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  • Nicoletta Fagiolo

ALL THAT IT TAKES, XXI century Neo colonialism in Côte d'Ivoire

Dubious legal proceeding

As the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé v the Prosecutor is about to resume, now in its ninth year, it is worth recalling Côte d'Ivoire‘s 2002-2011 regime change war, largely legitimized by western humanitarian intervention propaganda, as well as increasingly dubious legal proceeding at the ICC.[i]

On 15 January 2019 the ICC Majority Judges acquitted Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé in a no case to answer of all charges and ruled their immediate release, decision which was over turned by the ICC Appeals Chamber on 1 February 2019 into a conditional release under a “heavily restrictive regime.” Many scholars in international criminal law called this a dangerous legal precedent, as it went against the rights of the defence to detain an acquitted person.

The ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, also immediately informed the court that she intended to appeal against the no case to answer acquittal.

On 28 May 2020, after 15 months, these heavy restrictions were for the most part lifted.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, a key mediator in the Ivorian crisis since 2004, welcomed this move as he recalls how the Africa Forum (AF) of former African Heads of State and Government, and other African leaders, wrote to the then new ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda calling for Gbagbo’s release, as evidence of Gbagbo’s involvement in criminal acts was non-existent already at the pre-trial stage.

Thabo Mbeki hopes this is a first step to Gbagbo’s, as well as former Youth Minister Charles Blé Goudé’s rehabilitation and return to their country, as they can play an important role for reconciliation and peace in the region.[ii]

Charles Blé Goudé is one of the most extraordinary contemporary non-violent activists worldwide. It takes a lot of imagination as well as courage to embrace non-violence, especially when facing an extremely violent opponent.[iii]

Simone Gbagbo, also mentioned at length by the Majority ICC Judge’s 2019 acquittal which found no evidence against her, still has an ICC warrant pending against her, although she was acquitted for crimes against humanity covering the same period in Côte d'Ivoire.

Laurent Gbagbo, the former President of Côte d'Ivoire, known as the father of Ivorian democracy for his decades long non-violent struggle against the one party dictatorship at the time, and his wife, Simone Gbagbo, led in the last century via the then clandestine political party, the Ivorian Popular Front founded in 1982, a successful fight to establish a multiparty democracy by 1990.

When Laurent Gbagbo, a socialist, historian and the father of Ivorian democracy, was sworn into office in 2000, he and his wife Simone had a personal history of over 40 years of non-violent struggle behind them. Gbagbo appointed what is known as the “government of professors” for the high amount of academics occupying government positions.

Gbagbo did openly engage in conflict – one in which civilian victims accumulated. He was fighting well-structured rebel forces, the Forces Nouvelles, which were behind attempts to destabilize Côte d’Ivoire as early as the 1999 coup organized against President Henrie Konan Bedié, and were responsible for a series of aborted coups (September 2000, January 2001) until eventually the 19 September 2002 attempted coup split the country in two.

Gbagbo’s government, elected in 2000, lasted a mere two years. Subsequently he was forced to reckon with a rebel occupation of sixty per cent of the country for the following eight years.

Despite these extreme geopolitical constraints, steps were taken by his government towards a democratizing process in the health and education sectors, press freedom, culture, trade union rights as well as ameliorating the salaries of public officials; a decentralization of power was also amongst Gbagbo’s government’s priorities.

A propaganda construct

In King Leopold's Ghost Alan Hochschild account of Belgian King Leopold II’s reign in colonial Congo there is a chapter entitled “Journalists that failed to deliver accounts”, on the necessary press manipulation which accompanied Leopold’s colonial occupation. A striking example mentioned is editor and travel writer Mary French Sheldon, hired so as to conceal the humanitarian horrors taking place, who wrote in 1905 in Times newspaper: “I have been a witness to more atrocities carried out in the streets of London that in the Congo.”[iv]Today it is widely known that the Belgian King’s reign caused the death of ten million innocent Congolese.

Modern day Mary French Sheldons’ abound in the recent case of neo colonial intervention in Côte d'Ivoire: journalists such as Christophe Ayad, Stephan Smith, Vincent Rigoulet, Pierre Turqoui, Maria Malagardis, Judith Rueff, Geneviève Goetzinger amongst many others have contributed with their orientalist articles in legitimizing a violent and brutal rebellion, ex nihilo rebels with the sole purpose to eventually carrying out a regime change. Scholars and NGOs uncritically report the same erroneous facts.[v]

As Nigerian diplomat present in Côte d'Ivoire during the events Ademola Araoye reveals in detail in Côte d'Ivoire, The conundrum of a still wretched of the earth, the title echoing Frantz Fanon’s depiction of the Algerian struggle for national liberation: “France’s diplomacy allowed the Forces Nouvelles to broaden their demands, all while French media helped to strengthen perceptions of the legitimacy of the cause of the rebellion.[vi]

Journalist Stephan Smith of Le Monde newspaper was condemned by the Paris Court of Appeal in 2006 for defamation against Laurent Gbagbo and his wife Simone whom he accused, in a 2003, article of having “death squads”, an accusation that was established as being unfounded. Yet this Paris Court condemnation did not stop journalist Anna Sylvestre-Treine thirteen years later, in 2016, from using the same smear tactics in Libération newspaper: stigmatizing Simone Gbagbo as an Ivorian “Lady Macbeth", an "Iron Lady “Paranoid and impulsive, Simone Gbagbo (…) was accused of being the head of "death squads."[vii]

Professor in Constitutional Law Albert Bourgi mocks the unprofessional role of French media in the Ivorian crisis as he recalls the editor in chief of Radio France Internationale (RFI) dancing when it was announced that French troops had captured Gbagbo after a ten-day bombing of the Presidential Palace in 2011. Biased reporting for Bourgi is worse than the françafrique​ network, he considers the role of many French journalists in the Ivorian crisis as “slayers of political morality.”[viii]

Franco-Cameroonian journalist Théophile Kouamouo left Le Monde newspaper two weeks following the 19 September 2002 coup attempt, after seeing his articles manipulated from the Paris head office to such a point that they reflected the opposite of what he had investigated on the ground. He quit and set up his own newspaper so as to be able to report what he saw and also so as not to remain helpless towards the colonial acts taking place under his eyes, acts he thought he would never have to experience, having been born into the African post-independence generation.[ix]

A relentless disinformation campaign persists to this day in main stream media. A recent France24 English edition The ICC says ex-Ivory Coast president Gbagbo can leave Belgium ‘under conditions’, published at 10 pm on 28 May 2020 manages to make five factual mistakes in a seven-sentence brief. Gbagbo is still depicted as a “strongman,” thus for someone unfamiliar with the story a negative stigmatization is evident and achieved.

It is worth citing an extract of Judge Tarfusser’s 96-page written reasons for the acquittal of 16 July 2019 (on the 15 January 2019 oral acquittal decision), a real J'accuse of international criminal law:

"12. Day after day, document by document, witness after witness, the ‘Prosecutor’s case’ has been revealed and exposed as a fragile, implausible theorem relying on shaky and doubtful bases, inspired by a Manichean and simplistic narrative of an Ivory Coast depicted as a ‘polarised’ society where one could draw a clear-cut line between the ‘pro-Gbagbo’, on the one hand, and the ‘pro- Ouattara’, on the other hand, the former from the South and of Christian faith, the latter from the North and of Muslim faith; a caricatured, ‘one-sided’ narrative, ‘built around a unidimensional conception of the role of nationality, ethnicity, and religion (in the broadest sense) in Côte d’Ivoire.”

Psychiatrist, activist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon revealed in his analyses of colonialism the necessary Manichean simplified viewpoint of the Other as one of its key characteristics.

Imperialist Blueprint

American investigative journalist Max Blumenthal in his ground breaking 2019 book, The Management of Savagery: How America's National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump spans through decades of US backed wars from Afghanistan, to Iraq, Libya and Syria and reveals a recurring blueprint in these US regime change operations.

A regime change operation blueprint written by a Iraqi jihadi thinker eerily resembles the imperialist blueprint developed by the National Security State: a two-pronged approach, namely waging war at the outskirts. all while carrying out vexation operations against the central institutions of the targeted state.

Susan Rice, US ambassador to the United Nations, was one of the key people who under the Obama administration was pushing for a military solution to both the Libyan and Côte d’Ivoire crisis in 2011. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s director of policy planning, Anne Marie Slaughter, was the intellectual author of the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine. For Rice sanctions were not enough, she called on Clinton to “save lives.” Their work was a major contribution to engineering consent for a military intervention in Libya.

Blumenthal recalls that Susan Rice was behind a false story on Gaddafi: “Rice took the humanitarian hysteria to new height without a shred of evidence that Gaddafi was handing out supplies of Viagra to his troops to encourage mass rapes. The risible allegation, first published by the Quatar-run outfit Al Jazeera, was soon picked up by the BBC and Associated Press.” [x]

Subsequently a Libya inquiry by the bi partisan foreign affairs committee of the British House of Commons exposed the hysterical rhetoric emanating from Washington as untrustworthy. They also found no evidence that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacres of civilians.

Blumenthal is clear on the legacy left behind: “ Inside the Beltway information bubble, partisan political warriors were content to ignore the fact that the United States and its allies had destroyed a functional state, plunged its economy into ruin, handed it over to warlords and zealots, and doomed an entire region in northern and central Africa to chaos.” [xi]

In the case of Côte d’Ivoire the same imperialist blueprint applies: a marginalized foreign backed rebel group, the Forces Nouvelles, was propelled into the mainstream via the French military which positioned itself so as to split the country in two following the 19 September 2002 failed coup d’état. “It (France) engineered a military stalemate that not only fossilized the partition of the country but also strengthened the bargaining position of the rebels”, writes Ademola Araoye.[xii]

Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner of the 2 December 2010 national elections by Youssouf Bakayoko, the head of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). According to the Ivorian constitution, this commission is allowed to declare only the provisional results.

Ouattara’s victory was announced in a room at the Hotel du Golf — the headquarters for Ouattara’s election campaign — in the absence, and therefore without the approval of the Constitutional Council, which is responsible, according to the Ivorian constitution, for declaring final election results.

IEC head Bakayoko was alone, without the presence of his colleagues from the commission when he made the announcement of Ouattara’s alleged victory at the Hotel du Golf. Instead the other commission representatives were waiting for him at the IEC headquarters where they needed to reach a consensus on the provisional results.

Thus the provisional results, unapproved by all IEC members and without the presence of the representatives of the respective candidates, were declared as final election results.

US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice urged Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Côte d'Ivoire Young-jin Choi if he needed to leave the video conference on 2 December 2010 and go make a “pro Ouattara announcement.”

On the 3 December the Ivorian Constitutional Council, which had looked into the human rights complaints filed by the Presidential Majority (Gbagbo’s coalition) declared Gbagbo won the run-off election, 51% to 49% over Alassane Ouattara. Choi rejected the decision taken by the Ivorian Constitutional Council. On Saturday 4 December Gbagbo was sworn in as President in front of the entire nation.

Meanwhile at UN headquarters things were more complicated: in a closed-door negotiation since 2 December 2010 about the Ivorian crisis, Russia and China argued that the Security Council should not set the precedent of being a certifier of election results.

Susan Rice declared Ouattara the winner of the elections and as early as 2 December had urged Choi to make a pro-Ouattara statement; on 7 December Rice called for the non-recognition of Gbagbo’s diplomats at the United Nations.

The US-led UNSC never convened the Security Council. At 5:15 pm that same 3 December 2010, the US Mission to the UN emailed a copy of a statement by US President Obama hailing Ouattara as the winner and calling on Gbagbo to respect the result. Mathew Lee from Inner City Press asks: “So has Barak Obama become the Security Council? What explains the Council’s failure to meet, and failure to even issue a press statement on such an important event?”[xiii]

The central, north and west regions (known as CNO) remained under rebel control until 17 March 2011, when Alassane Ouattara appointed them as a national military force. At that time they were renamed the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI).

Ivorian Defence Minister at the time of the events Alain Dogou questioned the legality of this action: “It is exactly as if in Colombia, a pseudo administrative act transformed the FARC rebels, the same who had detained Ingrid Bentacourt for five years in the jungle, into the regular forces and the national army of Colombia (FAC) into a rebel movement,” he said.[xiv]

Alassane Ouattara’s regime slipping more and more into the worst forms of authoritarianism is also a part of the legacy of the April 2011 UN US French coup d’état. “The price of achieving the strategic objectives of France in Côte d’Ivoire and west Africa was incalculable in human lives lost and in the massive destruction of physical infrastructure. Irreparable damage was done to the struggling notion of Ivorian nationhood”, writes Araoye.

Allowing for an uncritical acceptance of such interventions leads to the banalization of war and a dystopian agenda for human rights.

[i] Web site housing a series of articles on the various phases of theis­­ ICC trial, as well as video testimonies and a 90 minute film of testimonies on the 2010 elections

[iii] An article on the non-violent activities of Charles Blé Goudé can he read here

[iv] Alan Hochschild, Les Fantômes du roi Léopold : Le terreur coloniale dans l'Etat du Congo 1884-1908

Texto, 2012.

[vi] Ademola Araoye, Côte d’Ivoire, The conundrum of a still wretched of the earth, Africa world press, London, 2012.

[vii] Anne Sylvestre-Treiner, Simone Gbagbo, la Lady Macbeth ivoirienne devant ses juges, Libération, 30 May 2016 will remain on the record as an example of dehumanization of the Other and imperialist propaganda.

[viii] An interview of Professor Albert Bourgi can be viewed here

[ix] Kouamouo's testimony can be viewed at here

[x] Max Blumenthal, The Management of Savagery: How America's National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump Verso, 2019. p 147

[xi] op. cit. p 155

[xiii] Mathew Lee, Inner city press The UN also blatantly lied: during the post-election crisis: on 27 February 2011 the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused Belarus of violating the international embargo that prevented weapons sales to Côte d’Ivoire since 2004, stating that Belarus was supplying the government of Laurent Gbagbo. The very next day the UN rectified its statement and the UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy, made his apologies to Belarus, since the accusation was groundless.In March 2011, UNOCI had to deny another serious charge that they had posted on their website — they alleged that mass graves had been found and attributed them to Gbagbo, saying that the UN had been forbidden to visit the areas. However a Norwegian deputy, Lars Riise, went to Côte d’Ivoire and having found that he could easily visit the areas and not finding any traces of mass graves, organized a press conference in which he denounced the “false massacres” and “media manipulation on the part of ONUCI as irresponsible.”

[xiv] Alain Dogou, Ma vérité sur le complot contre Laurent Gbagbo, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2012. p 29 An interview on the post-election crisis of Alain Dogou can be viewed here

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