The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Ivory Coast:
French Troops and Exploiters—Get Out!

Dec 20, 2004

The first week of November, French troops clashed with the Ivory Coast army and riots broke out against the French, initiating a new period where French imperialism exercised its open repressive force in Ivory Coast. The following is from an article of Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs (Workers’ Power) of November 23, published by the African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers, and gives an account of this situation.

Only people who know nothing about the life of most people in Ivory Coast can be surprised that so many people went into the streets to demand the immediate departure of French troops from Ivory Coast. The exploited, the oppressed of this country are completely right to oppose the presence of French imperialism in this country. They are completely right to remember colonialism, with all its pillage and its humiliation–even the youth who didn’t live in this period. They are completely right to remember that French troops never left the country when Ivory Coast theoretically became independent, and have ever since protected the regime in power. French troops protected the long dictatorship of Houphouët-Boigny, they protected Bédié, Guéi. They also protected Gbagbo, whatever he demagogically says today....

This protection all the different French administrations gave to anyone who governed Ivory Coast wasn’t disinterested. While protecting Ivory Coast leaders, the French army always sought to protect the interests of the big French companies that dominate the country’s economy.

The workers, the small peasants, the unemployed, the poor of this country, didn’t benefit from that highly praised Ivorian economic development during the rule of Houphouët-Boigny. Just as during colonialism, the main development came in extraction of wealth from the country; the main thing was the exploitation of the workers and poor peasants to enrich the big capitalist companies, especially French ones, as well as an entire layer of privileged people who came from France or Lebanon to make their fortune. Oh, this development also enriched the Ivorian privileged classes, but not the crushing majority of the Ivorian population!

What then do the leaders of French imperialism expect from the people here? Thanks for a century of pillage and exploitation? Maybe they’ll be thanked by the privileged Ivorians, but they have no reason to be thanked by the laboring classes.

For years, the French army stationed in Ivory Coast didn’t have to intervene directly against the poor classes. It left this dirty work to Ivorian forces. But the French government knows only too well that the Ivorian army, gendarmes and police can’t do more than shake down unarmed people. That’s why every French administration–whether of Chirac-Raffarin or those led by "socialists"–maintained French army bases in Ivory Coast. Just in case. Around the airport and around the Ivorian Hotel, we saw what the French army is capable of: assassinating unarmed demonstrators, men, women and children.

But we shouldn’t let ourselves be fooled because the leaders of Ivory Coast called for demonstrations against France. Gbagbo doesn’t oppose the presence of French imperialism in Ivory Coast.

Gbagbo doesn’t reproach France for pillaging the country, exploiting its laboring classes and throwing the peasantry into poverty. Gbagbo reproaches Paris because it didn’t support him enough. He calls for popular support today to try to blackmail Paris, to obtain more aid, notably against the rebel army in the north. But what interest does the poor population have in any of the three rivals for power–Gbagbo, Ouattara or Bédié? They are fighting over who will have the privilege of representing the interests of the rich–French, Ivorian and Lebanese–against their own people.

Yes, demonstrate against the presence of the French army and especially against the presence of the exploiters that the army protects. But don’t be found behind Gbagbo, Namodou Koulibaly or Blé-Goudé. All those men play on the legitimate sentiments of the population to better deceive them.

Gbagbo’s spokesmen even found the way to divert this popular revolt against the French presence toward ethnic hatred. They spread the rumor that General Palenfo was in one of the French tanks and that this entire deployment of tanks and machine guns was designed to bring Ouattara back to power. It was a lie, but it was designed to direct the anger against the French toward the northern population as the objective ally of the French.

It’s a rotten crime. Oh, not with respect to Ouattara who leads a peaceful life in Paris! It’s a crime with regard to the northern population, with regard to the people from Burkino and Mali who live in Ivory Coast. It’s a continuation of the ethnic demagogy of the government.

We already saw the catastrophic results of this demagogy at the time of Bédié. We have seen it during the four years that Gbagbo was in power. We even see it in the current events, like what happened in Gagnoa. There the regime’s hoodlums didn’t take on the French soldiers, nor even the French or Lebanese expatriates, many of whom have enriched themselves on the backs of the population. Instead they attacked the northerners and the poor coming from neighboring countries.

Ethnic hatred is disgusting in every way. But right now the effect of it is to push some of the northerners to want the French troops to stay in the country in the vain hope that this will protect them from ethnic attacks.

They’re wrong. For ethnic attacks don’t bother the French government. Have we ever seen it intervene against the ethnic demagogy of Bédié, Guéi or Gbagbo? French troops intervened between the "new forces" and the Ivorian army. But did they intervene against ethnic lynching? No. Never. The French army isn’t there to protect the popular classes of this country. It plays the different forces off against each other and in this very way supports ethnic hatred....

Workers, unemployed, self-employed laborers, the poor of this country: French imperialism is our enemy. But our enemies are also the two armed bands of the north and south that fight each other for power, and the private militias of the rival political clans.

We need a common policy whose aim is to impose the demands of the exploited classes both of the city and countryside, whatever our ethnic or national origins. Our demands should be that the resources of this country, the work of its workers and of its peasants, should not go only to benefit a small minority which can enjoy magnificent villas while the majority of the population lives in misery and hunger.