Ivory Coast Power Struggle: 99 44/100% Pure Propaganda?

It’s a familiar story, re-told three or four times a year with few alterations apart from geography: A dictator, long ensconced in power, holds formal “elections,” claims victory versus a proponent of “real democracy” despite clear evidence of loss, attempts to remain in power, but is eventually overthrown by his country’s people (with a little help from the United Nations, or the United States, or some regional organization of states).

The current version of the tale comes to us via western Africa’s Cote d’Ivoire, or as we English-speakers put it, Ivory Coast, where sitting president Laurent Koudou Gbagbo continues to hold out against the alleged democratic victory of Alassane Ouattara to succeed him in office.

Plot familiarity alone constitutes reasonable cause for suspicion. States love old standards and tend to recycle successful propaganda, rinsing and repeating until the colors fade completely out before moving on to new narratives.

Up front, let me make it clear that I carry no portfolio for the Gbagbo regime, or any other. The history of Cote d’Ivoire, from ancient history through French colonialism and to the imposition of a single state over incompatible populations, is a textbook case for the undesirability of political government.

But is Ouattara a genuine improvement for the people of Cote d’Ivoire, or is his supposed election simply a cynical fraud in token of his prospective service as an overseer acting on behalf of other, more powerful states?

His personal history gives us good reason to suspect the latter. Most of Ouattara’s career has been spent in service to two institutions of state domination in general and the exploitation of former colonies by western states in particular: The International Monetary Fund and the Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (Central Bank of West African States). For at least 30 of the last 42 years he’s openly worked for one, the other, or both of those organizations, even while serving at times as Prime Minister and acting president of Cote d’Ivoire.

Color me cynical concerning the roles of the IMF and BCEAO, but I see them something like this:

The IMF’s role in Cote d’Ivoire, as in all other places where its reach extends, is to continuously chivvy the country’s economy into line with the interests of the western neoliberal states. The IMF accomplishes this task by loaning “development” funds to regimes and then dictating the course of said “development.” In theory, the IMF acts as a conduit of “market information;” in fact, it’s an anti-market institution dedicated to the preservation of, and service to, existing commercial relations at all costs.

The BCEAO’s role, like that of any central bank, is to promote “stability” — i.e. the maintenance of the status quo. A single state’s central bank generally identifies that status quo with the existing state, but a multi-state central bank’s view is generally much more “big picture” or IMF-like. If a particular regime has to go in order that the over-arching status quo can thrive, no problem.

In 2009, the IMF forgave the Gbagbo regime for $3 billion in debt. The IMF’s 2010 report on the country characterized the Gbagbo regime as cooperative with its goals, but in “an economic environment that has deteriorated significantly.” Also in 2010, new oil discoveries off the coast (in maritime territory apparently disputed by the regimes of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana) came into play.

It’s anyone’s guess whether Gbagbo’s regime did something specific to drive the IMF and BCEAO out of its corner and into Ouattara’s, or whether internal politics happened to cough up a chance for “improvement” (from their point of view) in the form of a Ouattara presidency.

But, upon careful examination of the narrative, the propaganda gives way to a picture that looks a lot more like international statist scheming than native popular conflict.

The only apparent evidence that Ouattara won the election is that his foreign employers, who have an obvious interest in him winning it, say he won it. There’s little or no evidence of any popular uprising on Ouattara’s behalf on the ground in Cote d’Ivoire. The major players seem to be Gbagbo’s regime supporters on one hand versus foreign UN “peacekeepers” protecting Ouattara’s hotel headquarters on the other.

Regardless of how the whole thing plays out (the smart money’s on Ouattara taking power while Gbagbo flees to well-funded exile), the people of Cote d’Ivoire appear to be footing the bill for a wrestling match between states at the expense of their own real interests.

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