FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Chocolate Soldiers

The best indication of the depth of the crisis in the Ivory Coast lies in its very name.

Much as it is now known as perhaps the primary global supplier to the cocoa industry, it started life as a place where ivory was found.

This was of course right next to a coast where gold was found and in the general coastal area where slaves could also be obtained. Only commodities. Never people.

Today there is optimism that the county will go back to being the region’s economic powerhouse.

However, the realities of the country’s history indicate that Allassane Ouattara’s entry into State House there will no more prove a cure than Laurent Gbagbo’s presidency ever was.

If it is indeed true that some 54 per cent of the electorate voted for Ouattara, then it means that nearly half the electorate — the 46 per cent who voted for Gbagbo — voted against.

Talking glibly to impoverished citizens about winners and losers in these circumstances can therefore actually become counterproductive, especially when they feel that the outcome puts their livelihoods at stake.

The current crisis seems to carry the old historical resonance: That the economic goods of the region have always held more importance to the world than the people actually living there.

This could help explain why, despite the fact that the people are politically split nearly fifty-fifty, the Western powers are for once determined to see an African election result, however marginal, implemented to the fullest extent of whatever military might can be mustered.

All this in defence of not even an economy, but of a commodity to which some wretched African voters find themselves harnessed.

This outcome however masks a much deeper malaise that could see the country headed towards decades of instability if the more fundamental questions about its origins are not honestly addressed.

The Ivorian cocoa economy became much bigger than the capacity of the original population to work it, and so there began decades of an increasing reliance on labour from informal migrants from the neighbouring countries. This is where the real story of the crisis begins.

The northern support base for the man declared winner of the ill-fated November elections comprises descendants of generations of migrants who came to the country to feed the cocoa industry’s labour needs.

Now totalling nearly half the population, their status in the country has been subject to legal scrutiny and policy U-turns anywhere between being deemed illegal immigrants to being declared new naturalised citizens.

This vacillation revealed a deeper problem of “status anxiety” among the original peoples who first found themselves Ivorians at the start of the colonial project, and now nearly outnumbered by gastarbeiten, and whom Gbagbo, in his desperation, increasingly claimed to represent.

The two armies that faced each other in the land of elephant tusks were conducting a twin march towards the death of those two contradictory and ultimately sterile narratives of contemporary African citizenship.

The autocratic culture created by the French need for the post-colonial strongman Houphouet Boigny meant that there would be few mechanisms to politically moderate and defuse this problem.

The African Union for their part remained true to their goal of keeping all the former European plantation-states as they were when the Europeans left, and so their stance here is a familiar one.

It helped them to appear to be standing on the respectable side of history, and insisting that the beleaguered Gbagbo accept the voice of the voters, and step aside.

Certainly Gbagbo had no business insisting that he is the president over people who — by his own admission — even he does not know for whom they voted, be it him or his opponent.

Furthermore, if at all he is the champion of the indigenes of southern Ivory Coast — as he now claims be — then he probably also had no business aspiring to be president of the colonial machine that sought to progressively erode any such pre-colonial identities so as so make colonial and post-colonial plunder much easier.

African presidential offices offer all the wrong tools with which to try to comprehend — let alone solve — the huge historical complications brought about by the Arab and European imperial adventure in Africa.

Presidential contestants therefore increasingly fit the description of “two bald men fighting over a comb.”

In demonstrating a lack of strategic foresight through failing to reorient his politics to something that did not derive its whole legitimacy from the very state that swallowed up the natives he claims to represent, Gbagbo found himself comprehensively outmanoeuvred.

He was left with no standing among the important centres of international political, diplomatic, and financial decision-making.

The real political challenge is not so much to work out who won the conflict as it is to work out what will become of the losers.

Ouattara’s war was itself born of the northerners losing out in the earlier contestations.

At the heart of this lies that great unmentionable of African politics: Should Africans embrace the artificialities in which they live for the sake of preserving the foreign-owned economies that underpin them, or should they find a way of reasserting their actual identities?

If the latter, what happens to the modern African migrant? And will it deliver a better standard of living for all?

So Africans are first denied any right to belong, and then offered one only at the expense of disenfranchising others.

Regular elections were supposed to solve this dilemma. But Ivory Coast is not the only African country where unsolved questions of citizenship, identity and therefore the right to civic participation neuter that aspiration.

In Uganda, President Museveni was forced to officially concede this very point due to popular pressure when the indigenes of oil-rich Bunyoro demanded that migrant labourers from other parts of the same country be barred from elective posts in the region.

The ultimate tragedy for Cote d’Ivoire is not that Gbagbo had to be driven out by force of arms, but that someone else has replaced him by the same means.

And we still do not know the real electoral register.

KALUNDI SERUMAGA is a political and cultural activist based in Kampala.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail