May 1, 2012
The article below is a translation of a forum held by the militants of UATCI (the African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers) at the Lutte Ouvrière Festival in May 2012. It was published in Lutte de Classe, the political journal of Lutte Ouvrière, #146, Sept-Oct. 2012.
The new president of Ivory Coast, Allassane Ouattara, recently celebrated his first year in office, his first year as the winner of a fierce battle that started almost 20 years ago, after President HouphouëtBoigny’s death. The struggle opposed three contenders (Ouattara, Gbagbo and the late Bédié) for the president’s post. It escalated into a war that lasted over four months, killing thousands, and ended up with a host of armed groups pitted against one another in Abidjan.
Ouattara received the support of Soro Guillaume’s former “rebel” troops who had more than ten year’s experience ruling the northern part of the country. Their ranks rapidly swelled with the recruitment of thousands of outcasts: ruined farmhands in the countryside or slum workers surviving in declassed urban districts – like Abobo (with two million inhabitants itself and one of Abidjan’s biggest, poorest neighborhoods).
However, the decisive factor in Ouattara’s victory was the intervention of the French army – officially at the request of the United Nations. Without France’s military involvement, Ouattara would probably have lost the war, because Gbagbo had a larger contingent of troops at his disposal and enjoyed the support of the country’s regular army, whose elements were perhaps badly trained and not very qualified but could bring to bear the full might of the state. In Abidjan, Gbagbo, like Ouattara, set up his own militia. Mostly composed of former slum dwellers or school dropouts, it was used to control the neighborhoods of Adjamé, Koumassi or Yopougon. Gbagbo had also hired a gang of bloodthirsty mercenary fighters from nearby Liberia.
When Gbagbo was finally captured by Ouattara, who assumed power in midApril 2011, there were no police, no gendarmerie, no administration left in Abidjan. They had disappeared in thin air. The administration’s premises were without equipment or fixtures: doors and windows, electric cables and switches, even toilet bowls had been ripped off by looters.
Some of them were former “rebel” militiamen, belonging to Soro Guillaume’s Forces Nouvelles. A few days before the French army’s intervention, their name had changed to Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI), which was thought to sound better. But they were as ruthless as those they were replacing. They occupied the barracks and police stations left empty by their predecessors. The new police stations were often placed under the authority of illiterate commanders who have, at times, been seen holding a person’s papers upside down to “control” them, and then declaring confidently “It’s all right” or “That’s no good”!
Gbagbo’s Defense and Security Forces (in other words, the army, the gendarmerie and the police) started resurfacing as soon as the new government announced that a deadline had been set and that members of these “uniformwearing units” who did not turn up in time would be discharged. Those who did were reintegrated in their former corps after pledging allegiance to the new government. However, for months after their reintegration, they were forbidden to carry a gun even when they were placed in police stations. Some of them are still unarmed today. And they are kept under close surveillance by elements of the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast.
According to the new authorities, the war involved 110,000 people, 36,000 of whom are thought to be “eligible” to reinsertion. But so far, only 13,000 have been reinserted. The remaining 23,000 have been disarmed, but are on the loose. Which leaves around 70,000 former combatants who will never be reincorporated and have most likely kept their arms. For the time being, they wander aimlessly in the country and their nuisance potential can easily be imagined.
As a result, there are more and more roadblocks set up and highway robbery. Thieves are unchecked and terrorize poor city dwellers and villagers alike. According to a government official, 80% of the roadblockers who are active in the north of the country are former combatants with no revenue and no possibility of earning a living in the foreseeable future.
Some of the roadblockers are indeed arrested and jailed. But, as a rule, they never stay very long behind bars: those who are paid to “guard” them are their good friends, members of the FRCI. In the past months, prisoners were escaping from Ivory Coast prisons by the hundreds. The situation was no different inside Abidjan’s main prison.
Under the pretext of rounding up prison escapees, the government has multiplied identity checks – for instance, on public transport. This often goes along with harassing workers and the poor. There are also police raids in the poorer districts. Under any kind of pretext – a rumored coup d’état for example – people are picked up by the police, beaten up and illtreated. Police raids are often organized on the basis of ethnicity. Now that the northern ethnic groups are in power, the police tend to raid Southerners.
Now that he is in office, Ouattara tries hard to rally his former adversaries around him and thus consolidate his position. But so far, he has had little success. He has only been able to attract the fringe of opportunistic people who had jumped on Gbagbo’s bandwagon when Ouattara was in the opposition. However, if and when Gbagbo is sentenced to life in prison by the International Criminal Court, whatever is left of his party (the Front Populaire Ivoirien – FPI) will inevitably collapse.
Today, the FPI’s absence on the benches of the National Assembly is more than conspicuous. The FPI used to be the majority party. Its most prominent members all occupied wellpaying positions. Things have changed, of course, and they now have to find other ways of raking in the money and are prepared to offer their services to the highest bidder. The problem is that the only bidder on the market is Ouattara.
A good example of the situation thus created is that of the former President of the Constitutional Court. This gentleman started by ruling that the winner of the last presidential election was Gbagbo! However, as soon as Gbagbo was arrested and jailed, the same gentleman declared that Ouattara was, indeed, the official winner. His second declaration was no doubt made under some pressure – but pressure was not the only reason, as one can imagine.
A second example is that of Laurent Donna Fologo, an expert at swapping horses. He is a seasoned politician from the North, like Ouattara, and both belong to the same ethnic group, but Fologo is a Catholic. He enjoyed top positions under Houphouët, and when Bédié took over, he became one of his close collaborators. When Bédié was overthrown by General Guei, Fologo suddenly changed sides, despite the fact that he had been beaten up by the soldiers who participated in the military coup. Later on, when he saw the tables turning in Gbagbo’s favor, he found Gbagbo. And when Gbagbo was overthrown, he became a pro-Ouattara storyteller – after having cut him down to size as often as he could. Fologo was one of those who accused Ouattara of being a Burkinabé to bar him from running in the election. This proGbagbo politician is now a staunch Ouattara supporter.
However, some of Gbagbo’s most prominent dignitaries still proclaim their allegiance to the FPI and are intent on setting up a genuine parliamentary opposition.
Since he has been in office, Ouattara has talked about implementing “national reconciliation.” He apparently would like this “reconciliation” to be more or less similar to the process initiated by Nelson Mandela in South Africa after the end of apartheid. Everyone would be given the opportunity to do a bit of selfcriticism, showing that they are genuinely remorseful, after which they would be allowed to get their share of the cake.
Today, Ouattara’s plans are at a standstill. The leaders of the FPI have let it known that they will not participate in any way until Gbagbo is set free. As a consequence, the project is stalled, but the very costly Commission in charge of setting it up exists. It is funded by the state, is made up of Catholic priests, Muslim imams and other notabilities who are in no hurry to get the process under way. The longer it takes to get the process going, the more interesting it is for them – financially speaking.
Given the present attitude of the FPI, nobody knows how things will develop. The government might opt for another type of “reconciliation.” In any case, despite rumors pretending that Gbagbo’s armed forces are preparing a coup, what is left of the army that supported him is nowhere to be seen. There might well be troops that still support Gbagbo in Ivory Coast, but they are not a match for those supporting Ouattara, who can also rely on the benevolent attitude of French imperialism which has the upper hand in the area.
The new presidential team talks a lot about their will to rebuild the country. The war was very destructive, not to mention the plundering. During a decade, there was practically no maintenance. In Abidjan, for instance, roads were in a very poor state. They have now been repaired more or less properly. Ouattara is right when he says that he has accomplished more in one year than Gbagbo in ten. But repairing roads is not the only issue. A lot of schools and administrative buildings must also be taken care of. The government has to buy new desks, benches, chairs, computers, etc., as well as all sorts of vehicles that have disappeared in thin air. Universities and student residences have shut down for a year to allow for their rehabilitation. This predicament has been put to good use by the government to try and prevent the students’ union (Fédération Estudiantine et Scolaire de Côte D’Ivoire – FESCI) from recovering too quickly. FESCI is the proGbagbo students’ union that was a pool of proGbagbo politicians. That is where Blé Goudé learned the ropes. And others like him. Soro Guillaume was a proGbagbo FESCI leader before becoming a Gbagbo opponent. In fact, he was very close to President Gbagbo and he is the one who introduced Blé Goudé to him.
There’s a lot of construction that needs to be done. New equipment must be bought, premises must be rehabilitated. You need money to come your way before you can spend it. Now, that’s a big problem in Ivory Coast. Without a proper administration, without suitable archives (they have been destroyed), the authorities have no way of figuring out what the industrialists or shopkeepers owe the state – and the latter have no reason to figure it out themselves and tell the state! Such a situation is of course favorable to financial fraud and all sorts of shady deals, which mean heavy losses for the state in terms of unpaid customs taxes and income taxes.
Ouattara pretends to be particularly keen on fighting corruption because he needs the money to finance the state’s expenditures. However, those who are in charge of the “fight against corruption” are themselves corrupt to the core. Ouattara’s Prime Minister, for example, was given the function by the late President Bédié, who, as a simple minister under Houphouët Boigny, once organized a party to celebrate his bank account having reached the total of seven billion CFA francs. Extravagant and full of himself, he had cigarettes made with his initials on them. The coffers of the state were never emptier than during his reign. Ouattara is surrounded by men like Bédié, that is, by thieves who make a living being part of or close to the ruling circles. Indeed, Ouattara’s socalled fight against corruption is a tall story that nobody believes in.
A word concerning Soro Guillaume. Even though he has lost his post as Prime Minister and is no longer a member of the government, he is undoubtedly one of the winners of the political and military struggle that got under way in December 1999 when Bédié was overthrown by a military coup. As president of the National Assembly, he finds himself at the same time close to central power and the privileges that entails – but also near the sidelines, where he can be seen as possible recourse for the future. This is a golden vantage point for anyone thinking of running in the next presidential election.
He is said to be an honest politician with no blood on his hands because he contributed to the defeat of the Gbagbo camp and took sides with France’s imperialist camp. But he probably has as many blood stains on his hands as does Gbagbo, who is currently being tried by the International Criminal Court in the Hague. But thanks to French imperialism, Soro Guillaume came out of the scramble on the winners’ side.
Today, the northern part of the country is still under the control of his soldiery. The trafficking going on in this area (undeclared goods, nonpayment of customs tariffs or value added taxes) can easily be imagined. The north borders on many countries that have no access to the sea. As a consequence, there is a huge circulation of goods between Abidjan and Ivory Coast’s northern borders. Soro has controlled that part of the country for almost a decade now. He no doubt has strong ties with local organized crime. As for Ouattara, he is not and will not be in a position to take the—very profitable—control of the area away from Soro. He doesn’t have the political or military strength to do so. As for Ouattara’s Minister of the Interior, he is a bloodsucking predator himself.
The government needs money. And, because it does not want to take it from the wealthy, it has decided to attack the public sector. The pretext is a crusade against fictitious jobs in the Civil Service. Jobs have been suppressed in the public sector and in sectors like the radio and television networks and Abidjan’s transit authority. In so doing, the government is giving the good example to capitalowners who did not expect the government to lead the way so openly.
At the same time, the government has upped the age of compulsory retirement, from 55 to 60 years of age. And workers’ contributions to their retirement pension plans have also been increased.
Workers are of course glad that the war is over, but their economic situation is continually worsening. Abidjan’s cost of living is high. For quite a while, poor people have not had enough to eat. In a country where anything will grow, even bananas are expensive compared to the workers’ wages, which are low! Workers haven’t seen any increase in their wages for 30 years, despite the fact that, in 1994, the CFA franc was devaluated, losing 50% of its purchasing power. The country’s economy has also been hit hard by the economic crisis and the speculation that cause prices to go up. Then, there was the war.
Let’s take two examples. In the 1990s, three sweet bananas cost 4 centimes (the equivalent of 5 U.S. cents). Today, they cost 18 centimes (23 cents). Rice that used to be sold for 22 centimes (28 cents), now goes for 53 centimes (69 cents). The workers have lost a lot in terms of their purchasing power.
For years, workers have been hard hit without being able to retaliate. And today’s bosses feel even stronger than under Gbagbo.
Daily laboring, which was generalized some 20 years back, means that as older workers retire, the new ones are hired as daily laborers. With this system, the bosses find it easier than ever to get rid of someone they happen not to like. Also unemployment is high, and the unions tend to think of themselves as representing the boss’ interests, rather than those of the workers.
This situation explains why, for the time being, workers are willing to “wait and see” what the government’s intentions are and hope that the authorities will do something to alleviate their predicaments.
Last May 1st, many workers were disappointed and showed it. They really believed that the government was going to announce an acrosstheboard wage increase. The bosses and the unions had already discussed the increase of the minimum wage, which was supposed to go from the equivalent of 55 euros a month ($71) to 94 euros ($121). However, the day before, Ouattara left the country and went to France for a “private visit,” leaving it to his ministers to tell the workers that what they needed was not a wage increase but a tighter belt. The government is asking for a “social truce” – as he calls it – to help rebuild the country.
So far, workers have not reacted to the new government’s blows. To alleviate the impact of its decisions, the government makes every effort to try and convince people that it does its best to fight against the rising cost of living. But everybody knows that this is nothing but hot air and no real improvement is expected.
During the last presidential election campaign, one of Ouattara’s slogans was “ADO is the solution!” – ADO being his initials. Some people believed him. They had probably forgotten that twenty years ago, as Houphouët-Boigny’s Prime Minister, he had imposed an austerity policy on the workers, that had been decided by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
During the same election runup, Ouattara promised thousands of jobs, huge public works (building roads, schools, hospitals, etc.). Bourgeois politicians are the same everywhere! They will make the most fabulous promises in order to get the people’s votes, whether it be here in France or in Africa.
For the time being, Ouattara’s honeymoon period is not yet over: the Dioula and Baoulé ethnic groups view him as the man who put an end to the war and their sufferings. And as soon as he took office, he declared that hospitals would from then on provide free medical care. This measure is not without problems: what good is it to receive free medical “treatment” if there are no drugs to treat you or if you cannot afford the drug? But as it is, it has done a lot to make him popular. Just as he gets credit for the clean neighborhoods and road repairs. Police rackets against car drivers are decreasing. And on December 31, the people of Abidjan could celebrate in the streets, something they had not been able to do for the past two years. They switched on the lights everywhere in Abidjan, transforming it into a “City of Light.” This was unprecedented and was felt as a positive indication, even though this type of propaganda won’t change people’s lives and doesn’t guarantee a brighter future.
In fact, new blows are on the agenda. There are rumors of coming increases in the price of gas and electricity rates. These will inevitably weigh on the cost of living and, in the present situation, could be felt by workers as insufferable since the wage freeze continues.
The government was able to recently prevent a strike from breaking out in the hospitals. The demand was for a wage increase and the payment of bonuses that the government had indefinitely postponed. Same thing on the part of teachers who also threatened to go on strike for what is due to them.
[…] In fact, it is easy to reach out to the class consciousness of the workers, despite the ethnic propaganda and the civil war. This is an important factor.
Workers will inevitably fight back, sooner or later. Not because of us, our propaganda or our initiatives, but because of the bourgeois class’s greed.
Our activities as militants must aim at helping workers to find the way to stand for their class interests. In Abidjan’s industrial zone, there must be workers who are able and willing to jump on a table and address their fellow workers. That’s our role and our justification as militants.
Originally Presented May 2012