The Financial Times noted Monday that Ivory Coast has, historically, been "the center of Françafrique, the term describing the cozy ties between successive French presidents and African rulers based on personal friendships and favors." -- The term "Françafrique" was "coined by Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a minister in numerous French governments before serving as Ivorian president for 33 years." -- BACKGROUND: Houphouët-Boigny, a descendant of tribal chiefs in Ivory Coast who had become a doctor, then a self-described "bourgeois landowner" and wealthy farmer, was a minister in French governments from 1957 to 1959 who successfully pushed for what leaders like Léopold Sédar Senghor called the "Balkanization" of Africa: the break-up of French Equatorial Africa and French West Africa into arbitrarily designated nations. -- Houphouët-Boigny believed nations were more conducive to economic development. -- At the time of independence (1960), Ivory Coast was the wealthiest French colony. -- Under Houphouët-Boigny one-party rule, Ivory Coast enjoyed relative prosperity (the "Ivoirian miracle"). -- The number of French citizens living there doubled from 1960 to 1980. -- Houphouët-Boigny made his home village, Yamoussoukro, 150 miles NW of Abidjan, the capital of the new nation. -- In the 1980s economic crises weakened Houphouët-Boigny politically and he was forced to accept a transition to multiparty democracy. -- After his death in 1993 Henri Konan Bédié won a brief power struggle with Alassane Ouattara, who had served as prime minister and who had exercised the duties of president during Houphouët-Boigny's final illness. -- While Houphouët-Boigny had avoided ethnic conflict, Bédié used the notion of "Ivoirité" to exclude Ouattara, his rival, whose parents came from Burkina Faso. -- But "ivority" also excluded many others from nationality, straining interethnic relations. -- Bédié was ousted in a 1999 coup by army officers who put Gen. Robert Guéï in power, but Laurent Gbagbo defeated him in a 2000 election (from which Ouattara was excluded by virtue of his alleged Burkinabé nationality). -- During an unsuccessful armed uprising against Gbagbo that was based in northern Ivory Coast in September 2002 France intervened to support Gbagbo, who was forced to sign accords leading to a "government of national unity" and U.N. peacekeepers. -- But tensions increased. -- In November 2004 Gbagbo ordered airstrikes against rebels in Bouaké; during one of these, nine French soldiers were killed and the French destroyed Ivory Coast's air force. -- "French businesses and the community of 15,000 French citizens, half of whom are dual nationals, became the target of nationalist mobs," the Financial Times recalled. -- Gbagbo's presidential term was extended several times as negotiations sought a peaceful solution through a democratic election. -- This election, which should have been organized in 2005, was finally held in November 2010. -- But when Gbagbo lost the election to Alassane Ouattara, the Ivoirian president charged massive fraud in northern departments controlled by rebel forces, charges that were, however, contradicted by international observers. -- As 2010 draws to a close, Ouattara's election has been generally recognized by the international community and the United Nations, but Gbagbo is refusing to cede power. -- Laurent Gbagbo, 65, is a former history teacher, he was a longtime opponent of Houphouët-Boigny, who imprisoned him twice (1971-1973; 1992). -- He holds a 1979 doctorate in history from Université Paris Diderot; Alassane Ouattara, 68, holds a 1972 Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. -- According to the BBC, Gbagbo is mainly supported by the Christian south; Ouattara by the Muslim north. -- A spokesperson for Laurent Gbagbo "warned that foreign intervention could ignite a civil war, sparking conflict between the country's many foreign migrant workers which could spill across Ivory Coast's borders," the BBC said on Dec. 27....
SARKOZY KEEPS DISTANCE FROM FORMER COLONY
By Ben Hall
Financial Times (London)
December 27, 2010
PARIS -- France’s reaction to the political crisis in Ivory Coast shows how much the country’s approach to its former African colonies has evolved, in spite of the ambiguities of the president’s policy towards the continent.
Nicolas Sarkozy issued a public ultimatum to Laurent Gbagbo to stand aside as Ivory Coast’s president on December 17. Apart from that, France, which has 950 peacekeepers in the country, has left it to other West African countries, the African Union and the European Union to lead the push for the incumbent’s departure.
Ivory Coast was once France’s “window to west Africa” and one of its richest African possessions. France remains its largest investor. After independence, Ivory Coast was the center of Françafrique, the term describing the cosy ties between successive French presidents and African rulers based on personal friendships and favors.
Françafrique was coined by Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a minister in numerous French governments before serving as Ivorian president for 33 years.
Mr. Sarkozy took office in 2007 promising to break with the Françafrique cronyism of his predecessors in the Elysée palace and to promote good governance, human rights, and a bigger role for multilateral institutions.
But protests from some influential African leaders, including the late Omar Bongo of Gabon, and concern about French commercial interests ensured that there was no dramatic change in the relationship.
Ivory Coast is home to some 500 French businesses. The port of Abidjan is operated by Bolloré, controlled by Vincent Bolloré, a friend of Mr. Sarkozy. Bouygues, the construction group, controlled by another friend of the president, has important utility businesses in the country.
But Africa holds less sway over Mr. Sarkozy than his predecessors and France has begun to scale back its military presence in the region.
The attempt by Mr. Gbagbo to cling on to power in spite of losing the presidential election to Alassane Ouattara shows that France can no longer count on a privileged political relationship with its African colonies. Mr. Sarkozy is not particularly close to Mr. Gbagbo, who was an active member of the Socialist party when in Paris in the 1980s and 1990s.
Paris made clear it had no favored candidate in the elections. It waited for full corroboration that Mr. Ouattara had won before demanding that Mr. Gbagbo stand aside.
Mr. Sarkozy telephoned Mr. Gbagbo to try to persuade him to resign but to no avail. On a second attempt the Ivorian refused to take the call. From that moment, Paris decided it could do little more.
“Everything has been said on our side,” Jean-Marc Simon, French ambassador to Ivory Coast, said in a newspaper interview on December 21.
Paris does not want to inflame the matter and is refusing to allow Mr. Gbagbo to manipulate the situation so he could claim he was hanging on to power in the name of resisting French “colonialism.”
After French peacekeeping forces destroyed the Ivorian air force in 2004 after its bombardment of their camp, French businesses and the community of 15,000 French citizens, half of whom are dual nationals, became the target of nationalist mobs.
Asked whether French troops -- which are supposed to provide backup for a larger U.N. peacekeeping force -- could intervene in an attempt to impose a solution, Mr. Simon said they would “only do what is required to protect its citizens that are threatened. Things are very clear.”
Vincent Darracq, a researcher at the French Institute for International Relations, has said in a note that France wanted to avoid falling into the same trap as the U.K. with Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe, its president, used British opposition to his regime to whip up nationalist sentiment.
IVORY COAST: GENERAL STRIKE CALLED TO PRESSURE GBABGO
December 27, 2010
Political parties loyal to Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara have called a general strike across the country from Monday to force the incumbent president to cede power.
Our correspondent John James says the strike is not being widely observed so far in Abidjan, the biggest city.
Laurent Gbagbo has refused to step aside following November's disputed election which he insists was rigged.
Mr. Ouattara has been recognized internationally as the victor.
Regional West African grouping Ecowas has warned it may use "legitimate force" to remove Mr. Gbagbo.
He accused the U.S. and France of leading a plot against him.
Mr. Ouattara's spokesman Patrick Achi said on Sunday: "I can confirm that we have called for a general strike across the nation from tomorrow."
A statement from Mr. Ouattara's party added: "We should not let them steal our victory."
Our correspondent in Abidjan says the city is relatively quiet but a lot of people are going to work and many shops are open.
He says people do not want to put their heads above the parapet at the moment -- even those who may have voted for Mr. Ouattara -- because of the possibility that Mr. Gbabgo could stay on in power.
The United Nations, the European Union, the U.S., the African Union, and West African regional bloc Ecowas all say that Mr. Ouattara won the 28 November vote.
The call for a general strike echoes a similar call last week by the man who would be Mr. Ouattara's prime minister.
Most civil servants are already staying away from work in the general confusion caused by the swearing in of two presidents, each with their own set of ministers.
Although the situation has felt less tense since the lifting of an overnight curfew, there's concern that things will worsen in the coming month.
A delegation of heads of state from Ecowas -- from Benin, Sierra Leone, and Cape Verde -- is planning to travel to the country on Tuesday to convince Mr. Gbagbo to step aside.
Mr. Gbagbo's Interior Minister Emile Guirieoulou told a news conference that his government would "welcome the three heads of states as brothers and friends, and listen to the message they have to convey."
Our correspondent says that after calls from the U.S. and French presidents, this personal visit will represent the final notice for Mr. Gbagbo, whose hold on power is diminishing by the day. He adds that any intervening force would almost certainly come from Nigeria.
On Sunday U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed "deep concern" at the situation and called on Mr. Gbagbo to step down.
In an interview with French newspaper *Le Figaro*, Mr. Gbagbo said that if military intervention occurred it would be a dangerous precedent.
"All threats must be taken seriously. But, in Africa, it would be the first time African countries would be ready to go to war because an election went badly."
He repeated his assertion that he was the victim of an international plot against him, led by former colonial power, France, along with the U.S.
"If there is an internal conflict, a civil war, there will be risks because we will not allow our rights, our constitution, to be trampled on. People have to remember that. We are not afraid. We are not the aggressors."
THREAT OF CONFLICT
Earlier, his spokesperson warned that foreign intervention could ignite a civil war, sparking conflict between the country's many foreign migrant workers which could spill across Ivory Coast's borders.
"All these countries have citizens in Ivory Coast, and they know if they attack Ivory Coast from the exterior it would become an interior civil war," Ahoua Don Mello said.
"Is Burkina Faso ready to welcome three million Burkinabé migrants back in their country of origin?" he asked.
Millions of West African immigrants from poorer neighboring states work in Ivory Coast's relatively prosperous cocoa-led economy.
Some 14,000 people have already fled to neighboring Liberia following November's disputed election results, and the U.N. says it is prepared for a total of 30,000 refugees in the region.
The U.N. has said at least 173 people have died in violence already.
Most of those fleeing are supporters of Mr. Ouattara, who, along with his cabinet, is based at a hotel in Abidjan under the protection of U.N. troops.
Mr. Gbagbo has demanded that U.N. and French troops leave the country and a close ally has even warned that they could be treated as rebels if they did not obey the instruction.
The U.N., which has 10,000 peacekeepers in the country, rejected the call.
The election was meant to unite the country after a civil war in 2002 split the world's largest cocoa producer in two, with the predominantly Muslim North supporting Mr. Ouattara and the mainly Christian south backing Mr. Gbagbo.