Friday, January 21, 2011

L'Abidjanaise, Part 5

We continue our consideration of the situation in Côte d'Ivoire.

In Part 1,we examined some background and history, including consideration of a civil war that left the country divided, with a rebel faction controlling the north, and a government faction controlling the coast. In Part 2, we looked a little more closely at the situation, and how President Gbagbo has been labeled by the international community as essentially a thug.

The allegations against Gbagbo are that he refuses to give up his power to Alassane Ouattara, whom the international community recognizes as the winner of the presidential elections last year.


In Part 3 we considered some circumstantial evidence suggesting that the election results may have been fraudulent, in the context of calls among the international community for armed intervention to place Ouattara in power as the president of Côte d'Ivoire.

In Part 4 we considered what might prompt a power play on someone's part to take over Côte d'Ivoire via a proxy or puppet leader, and came up with the obvious - the country has a substantial fraction of the world's cocoa production, with other natural resources thrown in for good measure (diamonds).

Now, the international community is beginning to suspect that diplomatic efforts to install Ouattara as president may have failed, and that military intervention is the only option left. From Ivorian crisis: Use of force 'may be the only option' left, January 21, 2011:

Abuja, Nigeria (PANA) - The use of force to dislodge incumbent Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo is becoming inevitable due to the failure so far of diplomatic efforts to resolve the post-election crisis in the West African country, Nigeria's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hajia Salamatu Suleiman, said Friday.

Hajia Suleiman was briefing reporters here on the meeting between Guillaume Soro, the special envoy of Alassane Ouattara, the man widely believed to have won Cote d'Ivoire's presidential runoff last year, and current ECOWAS Chairman and Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja Friday.

She said the ECOWAS Chairman had sent many envoys to Cote d'Ivoire with a view to resolving the post-election crisis peacefully, but without much success.

"As you know, the President under the auspices of ECOWAS has been sending many envoys to Cote d' Ivoire to try and resolve the issue diplomatically so that there would be no use of military power. But as it appears, that remains the only option," the Minister said.

But what is interesting is that Ouattara is, under Côte d'Ivoire's 2000 Constitution, ineligible to be president - a fact he himself has admitted, while advocating the adoption of the change that made him ineligible (source)!

So, the leader that the international community wants to install by force as the president of Côte d'Ivoire is, by his own admission, ineligible for the office - an office that he was elected to amid some concerns of voter fraud, though the international community has given its approval to the election process that Ouattara supposedly won.

Interestingly, the country's division into a rebel-controlled north and a government-controlled south resulted, via a circuitous route, in part from monetary "reforms" that Ouattara himself implemented two decades ago.

In her book, Web of Debt, Ellen Brown discusses what she portrays as a typical ploy of the International Monetary Fund:

That was when the IMF got in the game, brought in by the London and New York banks to enforce debt repayment and act as "debt policeman." Public spending for health, education and welfare in debtor countries was slashed, following IMF orders to ensure that the banks got timely debt service on their petrodollars. The banks also brought pressure on the U.S. government to bail them out from the consequences of their imprudent loans, using taxpayer money and U.S. assets to do it. The results were austerity measures for Third World countries and taxation for American workers to provide welfare for the banks. The banks were emboldened to keep aggressively lending, confident that they would again be bailed out if the debtors' loans went into default.

Did you know that Alassane D. Ouattara, the internationally-recognized president-elect of Côte d'Ivoire, worked for the IMF? The IMF greatly appreciated his work.

But what exactly did he do for the international bankers? From DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT IN AFRICA: HOW COTE D'IVOIRE BECAME VICTIM OF THE CIVIL WAR? by Bertin K Kouadio (2007):

On 25 May 1987, the government announced it could no longer pay its external debt, then estimated at $6 billion U.S. forcing it to accept and implement some painful policy prescriptions associated with the structural adjustment programs.

Following this same neo-liberal logic in 1989 the World Bank required that the national economy be made competitive by devaluating the currency (CFA) and improving the public finances. This resulted in a significant increase in unemployment, which was already high due to the closing of many private and state-owned factories. Moreover, the government proposed to reduce the salaries of the workers in the same year, knowing that in Sub-Saharan Africa the government is the major employer, and also that one civil servant feeds more than his or her own nuclear family, it was clear that cutting the salaries would have dramatic consequences. Expectedly, these measures provoked huge social protests in Abidjan and elsewhere in the country, forcing the government to review the first round of adjustment measures. It tried without success to find modes of reform that would be less painful. Each effort it met the opposition of the people.

Meanwhile, the opposition led by Laurent Gbagbo began pushing for multiparty democracy and the organization of transparent and fair elections in the same year (Conteh-Morgan 1997).

So, Gbagbo - who is now the thug (?) president - was trying to democratize and make the election process more open and fair, while an economic situation caused Côte d'Ivoire to get behind on its payments to the international bankers.

Skipping down:

The Arrival of Allasane Ouattara on the Ivoirian Political Space

It was in this context of economic crisis that the president called upon Allasane Dramane Ouattara, a former Governor of the West African Central Bank in Dakar (BCEAO), who was serving as Deputy-Director of the African Division at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington D.C., to oversee the efforts to stimulate the Ivoirian economy (Konaté, 2004). In April 1990, Ouattara took the leadership of the Comité Interministériel de Coordination du Programme de Stabilization et de Rélance Economique to oversee the adjustment program. On 7 November 1990, he was named prime minister, the first in Côte d'Ivoire's history. However, the honeymoon between the new prime minister and the people did not last long.

Rumors about his identity were being circulated around the country. According to Fraternité Matin (28 April 2003), it was alleged that the former Deputy-Director of the IMF in Washington D.C. (1984-1988) had worked with a Burkina-Faso passport by definition. But, no one could voice this officially and loudly since Houphouêt-Boigny, although physically diminished, was still dominating the political machine in Côte d'Ivoire.

Meanwhile, Ouattara is sent in by the international bankers to clean up Côte d'Ivoire's debt situation, but rumors are quietly circulating that Ouattara is not even Ivorian.

Ouattara went forward, and designed a number of important, but unpopular measures that were to follow. According to the government-owned local newspaper Fraternité Matin (28 April 2003), his plan included the following steps: to reduce the number of government vehicles per ministry; to force the wealthy barons of the old regime and private sector to pay back taxes or dues accumulated over the years (especially telephone, water, electricity, personal properties); to suppress the free bus service that was previously available to all the students; and to privatize both government owned and semi-owned companies.

Unfortunately, this first round of austerity measures did not yield the expected results, for the government's coffers remained empty. Accordingly, Ouattara added new measures to the list. For example, he decided to reduce the salaries of all the new teachers for all levels of the education system by 50%. This 'unjust' decision gave birth to the famous phrase: "same job-different salary?" (à travail égal-différent salaire?). Next, he introduced for the first time the controversial Alien Identification Card (Cartes de Séjour), whereby every national from the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) was required to pay 5,000 F CFA (7.6 Euros) per year, while other immigrants outside this organization had to pay 50,000 F CFA (76.2 Euros) annually, as a resident alien (Fraternité Matin (28 April 2003)).

At that point, it was clear that these structural adjustment measures had set the stage for mounting social unrest throughout Côte d'Ivoire. This also meant that the system could collapse at any time. Between 1990 and 1992, the country experienced huge mass protests and strikes by students, police, customs officers, university professors, transport workers, professional associations, and these protests with the takeover of the airport by army conscripts in 1990. Akindès (2000: 126) and Kieffer (2000) have documented the different activities of the military during that period, while Cogneau (2003: 87), Toungara (1999: 23) have written extensively on the social implications of these economic reforms in the country. As one scholar writes, all of these protests were a direct response to the appalling and severe economic conditions imposed on the country by the IMF and the World Bank. Côte d'Ivoire, like many African states and the developing world, had badly failed its first structural adjustment programs test with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

For a long while, Ouattara's drastic measures became the center of all the daily conversations throughout the country, especially in Abidjan. Those barons who were summoned to pay back taxes disliked him intensely. In the end, these structural adjustment measures, which were intended to improve the economy in the first place, brought significant political and social strife to Côte d'Ivoire and its people. For instance, they gave the average Ivoirian the opportunity to break certain taboos of the past including: defying the authority of the government, speaking freely and publicly about local politics, and, most importantly, speaking against the autocratic President Houphouêt-Boigny, something that was unthinkable before. It has also been argued elsewhere that it was the introduction of the Alien Identification Card by Ouattara that triggered the current xenophobia or ultra-nationalism towards foreigners (Fraternité Matin (28 April 2003)).

Well, I could see how Ouattara's push to get rich people to pay overdue taxes would anger those rich people.

But, isn't it interesting how Ouattara's austerity measures impacted the core of Ivorian society, causing unrest that ultimately led to a civil war? With an ongoing polarization caused in large part by an alien identification law that Ouattara himself pushed through?

And, isn't it interesting how this civil war left the country divided, with half of it supporting Ouattara for the presidency - a position that Ouattara himself admitted he was ineligible for by a change in the Ivorian constitution that Ouattara himself approved of?

And, isn't it interesting that the current president, Gbagbo, came to power amid a campaign to democratize and increase transparency in the Ivorian election process? But, now, he is being labeled the bad guy, a strongman who refuses to yield power, even though some of his concerns include possible election fraud in the part of the country that Ouattara is said by the international community to have won?

(In fact, the accusations look remarkably like accusations against US President Obama: that he may not be Constitutionally eligible, that international bankers put him in power...)

It sure looks like Ouattara is the front man for international bankers, himself engineering the current crisis which has now propelled him to the brink of power; the only thing left to be done is for international forces to intervene and install him, thus "ending" the crisis.

I suspect there is more than cocoa beans and some diamonds at stake in Côte d'Ivoire.

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