Ivory Coast's Inability To Escape French Colonial Rule

Fifty-two years ago today the Ivory Coast became notionally independent. The country got its own flag, a national anthem, a seat in the United Nations and a national football team. The rest of the political, social and economic life remained pretty much as it was under direct French colonial rule only now there were also indigenous Africa ministers and politicians nursing at the Françafrique teat. The video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0A5Fuxvg7I&feature=player_detailpage capture’s the highlights of the transition from colonial to neo-colonial rule.alt

It is important for the younger Africans to understand how independence was achieved as there is little written about it in the current text books. The transition of French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa colonies to Françafrique independent states did not happen because of some benign wind of change spreading out from the metropolis towards its African colonies. It happened because France was economically feeble, riven by internal dissensions and embarking on a series of Cold War conflicts inside France and especially with the General Confederation of Labour (CGT). This was compounded by the growth of power in the hands of African labour movements which reshaped the direction and focus of both the RDA political party of French Africa and the relationship between the CGT (largely a creature of the French Communist Party -PCF) and the Socialist unions. The French General Strike of 1947 was a watershed for African labour unions and the close ties between the CGT-PCF and the RDA. As a result of the militancy of the CGT strike in France and the expulsion of the Communist deputies from their ministerial roles in the metropole, the French labour movement split between Communists and Socialists (CGT and CGT-FO Force Ouvriere). Large sums of money from the US government were poured into France (and Italy) to divide the national labour movements along political lines in a bid to remove communist influence and strength. This became even more important with the introduction of the Marshall Plan for European Recovery which was opposed by the Soviet Union. Communist dockers refused to discharge Marshal Plan aid; railroad workers refused to transport this aid. The U.S. set up its Mediterranean Committee to hire thugs and bandits to oppose the communists and the Marshall Plan aid got through. An interesting side effect was the resuscitation of the Union Corse, under Pierre Ferri-Pisani, who were empowered by their role as assistants in the Cold War struggle.

As this Cold War battle engaged the feeble French Government, the African allies of the CGT in the RDA embarked on their own nationalist programs. The African unions, which had largely replicated the divisions which existed in the metropole between communist, socialist and Christian unions, joined together to oppose the French policy of segregation of the workplace. There had been two small strikes in 1945-1946 at Dakar (along the rail line from Dakar to Thies). The African unions had demanded a single union structure, incorporating both black and white workers, with a single rate of pay for the job. The government and the white workers’ union opposed this. The Africans staged a protest demonstration against this when the French President arrived in Dakar in April 1947 and won the right to have a single union. When the Railroad Board refused to honour the agreement the workers went on strike. In November 1947 the workers closed down the Dakar-Thies railroad; it stayed closed for 82 days. Over 19,000 African workers went out on strike. The African unions received over twenty million CFA francs from the CGT in France, the RDA political party of francophone Africa and from English-speaking unionists. The strike ended with a mediated compromise. The strike leader, Ibrahim Sarr, hoped to maintain the unity of the response but the Cold War splits led to the breakup of this unity. This strike is described well in a famous novel, Les bouts de bois de Dieu (God’s Bits of Wood) by the Senegalese author and filmmaker Ousmane Sembene.

However, the success of the Dakar-Thies strike emboldened African nationalists, especially Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea. He was both the indigenous political leader of Guinea and the head of its trade union movement. The French Government introduced a new Labour Code in France with many benefits, including security of tenure in a job, equal rights, a reduction in the workday, etc. The African unionists demanded that these changes be applied to African industrial relations. In October 1952 the unionists met in Dakar and demanded the code’s implementation in Africa. The Guinean unions went on strike. The French Government soon agreed. However, despite the agreement, the French administrators set about emasculating its reforms. They reduced the hours of work, as provided for in the code, from 48 to 40 hours per week, but also reduced wages by 20%. In Bamako, in March 1953, the unionist met to express their displeasure, and strikes broke out across French Africa. The longest, and bitterest, took place in Guinea, lasting from September to November 1953. Toure became an important nationalist leader in West Africa.

Toure’s rise to prominence was aided by the repulsion felt by the West at Frances’s behaviour in Tunisia. After 1949 France had granted Tunisia a large degree of autonomy. The French population in Tunisia, however, opposed any further reforms and resented Tunisia’s support for Algerian independence. Negotiations broke down. After some violence by French troops, Tunisia’s political leader, Habib Bourguiba was arrested (1952), and his imprisonment precipitated a wave of violence. In 1955, France granted Tunisia complete internal self-government. Full independence was negotiated in 1956, and Habib Bourguiba became prime minister. The following year, Kwame Nkrumah led the Gold Coast into independence as the state of Ghana. It was clear that there were powerful forces gathering in French Africa demanding independence.

The French were persuaded by the African political leadership and the U.S. government that the time had come for de-colonisation. The U.S. told the French (and the British) that they had not won the Second World War to restore colonialism. The British assured the U.S. that they had a plan to do so but the French were less willing, particularly after their humiliation in Indochina and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. However, reason and the French lack of money, prevailed and the French prepared to hold a referendum on gradual steps towards independence in French Africa. The political leadership of both the RDA and the PRA in French Africa supported a constitutional referendum for eventual independence. The trades unions campaigned against their political leaders, demanding a ‘no’ vote. A ‘no’ vote would mean immediate independence. Toure led the ‘no’ campaign while the Black French graduates of the Ecole William Ponty in Dakar (Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast and Leopold Senghor of Senegal, among others) campaigned for a ‘yes’ vote. At the end of the vote, only Guinea voted ’no’ and was given its independence immediately. The French, when leaving Guinea, took back to France everything it had brought to Guinea (toilets, electric light bulbs, traffic lights, water pumps, etc.) as a sign of their displeasure. Despite this, Guinea created an independent African state with support from many countries. The rest of French Africa took until 1960-1961 to arrange a fake independence from France with a system that changed almost nothing about the governance of the countries.

Sekou Toure struggled to survive but was aided by Ghana and the Soviet Union in setting up a government. Guinea was also aided by trades union assistance in making the transition. In 1963 the first U.S. Peace Corps teams were sent to Guinea. In 1966 I was asked to assist a U.S. Guinea specialist, Henry Norman, to set up the first blue-collar Peace Corps project in Guinea. Sargent Shriver was still in charge and we thought that what the country needed were equipment specialists to repair and reconstitute the port equipment for Conakry and the transport equipment. We chose a team of UAW specialists who had built some of the equipment and were skilled workers to go to Guinea to perform the tasks. They were superb and did their jobs well. The Guinean ambassador to the U.S., Karim Bangoura (who daughter was my secretary), worked with us to buy and restore a fleet of buses which provided the public transport in Conakry. It was a very satisfying experience.

However, the rest of francophone Africa was persuaded to agree the terms of a Pacte Colonial before they were allowed independence. Not really having planned for it, in 1960 de Gaulle had to improvise structures for a collection of small newly independent states, each with a flag, an anthem, and a seat at the UN, but often with precious little else. It was here that Jacques Foccart and the French Masons came to play an essential role, that of architect of the series of Cooperation accords with each new state in the sectors of finance and economy, culture and education, and the military.

The key to all this was the agreement signed between France and its newly-liberated African colonies which locked these colonies into the economic and military embrace of France. This Colonial Pact not only created the institution of the CFA franc, it created a legal mechanism under which France obtained a special place in the political and economic life of its colonies.

The Pacte Coloniale Agreement enshrined a special preference for France in the political, commercial and defence processes in the African countries. On defence it agreed two types of continuing contact. The first was the open agreement on military co-operation or Technical Military Aid (AMT) agreements, which weren’t legally binding, and could be suspended according to the circumstances. They covered education, training of servicemen and African security forces. The second type, secret and binding, were defence agreements supervised and implemented by the French Ministry of Defence, which served as a legal basis for French interventions. These agreements allowed France to have predeployed troops in Africa; in other words, French army units present permanently and by rotation in bases and military facilities in Africa; run entirely by the French.

In summary, the colonial pact maintained the French control over the economies of the African states; it took possession of their foreign currency reserves; it controlled the strategic raw materials of the country; it stationed troops in the country with the right of free passage; it demanded that all military equipment be acquired from France; it took over the training of the police and army; it required that French businesses be allowed to maintain monopoly enterprises in key areas (water, electricity, ports, transport, energy, etc.). France not only set limits on the imports of a range of items from outside the franc zone but also set minimum quantities of imports from France. These treaties are still in force and operational.

The key to the control of this has been the creation of the CFA franc (the Communuate Financiere de l’Afrique -‘CFA’ . There are actually two separate CFA francs in circulation. The first is that of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) which comprises eight West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. The second is that of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) which comprises six Central African countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon), This division corresponds to the pre-colonial AOF (Afrique Occidentale Française) and the AEF (Afrique Équatoriale Française), with the exception that Guinea-Bissau was formerly Portuguese and Equatorial Guinea Spanish).

Each of these two groups issues its own CFA franc. The WAEMU CFA franc is issued by the BCEAO (Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest) and the CEMAC CFA franc is issued by the BEAC (Banque des Etats de l’Afrique Centrale). These currencies were originally both pegged at 100 CFA for each French franc but, after France joined the European Community’s Euro zone at a fixed rate of 6.65957 French francs to one Euro, the CFA rate to the Euro was fixed at CFA 665,957 to each Euro, maintaining the 100 to 1 ratio. It is important to note that it is the responsibility of the French Treasury to guarantee the convertibility of the CFA to the Euro.

The monetary policy governing such a diverse aggregation of countries is uncomplicated because it is, in fact, operated by the French Treasury, without reference to the central fiscal authorities of any of the WAEMU or the CEMAC. Under the terms of the agreement which set up these banks and the CFA the Central Bank of each African country is obliged to keep at least 65% of its foreign exchange reserves in an “operations account” held at the French Treasury, as well as another 20% to cover financial liabilities.

The CFA central banks also impose a cap on credit extended to each member country equivalent to 20% of that country’s public revenue in the preceding year. Even though the BEAC and the BCEAO have an overdraft facility with the French Treasury, the drawdowns on those overdraft facilities are subject to the consent of the French Treasury. The final say is that of the French Treasury which has invested the foreign reserves of the African countries in its own name on the Paris Bourse.

In short, more than 80% of the foreign reserves of these African countries are deposited in the “operations accounts” controlled by the French Treasury. The two CFA banks are African in name, but have no monetary policies of their own. The countries themselves do not know, nor are they told, how much of the pool of foreign reserves held by the French Treasury belongs to them as a group or individually. The earnings of the investment of these funds in the French Treasury pool are supposed to be added to the pool but no accounting is given to either the banks or the countries of the details of any such changes. The limited group of high officials in the French Treasury who have knowledge of the amounts in the “operations accounts”, where these funds are invested; whether there is a profit on these investments; are prohibited from disclosing any of this information to the CFA banks or the central banks of the African states.

This makes it impossible for African members to regulate their own monetary policies. In the current death spiral of the Euro there is great danger for the reserves of the African CFA states as it is apparent that their reserves have been hypothecated by the French Treasury and unlikely to be available to the African economies to which they belong.

This continued dependence on French neo-colonialism was agreed to by the francophone African elites. It took the responsibility for running their states out of their hands; often there was one Frenchman (co-operant) standing behind every African key civil servant or minister. Independence was a cruel sham. This was particularly true in the Ivory Coast. The governments of Houphouet-Boigny and Bedie were a continuation of this policy of learned dependence. It was only challenged when the trades union movement of the Ivory Coast united in opposition to the stranglehold of power by the French. Two of the key figures in the resurgence of political power by the Ivoirian labour movements were Simone Ehivet Gbagbo and Laurent Koudou Gbagbo. In the 1970s they led a labour movement striving for labor rights as teachers and lecturers. They survived frequent arrests and a long period of exile. When they returned to the Ivory Coast and founded the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) the Prime Minister under Houphouet-Boigny, Alassane Ouattara, put them in jail. It was this same Ouattara who led the ten-year long rebellion against Gbagbo’s elected Presidency and who used French troops and aircraft, the UN peacekeepers and the rabble of the rebellion to replace Gbagbo as President when he found he couldn’t do so with the ballot.

In looking back over the fifty-two years of the Ivory Coast’s notional independence it is clear to see that the French have not changed. They still maintain their rights under the Pacte Coloniale; they still keep all the money using the CFA franc; they still station troops in the country to maintain their presence; and French business operate its monopolies in key sectors of the economy. The question is not why the French do so. The question is why, since 1958, the elite francophone Black Frenchmen still choose to bend their knees to the French and reject the demands for social justice, independence and equality of the citizenry of the Ivory Coast and the unions which represent them? The Ouattarist forces are still massacring their own citizens at places like Duekoue; they still oppress those who are not Dioula or Malinke in places like Youpougon. They still turn loose the Dozos against refugees and the displaced in the West. There is a question which the usurper, Ouattara, ought to answer to the Ivorian people regarding his current position - "When you were becoming nationalised as an Ivory Coast citizen and taking the oath of office as Prime Minister you swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the country. Then you led a bloody rebellion against the legal governrment elected by the people of the Ivory Coast under Gbagbo and supported the rebel movements over a ten-year period. In most countries that is known as treason. Why should you expect the loyal and patriotic citizens of the Ivory Coast to reconcile themselves to a government led by a traitor installed by foreign troops?"

Perhaps with a rational answer to these questions it would be appropriate to celebrate 52 years of near independence