Ivory Coast is an ethnic-religious fault-line nation. The north is predominantly agrarian and Muslim, while the south, which is more urbanised, industrial and administrative, is predominantly Christian and animist.
Decades of mass Muslim immigration helped make Ivory Coast prosperous, as workers flooded in from neighbouring poor Muslim states to work in Ivorian industries, in particular cocoa. But rapid population expansion eventually resulted in land stress, while subsequent economic downturn resulted in rising unemployment.
It was into this tense climate that presidential aspirant Alassane Ouattara, an ambitious former Prime Minister and Northern Muslim, came playing the race and religion cards for political gain. While his ploy has won him popular backing amongst Ivory Coast's Muslims and immigrants, it has fuelled tensions and aggravated divisions -- as racial-religious politics always does.
Ouattara has campaigned for the naturalisation of all immigrants; something that would give Ivory Coast -- which is politically secular and officially 30 percent Muslim -- an instant Muslim majority. All objections to this scenario -- objections that generally arise from native, secular and non-Muslim Ivorians -- are met with cries of "'Islamophobia", "xenophobia" and "racism".
Precisely because he is a Muslim who is prepared to play the immigrants-and-Muslims-as-victims card for political gain, Ouattara has the backing of most (but not all) African states. Islamic states support him as he advances an Islamic agenda. Meanwhile, to those regimes in poor African states desperate to maintain the inflow of remittances from Ivory Coast, Ouattara represents maintenance of the status quo.
More importantly, precisely because he is prepared to sell-out Ivory Coast's sovereignty and her immense agricultural (coffee, cocoa) and mineral (diamonds, oil) wealth in exchange for power, Ouattara has the backing of resource-hungry Western powers, in particular the neo-colonialist hegemon: France.
In this regard, the international media does largely misunderstand the situation in Ivory Coast. For the high stakes in Ivory Coast relate not only to race ('Ivorite' vs 'immigrant') and religion (Christian vs Muslim), but also to Ivorian independence vs French neo-colonialism.
To this end, Alassane Ouattara is essentially France's man in Ivory Coast. He is France's guarantee that their exploitative monopoly and neo-colonialist hegemony over Ivorian amenities -- including water and telecommunications and banks -- will remain. The colonial pact brokered in the 1960s mandates that 65 percent of the foreign currency reserves of former French colonies in Africa go into the French Treasury, while a further 20 percent of reserves go to cover "financial liabilities". Did you ever wonder why Francophone Africa was so poor? And while this is revenue that France clearly cannot afford to lose, it is revenue that Francophone Africa obviously cannot afford to give.
See: SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME: CFA franc
It is this poverty-perpetuating French neo-colonialism that staunch nationalist Laurent Gbagbo has been fighting for decades. This is why France particularly is so keen to see regime change in Ivory Coast.
And France is not alone. Since 9/11 the US has been keen to lessen its dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf. Present tensions in the Middle East have only deepened that resolve. Consequently, the US is actively seeking to increase its control over the oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea. Oil from the Gulf of Guinea is not only of a higher quality than that of the Persian Gulf, it is also (or at least it portends to be) more secure.
In late 2010 the Atlantic Council, the preeminent pro-NATO think tank co-released a report entitled "Advancing U.S., African, and Global Interests: Security and Stability in the West African Maritime Domain." It proceeds from the fact that "The Gulf of Guinea is at the brink of becoming a greater supplier of energy to the United States than the Persian Gulf and is therefore of far higher strategic importance than has historically been the case."
See: Militarization Of Energy Policy: U.S. AFRICOM And Gulf Of Guinea
by Rick Rozoff, 8 January 2011
To this end, it is important to note that Ivory Coast, on the Gulf of Guinea, is one of only five African states (a group that includes Libya) not subordinated to US Africom. Africom is essentially US "boots-on-the-ground" in Africa. It is military cooperation on humanitarian projects, or as Horace Campbell, professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University puts it, Africom is "fundamentally a front for US military contractors like Dyncorp, MPRI and KBR operating in Africa".
See: There's no business like war business
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times online, 30 March 2011
Sustaining and advancing neo-colonialism against nationalist forces.
At the end Cold War, NATO lost its reason for existence. And so it was that the "humanitarian intervention" was born.
A "humanitarian intervention" invariably involves entering an asymmetrical civil conflict on the side of the weaker force, allegedly for the purpose of saving lives. This however, rarely achieves the desired humanitarian result. Rather "humanitarian interventions" normally culminate in frozen conflicts; or in the empowering of forces that could never have achieved power in their own right, and therefore will never be able to sustain power in their own strength, and therefore will require the assistance of a "stabilisation force" or of "peacekeepers" -- in other words, "boots-on-the-ground" (what some might call an occupation).
It is little wonder that sceptics view the "humanitarian intervention" as little more than opportunistic neo-imperialism or neo-colonialism. NATO's humanitarian interventions in Yugoslavia and Kosovo (at the expense of many hundreds of thousands of displaced Serbs), and Russia's humanitarian interventions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (at the expense of the some 200,000 displaced Georgians) are classic examples. France's "humanitarian intervention" in Ivory Coast is destined to go down in history as yet another appalling example of outright neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism, this time at the expense of native, secular and non-Muslim Ivorians.
The following reports make good background reading:
Cote d'Ivoire: Tearing Apart.
By Elizabeth Kendal, WEA RLC
Thursday 17 October 2002
Cote d'Ivoire: The Foreign Muscle Behind the Rebellion.
By Elizabeth Kendal, WEA RLC
Tuesday 5 November 2002
IVORY COAST: Christians anxious as war threatens.
By Elizabeth Kendal, WEA RLC
WEA Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 298 - Wed 17 Nov 2004
From this point -- Nov 2004, after France's violent and destructive "humanitarian"/military intervention to prevent President Gbagbo from reunifying the state -- the conflict in Ivory Coast was essentially frozen.
In democracy we trust
The West insisted that Ivory Coast could be reconciled, reunified and essentially saved by means of democratic elections, such is their faith in "democracy" and the inherent goodness of man. In reality however, Ivory Coast's divisions are so profound and the stakes are so high that, unless genuine reconciliation occurred first, elections could only trigger conflict.
See: IVORY COAST: on the brink of war.
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 085
By Elizabeth Kendal. Wed 08 Dec 2010
Ivory Coast (IC) went to the polls on 28 Nov 2010, despite the fact that the northern rebels, in violation of all agreements, had not disarmed.
In Ivory Coast, as in most democracies, an electoral commission manages the mechanics of an election while a constitutional council or court investigates complaints before proclaiming the definitive result. On 2 Dec 2010, Ivory Coast's electoral commission (which is dominated by Ouattara supporters by a margin of 20-2) illegally pre-empted the constitutional council's decision and broadcast via French TV from Ouattara's headquarters that Ouattara had won the election. When Ivory Coast's Constitutional Council, which had been investigating irregularities, announced on 3 Dec 2010 that Gbagbo was the winner, a political stalemate ensued.
See: STATEMENT BY THE GOVERNMENT OF IVORY COAST
BASIC FACTS SURROUNDING THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE NOVEMBER 28 ELECTIONS
20 DECEMBER 2010
Despite the fact that this was a political problem that warranted a political solution, Alassane Ouattara, bolstered by the support of the "international community", moved to seize power by force.
Virtually all of Ivory Coast's state institutions, including the army, are loyal to President Gbagbo, as is at least half the registered population (concentrated in the south). As such, Abidjan will not yield willingly.
In fact this would be a totally asymmetrical conflict were it not for foreign interference. The rebels would never be able to seize or retain power without Western support. Fortunately for them, in Ivory Coast, Islamic and Western 'interests' converge once again.
In fact France is so keen to see regime change in IC that it has sent attack helicopters against the Presidential Palace and Ivorian military barracks -- in the name of "humanitarianism" of course -- and this despite that fact that these facilities not only house whole families, but they also abut residential areas.
While UN and French helicopters were attacking Ivorian positions in Abidjan, northern militias allied to Alassane Ouattara were pressing south. Some 800 were massacred last week in the south-western town of Duekoue when it came under attack from northern militias. Subsequently, UN peacekeepers found themselves guarding tens of thousands of civilians seeking refuge in a Duekoue church.
Echoes of Rwanda in Ivory Coast killing fields
By Dan McDougall, 11 April 2011
Misery afflicts Ivory Coast's west after killings
DUEKOUE, Ivory Coast (AP) 11 April 2011
Côte d’Ivoire: Ouattara Forces Kill, Rape Civilians During Offensive
Human Rights Watch, 9 April 2011
While for Ouattara this is primarily about personal power and personal wealth, for many of those allied to him, this conflict is nothing short of Islamic jihad.
In 1913 William Wade Harris of Liberia crossed into Ivory Coast preaching the power of Christ over spirits. Dressed in white and carrying a cross, a Bible and a bowl, he baptised around 120,000 and, according to Dr Elizabeth Isichei (1995), 'permanently rewrote the religious geography of the Ivory Coast'.
But permanence can never be assumed. That which is good must be treasured and preserved. What Harris achieved, greed and mass Muslim immigration have undone. Once the most free, safe and prosperous country in all West Africa, Ivory Coast may never recover. Religious liberty and Christian security, once a given, will be tenuous now.