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Cote d'Ivoire: 'it is an economic war orchestrated by France'.

"Paris is using this war as a pressure device to commit us into agreeing not to challenge the 1960s' cooperation agreements signed between our countries and France. Paris is also insisting that the Ivorian government must guarantee that it will respect these agreements, and only then will it leave us in peace," the speaker of the Ivorian National Assembly, Mamadou Koulibaly, (above photo) tells our correspondent, Ruth Tete, in this groundbreaking interview conducted in Abidjan.

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Ruth Tete: Many African analysts say the Ivorian crisis is an economic conflict and that France is fomenting it to safeguard its own interests. If that is the case, why has the Ivorian government renewed the contracts on water and electricity management held by the French multinational company, Bouygues, and which had expired in 2004?

Mamadou Koulibaly: Yes, indeed it is an economic war orchestrated by France, because in the 1960s, Cote d'Ivoire signed cooperation agreements with France; we are not the only country that signed those agreements but all Francophone West African states signed those accords. At the heart of these agreements is a requirement that all raw materials and any future discoveries of other raw materials in the newly independent Francophone states are automatically reserved for France.

In other words, the independence accorded to these countries by France did not mean that they were independent to do what they wished for their countries. Their leaders were in effect acting as governors for France and could only do what France requested them to do. The real leader who called the shots in Francophone Africa resided at the Elysee Palace (the French presidency in Paris), and Cote d'Ivoire was no exception.

When we, in the current Ivorian government, challenged these cooperation agreements which have been to the sole benefit of France since the 1960s, we found ourselves in head-on-collision with French interests. When, for instance, we wanted to take control of water, electricity, telecoms, marine and air transport, and other sectors from French control, and to call for tender bids in the international marketplace which would enable us to identify ideal business partners from China, America, South Africa, and elsewhere in the world, to exploit these business ventures in ways that would be beneficial for Cote d'Ivoire, the French stated that we were acting in what they considered to be complete violation of the 1960s' cooperation agreements. And this provoked the war in Cote d'Ivoire.

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Paris is using this war as a pressure device to commit us into agreeing not to challenge these agreements. Paris is also insisting that the Ivorian government must guarantee that it will respect these agreements, and only then will it leave us in peace.

Tete: What then is the UN Mission doing in Cote d'Ivoire and why the delay in disarming the rebels?

Koulibaly: The UN arrived in Cote d'Ivoire as an instrument of the international community with the aim of assisting the Ivorians to disarm the rebels, re-unite the country, re-deploy the administration, help prepare for elections and assist in the efforts to reconstruct the country thereafter. However, despite the arrival of the UN mission, the factions barricaded themselves behind barbed wires and the UN has neither succeeded in re-unifying the country nor disarming the rebels. The rebels have continued to intimidate the population in the zones under their control and several times descended on the capital, Abidjan. The UN Mission has allowed itself to be manipulated by the former colonial power, France, which has succeeded in imposing its own vision of the roadmap and its own interpretation of the UN resolutions on Cote d'Ivoire. This has led to a stalemate as UN member countries appear to wait for France to decide the way forward. And since France is today having its own internal crisis, no progress is being made. This shuffling of feet has enabled the Francafrique (the incestuous French-African system) to rule supreme, leading to the continued suffering of the masses and a huge waste of the financial resources given to the UN Mission by global taxpayers.

Tete: No progress, you say, but Cote d'Ivoire is supposed to be advancing towards elections in October this year?

Koulibaly: There is no progress as far as we Ivorians are concerned. The rebels continue to engage in massive exploitation and commercialisation of resources--diamonds, gold, timber and the agricultural produce of peasant farmers--in the areas they occupy in the north under the noses of the UN and French Licorne forces who say nothing to all these illegal activities. The rebels have a free hand to impose their demands and do as they please but you will not get a whimper of admonition about their behaviour from the so-called international community. The UN was present and said nothing when the rebels raided the banks in the north, stole huge funds which they have stocked in foreign bank accounts through which they channel their ill-gotten wealth. Yet the UN is quick to react against the government which has always met its obligations under international agreements signed with the rebels.

Tete: What then is the role of the International Working Group (IWG) on Cote d'Ivoire?

Koulibaly: According to UN Resolution 1633, the IWG is a follow-up committee to which any party to the conflict can register its concerns. A report is then furnished to the mediator who must then seek means to ensure that such hitches are removed to enable the process to move forward.

However, when the IWG was set up, it soon came under pressure from France and quickly abandoned its original mandate as a follow-up committee. It began to impose and dictate its own vision of what the government policy should be in complete violation of the rights of Cote d'Ivoire as a sovereign state. Before long, the IWG demanded that the National Assembly and the army be dissolved, and that the powers conferred on the president of the republic be withdrawn--demands which did not exist under UN Resolution 1633.

The IWG even went as far as demanding that the mediator designated to work with us be replaced by a mediation group, a demand which changed the whole original concept. The African Union had designated President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa as the mediator, but when the IWG appeared on the scene, it completely drowned and messed up the AU-led mediation which had presented a well-analysed report to the UN Security Council. The Ivorian government had met all of its obligations as demanded by the AU mediator and the report had indicated that all that remained was for the rebels to disarm to enable the country to be reunited and for elections to be organised. And this was the moment when the IWG was created which, in effect, exists to sabotage the good work done by the AU mediator. Instead of finding ways to disarm the rebels so that Cote d'Ivoire became reunited, the IWG rather wanted to dissolve the Ivorian republican institutions!

Tete: Why hasn't the AU reacted to these manoeuvres by France?

Koulibaly: Yes, it's curious that the AU has said nothing about all this. We, ourselves, are all wondering why the AU is silent. But some political analysts say the AU has not reacted because the French military firepower in Cote d'Ivoire is an intimidating presence for many African countries--remember the speed with which the French forces destroyed the entire Ivorian airforce. The capacity of France to stage a coup against any African leader, to corrupt any African regime, intimidate and threaten any African leader, has made our leaders to be prudent, hence their silence.

Tete: With so much of what you describe as French interference, how will the Ivorian crisis come to an end?

Koulibaly: For a long time, I continue to be convinced that the method used to resolve conflicts in Africa in which that mandate is entrusted to a bureaucratic organisation such as the UN, which has itself become completely overtaken by events, is an ineffective strategy. The UN, created at the end of the Second World War, had a specific mandate at the time which corresponded to a bi-polar world. The UN Security Council at the time had a specific objective, but today the world has changed, we are moving towards a multipolar world, with the emergence of several power poles. Globalisation is upon us and global competition is changing the stakes. It is time that the UN underwent some reforms in order to keep pace with the ongoing changes in the world.

At the moment, what we have observed is that as far as African conflicts are concerned, the UN repeatedly violates its own charter. For the Ivorian conflict to register any progress, Africans must understand that what is happening proves that international organisations set up by Africans (AU, Ecowas, Igad, Sadc, etc) are not capable of resolving African crises, simply because they often face threats and intimidations from powers such as France who are members of the UN Security Council and who have interests in those African countries in conflict. Africans must, therefore, work towards organising themselves to ensure democratic states emerge on the continent, and where respect of human rights becomes the order of the day. This will ensure that Africans no longer resort to arms to get to power.

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Tete: Do you sense divisions among AU member states which hinder advancement of the peace processes in Africa?

Koulibaly: I think that the division within the AU is real to an extent that many African organisations have become more state clubs than organisations which are sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the masses of the African people. The lack of oversight from the masses has enabled the African states to become vulnerable to manipulations from the big powers who are always looking after their own interests in Africa. They simply have to threaten any African leader for that leader to quickly fall into line to accommodate their wishes.

Divisions within the AU have made it impossible for the African regional groupings to react in unity to stamp out the flames in member countries. Instead of quickly engaging themselves to resolve the crises, neighbouring states of a country in conflict, for example if they were French-speaking, would first consult Paris for instructions on what position to adopt, and it is this position dictated by Quai D'Orsay (the French foreign office) that they will adopt.

For example, when the Ivorian crisis began, Nigeria quickly sent three fighter jets to be stationed at the Abidjan airport. I went to the airport and requested the pilots to quickly go to Bouake in the north and the crisis would be resolved within two days. But they said they were awaiting instructions from Abuja. But Abuja never issued any instructions, and the planes returned soon after to Abuja.

When the war broke out in Sierra Leone, the neighbouring countries, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea, failed to react quickly to stop the rebels cutting off the hands and feet of the population. These countries sat on their hands awaiting signals from London about what position to adopt. Liberia was in turn attacked and still no quick reaction from African countries to nip the crisis in the bud, and we are all witnesses to the turmoil which engulfed Liberia for years and the subsequent suffering of the people. If France had requested Cote d'Ivoire to assist Charles Taylor in Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire would have done just that. It is this manner of excluding the African masses from collective decisions that is regrettable.

Tete: What is the strategy to be adopted to mobilise the African masses into taking their responsibilities seriously and be masters of their own destiny?

Koulibaly: What is required is that all those who are today conscious of the difficulties encountered in the attempt to reform the UN, difficulties encountered by the African Union to resolve crises due to the influence exerted over the leaders by ex-colonial powers, must mobilise to spread information in African countries, create networks across Africa to defend the rights of the African masses wherever they are violated. Political parties seeking to uphold the values of national reconstruction and development of their countries must forge links with similar parties across borders in Africa. African regional bodies must, on their part, be veritable organisations that defend the interests of their people.
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Article Details
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Author:Tete, Ruth
Publication:New African
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:2054
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