Western powers preach democracy to African countries, but those same powers then undermine democracy in Africa, argues Antoine Roger Lokongo.
Although Western powers preach democracy to African countries, it is the same Western powers that undermine democracy in Africa and confiscate it. How?
African elected governments must somehow also ‘buy’ another round of legitimacy from Western powers by promising to attend to Western strategic interests (if you are in opposition) and by attending to those Western strategic interests (if you are the incumbent government in power); otherwise they are removed from power by force through assassination, western-induced civil wars, rebellions or wars of aggression and invasion waged by neighbouring countries…
Consequently other leaders less scrupulous and ‘less nationalist’ (and ready to serve Western strategic interests) are hoisted to power; the main stake being the control of the immense natural and mineral resources that Africa boasts; and which western powers want to keep their hands on. More than ever, Western economies need a lot of resources for their revival, having been hit by the global financial and debt crises (induced by corruption within the western financial system); and especially now that new competitor China is on the scene.
Elections therefore provide both an overt and covert legitimacy of power. But in both cases, it is the people of Africa who suffer rape, killing, genocide, massacre, displacement and looting. Their countries’ vast natural and mineral resources as well as ‘free, fair and transparent elections’ become a curse for them.
Democratically elected governments still face many constraints, especially the constraint of ‘one election, two sources of legitimacy of power’. This is a predicament not just in my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but also in other African countries where democracy is at a crossroads owing to the dilemma of the double source of legitimacy of power evoked above. To prove our case, let us examine three examples – South Africa, Libya and Ivory Coast. I’ll also touch briefly on Zimbabwe and Nigeria.
SOUTH AFRICA: THE ‘DON’T KILL THE GOOSE THAT LAYS GOLDEN EGGS’ DEMOCRACY?
Many analysts suggest that in South Africa, whites still hold the national purse. The new democratic dispensation has not broken the back of the camel of white order – which must remain unchallenged otherwise the economy will collapse. Elected black leaders have been made to share that conviction. But for how long?
Callinicos (1996) suggests that in South Africa, after more than a decade of democracy, big apartheid era conglomerates still control the economic life in Mandela’s country. He adds that the elections of 26-29 April 1994 were the outcome of a strategic compromise between the two main political actors in South Africa – on the one hand, the African National Congress (ANC) as the dominant force among the black majority and the embodiment of their aspiration for national liberation; on the other hand, the National Party (NP), the historic party of Afrikaner nationalism, in power since 1948, responsible for turning apartheid into a system, but now pursuing ‘reform’ in close alliance with big business.
Callinicos states that the ANC finally crossed the portals of state power in May 1994. It could claim a popular mandate arising from its overwhelming electoral victory. Thanks to this triumph, it not only had a large majority in the National Assembly, but controlled seven of the nine provincial governments set up under the new constitution. ANC’s electoral victory, like the final attainment of national liberation in Zimbabwe in 1980, led to the transfer of political power to the black majority, but left economic power in the hands of white settler and foreign capital. Only thus could local capitalists be encouraged to keep their money in the country, and foreign ones be persuaded to invest there (Callinicos, 1996, p.3ff.).
Yet Mugabe found a way of deflecting the mass hunger for change – black empowerment, Callinicos observes (1996, p.3ff.), arguing that this slogan was initially raised by a black middle class lobby called the Affirmative Action Group. It argued that the source of Zimbabwe’s problems lay in the continued economic domination of whites; the solution lay in systematic state promotion of the interests of black capitalists.
This analysis found a resonance among black bosses who, in the main owning small businesses, were harder hit by the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) of free market policies demanded by the IMF and the World Bank than the bigger firms, which were controlled by local whites or foreign multinationals.
The government itself took up the slogan (and even used it to justify its 1994 attempt to hand over farms expropriated from whites to individual black ‘entrepreneurs’, including various ministers and other state officials). Ruling party Zanu PF overwhelmingly won a general election in April 1995 amid massive popular apathy.
Then came the June 2000 election. The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), although barely eight months old, nearly won half of the seats in parliament. Even in Western democracies, an eight-month old party can never win an election. The MDC is said to have enjoyed financial backing from the UK, US, EU and white Commonwealth donors determined to unseat Mugabe, through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which found and funds the MDC under Morgan Tsvangirai as Moyo (2011) suggests.
Erwin (1985) states that the same year, ANC general secretary Cyril Ramaphosa, echoing Mugabe, made a well publicised attack in July on ‘monopolies’ like Anglo-American, declaring, ‘The ANC is committed to breaking the stranglehold these companies have, and ultimately the government will have to act’. Jim (2011) also states that so far there has been no significant decline in the ANC's popularity. However, popular discontent at the disparity between the living standards of the rich and the poor is growing as recurrent strikes by workers’ movements demonstrate (including by the now vociferous ANC’s Youth Wing). They are calling for ‘land redistribution and economic redistribution of wealth that is concentrated in the hands of a tiny racist White minority’; and have intensified ‘their demand for nationalization of mines, banks and other monopoly industries’.
There are now a handful of black South African multi-millionaires – often derided as ‘the white millionaires in black skin’ – oppressing their fellow blacks. Plaut (2011) reported that even a South African gold mining company owned by members of the Mandela and Zuma families was accused of exploiting its political connections to avoid punishment over its abuse of workers. A long ‘Review of Income Poverty in South Africa Since 1994’ [PDF"> recently conducted by the South African presidency indicates that blacks still constitute the poorest layer of the South African population, making up over 90 percent of the 21.9 million poor.
Mabuza (2011) reported that recently ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema – once a protégé of Jacob Zuma who helped Zuma to dethrone Thabo Mbeki – came under fire from the ANC for repeatedly calling for South Africa’s wealth to be transferred to the people through the nationalisation of banks and mines and through land expropriation without compensation. Malema and five Youth League colleagues could even be expelled from the ANC, which would make them even more popular, ushering in a new ANC leadership challenge. Perry (2011) states that the Youth League leader’s latest outburst was a call for the overthrow of a friendly government in neighbouring Botswana, which Malema reportedly claimed was too Western and too capitalist. Let us see the way the South African democracy is turning!
BusinessReport reported that Roger Baxter, chief economist at the South African Chamber of Mines indeed warned that ‘South Africa’s equity market would collapse if the country pursued nationalisation as a policy given the significant weight mining stocks have on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’. Notwithstanding the fact that the Gini Index which measures the level of wealth distribution (Zero represents perfect equality, while a score of one represents perfect inequality) says otherwise. Recent data published in the latest South Africa Survey show that most racial groups saw their Gini scores increase over the past ten years, meaning that the distribution of wealth has become more unequal (proving Malema right after all). Among whites, however, the Gini co-efficient decreased from 0,50 in 1998 to 0,46 in 2008. The Gini increased among Africans by 7 per cent, and among Indians and coloureds by nearly 4 per cent.
When former South African President FW de Klerk addressed the Royal Commonwealth Society in London on 12 May 2009, this writer asked him why it is that the distribution of wealth in South Africa is now more unequal than it was more than a decade ago following the end of apartheid, a status quo of ‘two South Africas’ still maintained, one in which the whites still enjoy their privileges unchanged, controlling about 3/4 of national wealth (their income is increasing) and the other in which the black majority still live in overwhelming poverty, having access to less than a quarter of national wealth.
In his response, De Klerk (echoing Mandela’s policy of appeasement) said that ‘the South African economy will collapse if compulsory wealth redistribution policies were introduced because white minorities will take their capital out of the country. You would then “kill the goose that lays golden eggs”’. He made no reference to the outcry of the majority poor blacks who constitute the ANC’s electorate.
In summary, Ndedi (2011) made a strong point when he stated that in 1994, the ANC promised to create a better South Africa for all. Various ANC governments since then have adopted many economic programmes with the aim to halve poverty and unemployment by 2014, especially among the Historically Disadvantaged Individuals (HDIs). However, recent studies in South Africa showed that inequality is widening despite the acceptable levels of economic growth. Various reports show that an overwhelming share of the change in the economy over time explained by high economic growth will continue to be without any improvement of the lives of marginalised ones unless there are changes in wealth distribution within the different layers of the South African population. Therefore, beside regular democratic, free and fair elections, pro-poor economic growth must be developed in order to achieve the expected results of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the South African context.
In the case of Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, where for many decades black people experienced the segregationist politics of a white minority, democracy, elections seem to mean ‘black empowerment’. South Africa may definitely go the Zimbabwe way if democratically elected South African Black leaders maintain the ‘appeasement to white power policy’, thus risking to erode their own legitimacy.
LIBYA AND NATO: ‘GUN-POINT DEMOCRACY’?
Needless to say that as NATO continues combat air patrols until all Libyan government forces surrender, Muammar Gaddafi’s days in power now appear numbered. From an academic point of view, it is very difficult to judge the Gaddafi regime. However many analysts concur that Libyans have not experienced any form of democracy – Western style – since Gaddafi’s coup in 1969. The West frantically rejects Gaddafi’s three basic understanding of democracy on the basis of ‘People’s Power’ ‘Economic Socialism’ and ‘Third International Theory’, as outlined in his Green Book. The ‘Green Book’ rejects Western-style liberal democracy, and encourages the system of direct democracy based on the formation of people’s committees.
Abadi (2011) states that Gaddafi banned all political opposition, loudly advocated sweeping Islamist ideologies that demanded the reordering of the international system, picked territorial fights with neighbours, and supported ‘terrorists’ from the Irish Republican Army to the Palestine Liberation Organization. Libya behaved as a rogue state and a supporter of any anti-Western groups. However Miles (2011) suggests that by the time Gaddafi renounced the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in 2004, the international community was eager to begin patching up relations. The regime established the Libyan Investment Authority known in Arabic as ‘the mother of all funds’ with the aim of managing Libya’s excess oil wealth (estimated to be more than US$100 billion) and not invested the money in Western ventures but used the money to seduce or show largesse to many Western leaders who are now fighting Gaddafi today.
Black and Willsher (2011) report that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi’s son claimed that Libya helped finance Nicolas Sarkozy’s successful election campaign in 2007, and demanded that the French president return the money to ‘the Libyan people’ – if this is true, it is hard to see how Libyan people will get back that money. This could have humiliated Sarkozy, and hence his haste in wanting to be seen as playing the major role in implementing the ‘no fly zone’ in Libya in order to fix things at home, with an impending presidential election round the corner. Looking back at history, Jagire (2011) suggests that Africa can remember that when the Portuguese colonies of Africa were lost, it caused a revolution in Portugal itself and that Western leaders use their ‘victories’ in Africa to promote themselves at home.
Waterfield (2000) suggests that Sarkozy fell out with Gaddafi after the latter rejected Sarkozy’s idea of launching a new political and economic entity dubbed the ‘Mediterranean Union’ to unite Arabs, Israelis, Southern Europeans and North Africans. But the project also failed to convince German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who suspected Sarkozy of wanting to create a political dynamic in the South that would compete with that of the European Union (EU) as well as that of the African Union. Gaddafi particularly accused Sarkozy of trying to divide Africa and the broader Arab world by drawing a Mediterranean Union map that echoes old colonialist designs for the region.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (2011) – who ran for a third term – blames Gaddafi for having backed Idi Amin; for having pushed for a ‘United States of Africa’ when the rest of African leaders were not ready; for proclaiming himself king of kings; for ignoring the plight of South Sudan and for not distancing himself sufficiently from terrorism.
However Museveni reckons that Gaddafi is a true nationalist who raised the price of oil, thus putting an end to the super exploitation of oil producing countries by the Western countries. He built roads, refineries, provided jobs not only to Libyans but also to hundred of thousands foreign workers from Third World countries. Libya is a middle income country with a GDP of US$62 billion, the highest GDP per capita in Africa. Vito (2011) called Libya the Switzerland of Africa before the NATO intrusion and Nnaji (2011) stated that Libya under Gaddafi was the only African country with a standard of living higher than Britain and some of the developed nations (and yet Gaddafi refused to borrow money from IMF and the World Bank). In the same article, Museveni says Gaddafi is ‘a moderate leader’, one of the few secular leaders in the Arab world who does not believe in Islamic fundamentalism, which is why Libyan women have been able to go to school, to join the army, and so forth.
Museveni concludes that the present crisis is exacerbated by NATO’s external meddling, even sidelining the African Union (and not only the African Union – Russia’s NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin went as far as warning that UN Security Council, ‘risks becoming an agency that is constantly ignored’, as NATO’s Libya military campaign has shown); by the fact that external forces - using their technological superiority to impose war on a less developed country, without impeachable logic, thus igniting an arms race in the world – have arrogated themselves the role of Libyan internal forces to bring about democracy and restore government legitimacy through elections. Libyans should resolve their problems among themselves through dialogue. Foreign, political, and military involvement in Africa (the slave trade, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, etc.), he reckons have been disastrous as they have not brought prosperity but only stagnation on the continent.
Museveni finally summons the Libyan opposition to fight by themselves instead of making themselves into what he called ‘quislings of foreign interests’.
‘Regarding the Libyan opposition, I would feel embarrassed to be backed by Western war planes. Quislings of foreign interests have never helped Africa. We have had a copious supply of them in the last 50 years – Mobutu Sese-Seko, Houphouet Boigny, Kamuzu Banda, etc. The West has made a lot of mistakes in Africa and in the Middle East in the past. Apart from the slave trade and colonialism, they participated in the killing of Patrice Lumumba, until recently the only elected leader of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the poisoning of Cameroonian political leader Felix Moummie, and the assassination of Prime Minister Bartholomew Boganda of the Central African Republic. The West supported UNITA in Angola, Idi Amin – at the beginning of his regime - in Uganda, and the counter-revolutionaries in Iran in 1953’ (Foreign Policy 2011:4).
Museveni’s list of ‘quislings’ was not exhaustive since Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Liberia and Rwanda support the West’s military aggression against Libya. Moreover, the African Union was humbled when its delegation sent to Libya to begin discussions with Gaddafi in pursuit of a political resolution to the conflict was denied permission to fly over Libya – and thus land in Tripoli – by the NATO powers.
Pougala (2011) outlines some of Gaddafi’s achievements, including the launch of Rascom1, a continental satellite launched to cover the whole of Africa’s telephony, television, radio-diffusion, telemedicine and distance learning; the launch of an African Monetary Fund, African Central Bank and African Bank of Investments; Gaddafi’s staunch opposition to Sarkozy’s so-called ‘Mediterranean Union’ and other regional blocs; and his total commitment to the creation of the United States of Africa (Gaddafi has been bankrolling the always cash-strapped African Union); Gaddafi’s key role in putting an end to the humiliation of apartheid in South Africa…
The ‘Arab Spring’ is sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. Western powers want ‘regime change’ in Libya and they are using the so-called politics of ‘humanitarian interventionism’ to achieve that. However, In addition to authorising a ‘no-fly zone’ and tightening sanctions against ‘the Gaddafi regime and its supporters’, the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 called for ‘all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi’. At the same time, it expressly ‘excluded a foreign occupation force of any form’ or in ‘any part of Libyan territory’.
But so far, tens of thousands of Libyans, armed and civilians, have been killed through NATO bombings (including one of Gaddafi’s youngest son, Saif al-Arab, and three grandchildren).
Swami, Squires and Gardham (2011) report that many Islamic members linked to al Qaeda have been fighting in the Libyan rebel ranks. Western powers are cooperating with elements of al Qaeda their bitter enemy to overthrow Gaddafi.
An online article in Pakistan Defence reveals that al Qaeda in Maghreb, al Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate publicly offered its assistance and support to rebels in Libya. If that is the case, it becomes hard to comprehend that Western powers are cooperating with elements of al Qaeda their bitter enemy to overthrow Gaddafi. France’s acts of parachuting arms to the rebels is also dangerous because the danger is that those arms will use by al Qaeda islamists in their campaigns in the Middle East and North Africa.
It appears that the Libyan rebels are aided by the NATO bombings and by the lies of Western media (plus Al Jazeera) as Pravda put it, strongly calling it the ‘prostitution of Western journalism’ (See: ‘Libya: Prostitution of Western journalism’, English Pravda, 24 August 2011). Rayner, Harding and Gardham (2011) also suggest that the rebels also enjoy the support of Western secret services and so will come to power for certain. However, Kovalyova (2011) reported that the fight is not over in Tripoli, but the carve-up of Libya’s vast oil riches – the biggest in Africa – was already underway. The Italian foreign minister fired the starting gun, saying Italy’s ENI oil company will play the number one role in the region.
De Filippis (2011) reveals that during the meeting of international partners in Paris, The National Transition Council (NTC) secretly promised 35 per cent of Libyan oil to France in return for support, sidelining Russia and China for their support to the Gaddafi regime. This suggests that in the post-Gaddafi political dispensation, the Libyan people in their majority will be completely sidelined and that the NTC’s integrity in running the affairs of the state is already called into question.
Apart from Western powers’ rush to lay their hands on Libyan oil, could the demise of the dollar and the search for a new world currency also be one of the root causes of the Libyan regime change? Some analysts, including Brown (2011) suggest that because Saddam Hussein switched from dollars to euros about a year before the American led Iraqi invasion, this explained among other reasons why 12 months later Iraq was invaded, Saddam was hanged, and the dollar was restored to power. Gaddafi likewise made a similar ‘mistake’ when he initiated ‘a movement to refuse the dollar and the euro, and called on Arab and African nations to use a new currency instead, the gold dinar.’ Now the wrath of the Empire has descended on Gaddafi like a ton of bricks.
Trotman (2011) even suggests that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund find himself in hot water because he was mounting an attack against the dollar. Strauss-Khan, is said to have called for a new world currency that would challenge the dominance of the dollar and protect against future financial instability. He suggested adding emerging market countries' currencies, such as the Yuan, to a basket of currencies that the IMF administers could add stability to the global system. Strauss-Kahn saw a greater role for the IMF's Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), which is currently composed of the dollar, sterling, euro and yen over time, but said it would take a great deal of international cooperation to make that work. If this is true, does it explain why Strauss-Kahn found himself in trouble, apart from his huge appetite for sex?
In addition, apart from the USA’s own African military project dubbed African Command (AFRICOM), NATO could be building military bases in Libya and all over North Africa to control oil resources and also gain a foothold in Libya as a springboard to wage ‘war on terrorism’.
The haste by Western powers to lay their hands on Libya’s vast oil riches (3.5 per cent of global oil reserves with 46.5 billion barrels of proven reserves) suggests that oil was the primary target of NATO’s military campaign. We can therefore draw the conclusion that should democratic elections be organised in Libya, the party that will probably win legitimacy is the one that Western powers believe is most likely to attend to their strategic oil interests – in this case the now rebel movement called the Transitional National Council (TNC). The TNC is already recognised by Western powers as the sole legitimate authority representing the Libyan people before they have even won an election; frozen assets of the Libyan state have already been made available to them.
Western powers can be quite sure of securing the lion’s share of oil contracts in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi. In a way the NTC can be sure of winning the elections as it is already portrayed as the movement of change, which already enjoys the diplomatic recognition of all Western powers and of Russia and China. The NTC has already bought or secured half of its legitimacy by granting oil contracts to countries that are backing it now. The ballot box will just be an extension of that legitimacy. Moreover, should elections be organised in Libya, no Gaddafi loyalists – now hunted down – will be allowed to stand. It will be a test for the NTC, which says it is fighting for democracy.
Although the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Gaddafi, human rights organisations have already detailed crimes against humanity now being committed in Libya in NTC controlled-areas. Weber (2011) suggests that black Africans who were working in the agriculture and oil sectors in Libya had to flee Benghazi. Many have been massacred by the rebels who targeted them as ‘African mercenaries recruited by the Gaddafi regime’.
It can be established that the NTC owes its legitimacy to NATO’s bombing campaign, manpower (regular Western powers’ soldiers as well as mercenaries or private military contractors), intelligence and new weapons (tanker aircraft, AWACS, American tomahawks spewing missiles), some used for the first time. Borger and Chulov (2011) report that armed westerners have been filmed by Al Jazeera on the front line with rebels near Misrata in the first apparent confirmation that foreign special forces are playing an active role in the Libyan conflict.
The regime that is soon to be established in Libya is therefore not a democracy but ‘Canon-cracy’. That is a political epithet this writer coined to refer to a ‘democracy’ imposed ‘at gun point’ or using bombs and canons irrespective of huge losses of human lives, mostly civilians. Taking into consideration another African context – Nigeria – Keating (2009) states that Nigerian Nobel Prize-winning author Wole Soyinka even called Nigeria’s democracy a ‘sham democracy’. Soyinka argued that the country’s ‘sham democracy’ – or ‘demon crazy’ as Nigerian pop star Fela Anikulapo-Kuti once described it – is supported by the West, which unfortunately has a bad habit of looking the other way so long as the charade is good enough and the oil keeps flowing.
IVORY COAST UNDER FRENCH CONTROL FOREVER INDEPENDENT OF THE OUTCOME OF ELECTIONS.
The current situation in Ivory Coast has a lot to teach Africans about what really confers the legitimacy of power in Africa, independent of the outcome of the elections – Western strategic interests (or rather French interests in the case of Ivory Coast). Onifade (2011) suggests that elections were rigged in the north of Ivory Coast for Ouattara with good help from the French military and ‘UN peace keeping troops’. The international community refused to come for a vote re-count, going against the country’s Constitutional Court, which, after examining the situation and the voting procedures, declared that President Gbagbo was re-elected. This was in opposition to the Ouattara electoral commission, which declared their man as the winner although many Ivorian people voted for Gbagbo across the country. However, the French captured Gbagbo and handed him over to Ouattara; now they say that they just aided the capture. The question that needs to be asked is: Which UN resolution gave the French the right to effect a regime change in Ivory Coast given the fact that even Nigeria (the power house of Ecowas) had not given a go-ahead for using force to oust Gbagbo?
A BBC report reminds us that we should not forget how in 2000, the announcement of the eventual winner of the US presidential elections was delayed for about five weeks by several recounts in the state of Florida. Outdated voting methods in that state were seen by some as handing George W Bush a tainted victory in the race for the White House. As a vanguard of modern democratic ideals and principles, the United States is often held up as an example of how democracy should be practiced. But in 2000 we watched the US election process marred with accusations of intimidation of voters, personality attacks, vote-buying, missing ballot papers and other alleged irregularities in the run-up to the polls. (See: ‘Are the US elections a good model for Africa?’, BBC News, 2 November 2004).
Busch (2010) states that Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest cocoa producer and the third largest producer of coffee; it accounts for 45 per cent of West Africa’s economy, second to Nigeria. But under the old order, for instance, out of every dollar earned by Ivory Coast from the cash crops, 75 per cent was banked in Paris to ‘secure’ the Communauté Financière Africaine or the CFA franc, the common currency in Francophone or French speaking West Africa. Of course, such an arrangement, cemented by France’s policy of assimilation, only guarantees Paris’ continued prosperity at the expense of the West African nation.
So Ivory Coast is still a country still dominated by French interests. The current situation in Ivory Coast therefore demonstrates that in West Africa, African politicians and parties elected to promote growth, reform, diversification of economic partners, changes in trade and fiscal policies are made irrelevant, except with the consent of the French Treasury which rations their funds. After more than 50 years of independence, France still controls most of the infrastructure in West Africa in general and in Ivory Coast in particular and holds these countries’ foreign currency reserves as part of the 14-nation Franc Zone.
The airline, telephone, electricity and water companies, and some major banks, are French-controlled. In the same article, Busch states that the famous ‘Accords de Coopération’, signed after Independence by the late President Félix Houphouët-Boigny and France’s then Premier, Michel Debré, are still technically applicable. France maintains a stranglehold of Ivorian commerce and currency which vitiates national initiatives towards independence.
Busch suggests in the same article that this privileged position of France is confirmed by a report from the UN Commission which he quotes as saying: ‘The testimony we have assembled has also enabled us to see that the law of 1998 concerning rural property is linked to the dominant position that France and French interests occupy in Cote d'Ivoire. According to these sources, the French own 45% of the land and, curiously, the buildings of the Presidency of the Republic and of the Ivorian National Assembly are subject to leases concluded with the French. French interests are said to control the sectors of water and electricity.’
Busch concludes in the same article that after inauguration in 2000, Gbagbo set out to reverse some of the exclusive concessions enjoyed by the colonial master. This means that in reality France had continued to exercise total control over the economy of a supposedly ‘independent’ Ivorian nation. All the big contracts were reserved for French companies as ‘birthright’. Though this systematic exploitation predated Ivory Coast’s independence in 1960, the post-independence leadership of Houphouët-Boigny did little or nothing to reverse the arrangement out of what could, at best, be described as political naivety, if not outright imbecility. But Gbagbo now insisted on competitive bids for such jobs, so much that other world powers like China began to have a foothold in the Ivorian economy.
Now, even in jail, Laurent Gbagbo (2011) says ‘he continues to refuse the position of the frame in which Western powers want to absolutely keep the African people’:
‘Indeed, I remain convinced that in the dialectical relationship of the rider and the horse, regardless of the quality and quantity of hay that the rider gives the horse, the rider’s position is largely comfortable than that of the riding horse,’ wrote Gbagbo in his Independence Day Letter to the Nation, dated 6 August 2011.
‘In a competitive world, it is unrealistic to believe that a people can provide the perfect happiness of another people, history shows no example of this type. Therefore, when I took office as Head of State, I put my political commitments, economic and social in the sense of our sovereignty, which in my view is a prerequisite for any development,’ he wrote (Read the full letter).
For Laurent Gbgbo, like Patrice Lumumba, therefore, the nation’s independence meant nothing until Ivorians themselves truly began to exercise sovereignty over their land, unencumbered by a domineering former colonial master. Most observers of the political scene in Africa in general and in Ivory Coast in particular, would agree that is the main reason among others why he is now where he is: In jail.
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* Antoine Roger Lokongo is a PhD candidate, Department of International Relations, Peking University, People’s Republic of China (PRC).
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.