Self-Determination and Ivory Coast

“The UN secretary general,” reports BBC News, “has urged Ivory Coast’s internationally-backed president [Alassane Ouattara] to investigate hundreds of deaths blamed partly on his supporters.” Violence has continued in the western African country since an election last fall resulted in a win for Ouattara, long popular in the country’s rebel-dominated north.

His opponent, the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, declined to vacate the presidency, staying on after the March 24 deadline imposed by the African Union expired. The ineluctable result has been violence and bloodshed in the streets of the country’s urban center, Abidjan, with Gbagbo and his supporters accusing Ouattara’s forces of, among other things, serving as cover for a French occupation. Regardless of the truth of that claim or the fairness of the contested election, a reexamination of Ivory Coast’s reputation for peace and stability is in order.

With infrastructure and an economy that were the envy of its neighbors for years, the conventional wisdom tells us that civil war shouldn’t be happening in Ivory Coast. For free market anarchists, though, the country’s internal dissension is the predictable result of its statist economic program.

The nation’s “market liberalization,” hailed as a reform model for the rest of Africa and credited with the country’s “economic boom,” was in truth little more than the kind of crafty “privatization” subterfuge so often used to drain a country of its resources for favored elites. In the mid-1990s, a guide to “investing in state-owned enterprises” — a “privatization” handbook published by none other than Ernst & Young — noted that, of the agencies turned over to the “private sector,” “most … [were] industrial or agro-industrial concerns.”

Of course, in a country where the riches reside in the cocoa industry, only the profits were privatized — in large part to stockholders in France. In contrast, the costs of the country’s infrastructure, the envy of the African continent, were defrayed by the Ivorian laborer. For the ruling class, directing and benefiting from the state’s interventions into the economy, “privatization” and “free enterprise” mean something far different from the meaning free market anarchists attach to them.

In Ivory Coast, connected, corporate plutocrats stepped into the shoes of French colonial governors to reap the benefits of its abundant cash crop exports. If the working classes of Ivory Coast are worried about the prospects of civil war and occupation, then they need to be worried about the state itself, no matter who it is behind the wheel.

And for all of its characteristic and obligatory bromides about “a people’s right to political self-determination,” the UN and the sacred “international community” have had no reservations about making their own condescending proclamations regarding Ivory Coast’s future.

Naturally it hasn’t occurred to the international consortium of criminal bands we call the UN that the people of Ivory Coast might wish to escape Africa’s arbitrary political boundaries themselves. It certainly doesn’t comport with the statist worldview that “self-determination” might mean more to people than passive acceptance of either a politician endorsed by the UN or the lines on a map drawn by colonial surveyors and bureaucrats.

Market anarchists, on the other hand, maintain that the state is the source of both violence and economic exploitation. A genuine free market consisting of nothing more than the voluntary and mutually beneficial exchanges of individuals is the true means to self-determination. The state, the embodiment of legitimized coercion, allows elites to deplete a country’s resources while they turn neighbors against one another.

The privatization counseled by free market anarchists would, instead of turning industry over to hierarchical, state-protected corporations, make each worker an owner himself, not a bargaining chip between large, powerful institutions. For the Ivorian population, sapped and dispirited by a political process that has not and cannot work for them, the egress from oppression is the anti-political process of education and free association.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory