherever this occurs on earth, France feels that it is still fighting Toussaint L’Ouverture and his formidable forces all over again and again… Furthermore, San Domingo is gravely etched indelibly in French consciousness as the precursor to the catalogue of crushing French military defeats in the subsequent 150 years of its history, aptly illustrated by the following: the 1871 Franco-Prussian War, the 1914–18 First World War, the 1939–45 Second World War and the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu, resulting in the débâcle of its elite French Far East Expeditionary Corps’ occupation garrison in Vietnam, inflicted by the resolute Viet Minh commanded by General Giáp. It would require another commentary to sketch, more fully, how the French angst over San Domingo must be working through the mindset of the current occupant of the Élysée Palace, whose regime thrives in its serial fantasy as the neo-Napoleonic imperium of these early decades of the 21st century.

Interestingly, to mention the Second World War French experience is to invoke a fascinating, albeit uncanny irony which French history shares currently with that of the peoples of Côte d’Ivoire in the wake of Paris’s unprovoked and unpardonable aggression. Despite the iron-fist texture of the German blitzkrieg that overran France in July 1940, resulting in the French surrender and the establishment of the Vichy regime to oversee the Nazi occupation for four debilitating years, the majority of French people had to work very had to believe, correctly, that the success of this invasion was essentially a Pyrrhic victory; eventual termination of the occupation and consequently the restoration of French sovereignty was therefore possible and had to be assiduously pursued with those French men and women who identified uncompromisingly with the free French.


Thankfully, the Ivoirians haven’t had long to wait to draw their own conclusions on the character and intent of the overwhelming brutish terror visited upon them in April 2011 by the military from that same country that was so virulently subjected to a similar experience, almost 71 years to the day. Despite the savagery of its violence, despite its subterfuge, despite its obfuscations and despite its hackneyed rationalisations for these dreadful deeds, France must know that the African peoples of Côte d’Ivoire and Africans elsewhere in the world regard the presumed successes of its 6 April 2011 bombardment of Abidjan as, at best, a Pyrrhic victory. Just as France ultimately found out in its own experience in 1945, a free Côte d’Ivoire, free of France, will surely occur. Additionally, its reincarnated, entrenched overseer-Marshal Pétain, now dubbed with an altered second name that begins with ‘O’, pointedly the next alphabet up from ‘P’, will end up agonising how to precisely answer the overriding question of an enraged epoch: ‘Why have I allowed myself to be so fouled-up by the course of history where I exist and operate miserably, pathetically and disgustingly as the mere pawn of an active agency?’

In the meantime, a group of southern World countries headed by South Africa and including Botswana, Cape Verde, India, Jamaica and Bolivia should visit Côte d’Ivoire and support the process of organising a referendum to determine the competing sovereignties in the country, occasioned by the murderous collapse of the Ivoirian state. Côte d’Ivoire, as so presently constituted, can no longer provide security to all its incorporated African nations or peoples. Instead, it murders them most horribly.

Tragically, Côte d’Ivoire has now joined that dreadful league of states of Africa inaugurated in May 1966 by Nigeria, the obligatory haematophagous monster in the region, whose raison d’être is to murder Africans most routinely and ritualistically. Enough! Every African life in Côte d’Ivoire is worth much more than the state of Côte d’Ivoire, in addition to all of Africa’s states of death. The peoples, including the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced by the emergency to neighbouring countries in West Africa and elsewhere, must determine freely and democratically which post-Côte d’Ivoire successor states they wish to belong to.


* Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is an independent scholar whose new book, ‘Readings from Reading: Essays on African Politics, Genocide, Literature’, will be published later in 2011.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.