Monday, November 15, 2004

Ivorian morass

The mess in Côte d'Ivoire continues to deteriorate. First, an Ivorian government air strike on French peacekeepers left 9 French soldiers dead. The French responded by destroying the small Ivorian air force, something which Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo called "acts of war." Then French troops deployed across the commercial capital Abidjan following anti-French rioting and took control of the city's international airport. The French commander in Côte d'Ivoire denied it represented an attempt to overthrow Gbagbo. Over this weekend, Gbagbo fired his moderate army chief Gen. Matthias Doué and replaced him with a hardliner.

Now, the UN Security Council is rightly preparing an arms embargo on the country (all belligerents). Including a travel ban and a freeze on "funds and other financial assets" to be imposed against unspecified individuals to be decided later by a Security Council panel. Gbagbo is likely to be on the list, diplomats said. The individuals would include those who threatened the peace and "reconciliation process" as well as those "determined as responsible for serious violations of human rights," the resolution says, reports CNN.

My take on all of this?

a ) I strongly suspect that the "Young Patriots" militias are out of the control of both Gbagbo and his FPI party, even though the militias are nominally "pro-government." I fear if Gbagbo compromises, he may be assassinated by extremists like happened to Rwanda's leader Juvénal Habyrimana right before that country's genocide. Gbagbo may fear this too.

b) The French crossed a dangerous line when they actively bombed the Ivorian air force. It's one thing to protect civilians or themselves but this certainly seems like plain old aggression. Even if they were provoked. So-called peacekeepers don't do this sort of thing; belligerents do. This only stoked anti-French fires that the nationalistic and xenophobic militias were more than happy to exploit.

c) The French are in deep and they don't know how to get out. The French government negotiated the Marcoussis agreement that was supposed to bring an end to the civil war. Originally, they were seen as an honest broker in the conflict. This was no small feat considering that the country's history of meddling in Africa is comparably odious to US meddling in Latin America. Yet the rebels quickly soured on the French as their peacekeepers stood in the way of the rebel march toward Abidjan. Now it's the Ivorian government accusing the French of bias.

France's long history of "involvement" in Côte d'Ivoire and French president Jacques Chirac's comment that "We do not want to let a system develop that could lead to anarchy, or a regime of a fascist nature" only feed the conspiracy theories.

To make things worse, "120 French tanks" had taken position some 500 meters from Gbagbo's residence, according to the Ivorian leder, who equated it to the Soviet invasion of Prague.

d) Sadly, the Ivorian government IS alarmingly close to being "of a fascist nature," however "constitutional" it may be. Reporters Without Borders noted how the country's state media mix propaganda, disinformation and incitement to riot. The non-governmental organization added "If President Laurent Gbagbo does not want to be accused of saying one thing and doing another, he must ensure that the official media are no longer used as tools for organising and mobilising the pro-governmental Young Patriots."

On November 9, a preacher from the Church of the Living Word went on the air with violent imprecations. "The country must be delivered from the evil ones," he said, claiming that French President Jacques Chirac is "inhabited by the spirt of Satan." Ivory Coast was "divided into two blocs, with the Devil's bloc on one side and God's bloc on the other" and it was up to the "patriots" to ensure that the second prevailed, he said. His monologue ended with a ringing "Amen, pastor" from the two RCI [Ivorian state radio] presenters. Throughout the 90 minutes of Reporters Without Borders's monitoring of RCI yesterday, the same two presenters regularly punctuated their live comments with such slogans as "Vigilance, patriots" and "Thanks be to the fatherland." This morning on RTI [Ivorian state television], Reporters Without Borders noted that President Chirac and the French soldiers of the Force Licorne were systematically referred to as "settlers" and "imperialists." In general, comments and reports tended to focus on the claim that France is in the process of carrying out a "coup d'etat" against Ivory Coast, despite the denials by both the French and Ivorian military.

d) The militias and government used the refusal of rebels to disarm as a pretext for bombing. In a national address, Gbagbo said, "I have always considered, by culture and religious conviction, that war is a bad thing. That is why I have unreservedly adhered to all the peace accords signed here in Ivory Coast between the rebellion and the national armed forces or signed in friendly countries between political forces."

Yet it was the parliament, let by Gbagbo's FPI party, that refused to scrap the xenophobic "Ivoirité" laws as required by the peace agreements he "unreservedly adhered to." The legal changes were supposed to PRECEDE disarmament according to the Marcoussis agreement both the government and rebels signed. The discrimination imposed by the "Ivoirité" laws are at the very heart of the grievances that provoked the rebellion in the first place. That Gbagbo refuses to recognize this testifies either to his crimnal and treasonous hard-headness or his fear of being assassinated by nationalist extremists.

In short, if the French are in deep, Gbagbo's in deeper.


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