The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Ivory Coast:
Their war isn't our war

Nov 8, 2004

New fighting recently broke out in the Ivory Coast between government forces and French military forces stationed inside the country. After an Ivory Coast plane dropped a bomb on a French military position, French planes retaliated by completely destroying the tiny Ivory Coast air force. This then led to anti-French riots in Ivory Coast cities, as well as new inter-ethnic violence.

A civil war has been going on in the Ivory Coast since September 2002. Since that time a rebel army has controlled the northern part of the country. Many thousands of people have been killed and a million people have become refugees.

The following article is translated from Le Pouvoir Aux Travailleurs (Workers Power), published by the African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers in its September 5 issue. It addresses the sentiments of workers in the non-rebel held part of the country, under the government of Laurent Gbagbo.

We hear workers, including those who are mad about their situation, says things like: "First the war has to be ended, then we can think about our demands." Some add: "The war is caused by those other people," especially the "Dioulas" (northerners living in the south), and secondarily by the French who manipulate them. The pro-government press pushes these ideas, calling itself "patriotic," using all the derogatory words against other ethnic groups and foreigners.

These sentiments go along with the government propaganda that talks about "Ivoryism," which is supposedly threatened by the Dioulas and the people from Burkino-Faso to the north, many of whom live in Ivory Coast. Government propaganda dwells on conspiracies involving the French and some of the heads of African states. The French government isn't bothered by this. It knows that Gbagbo protects the interests of French companies in the Ivory Coast, just like his predecessors did, and that his demagogy is only an attempt to blackmail the French government into giving it some more support. The heads of African countries laugh at the attacks on them, since they use the same type of demagogic slogans to deceive their own people. On the other hand, the workers, the street venders and the small peasants coming from Burkina Faso or the north of the country are the ones who suffer from this demagogy. How many victims have there already been, how many families chased from villages where they long worked and lived? How many have been wounded or killed in ethnic confrontations or from lynchings carried out by bands controlled by or at least protected by the governmental power? How many women and men live with fear in their gut?

This demagogy is harmful to all workers, even those who aren't targets. It leads some workers to mistrust others. It's harmful because it increases support for Gbagbo and his party in power, using the "national interest" or in a more hidden way "ethnic interest" to make people forget the vital demands of the laboring classes. It makes people forget that the real culprits are the bosses who exploit the workers, who pay pitiful wages to those who have work and who deprive people of work when they don't have the need to exploit them. They spew this filth trying to get people to fear workers like themselves of a different ethnic group. It's designed to turn workers away from dealing with their true enemies: the big bosses, the big merchants and top state officials, all who live on the back of the workers.

It's easy to blame the war. Certainly, it continues to worsen conditions of life for the workers, the unemployed, the street vendors and the small peasants. It worsens the ills this country suffers from....

The soldiers who rose up on September 19, 2002 are undoubtedly crooks, as much as the soldiers who have remained loyal to Gbagbo. And the political leaders of the rebellion are just as corrupt, as scornful of the population as the rulers in the traditional political caste. They are opposed to those who lead the state only to get access to the feeding trough.

But we know workers were badly paid and constantly threatened by unemployment before the war started. There wasn't any health insurance, pensions or any social protection for the majority of the population. Public services were in a pitiful state, workers' neighborhoods lacked everything: sewer lines, infrastructure, even electricity or drinkable water. Public hygiene was unknown and its absence has killed as surely as the bandits who hold sway there. Before the war started, curable diseases killed because people couldn't afford to buy medicine. Everyone who had any authority, including the lowest level soldier or cop, shook down the poor.

Workers know that despite the war a minority continues to enrich itself. Of course some businesses have closed. But the factories, stores and banks which are still operating bring their owners profit. And there are all the war profiteers. The heads of the government, the mayors and political leaders, who preach about the war and "Ivoryism" and call for unity around the government, are happy to cheat, speculate, and steal. They profit from their positions and get rich ripping off ordinary people.

Even those workers who don't pick up on the ethnic demagogy because they work side by side with a "Dioula," on the same construction site, in the same workshop, and for the same pitiable wage, can think that it's necessary to wait for the government to end the war and only then could they hope for less miserable wages, for social protection and a better life.

. . .

Things will be even worse than before if the ethnic demagogy damages the workers' cause. There are workers who follow the incitements to hatred coming from above, or worse, help the brutes who lynch women, men and poor people like themselves, simply because they were born in the north of the country or in Burkina Faso, simply because they dress differently. If workers like this are numerous, then besides the oppression that workers suffer from the state and from exploitation, there will also be hatred between class brothers, which will make common life unbearable in the workshops and on the building sites as well as in the workers' neighborhoods. Then truly there won't be an "after the war" for the exploited.

Workers don't have to let the corrupt and selfish political caste that serves the owners and the rich be the ones to prepare the future. Only the workers, conscious of their material and political interests, organized to defend themselves, can found a future free of exploitation, oppression and ethnic hatred. The great bulk of society would gain from that future. Even today it can be prepared, despite the war, despite the resignation which overwhelms the laboring classes. Let's hope there rises up a generation which prepares this task, by beginning to spread among the workers the consciousness that they represent a force capable of transforming this unjust society in a direction favorable to those who make it function.

In order for this consciousness to spread, permitting the workers one day collectively to impose their right to a better life, it is necessary to prevent the spread of the disgraceful disease of ethnic hatred, which destroys the one precious thing within reach of the world of labor: solidarity and fraternity among the exploited.