Once considered West Africa's most prosperous nation -- "a paradise by the sea that drew investors and tourists by the thousands," in the words of Ambassador Pascal D. Kokora -- Cote d'Ivoire is now being torn apart by a civil war that has already killed several hundreds of people. Three groups of rebels opposed to President Laurent Gbagbo have been waging war for the past five months, and now control the northern half of the country. Economic growth has shrunk to one-third of previous projections, while an estimated 25,000 refugees have fled the country.
In a recent interview with New African, Pascal Kokora, 62, blamed his people's problems squarely on France, the former colonial power. "This is an economic war, because the current government wants to open up the market for water, electricity, road infrastructure and telecommunications in 2004, and those who own the monopolies don't want this to happen," he said, claiming that 80% of the country's economy is in the hands of French conglomerates."
More than 16,000 French citizens live in Cote d'Ivoire, and France has sent about 2,500 troops to protect them and also act as "a buffer zone between the government and the rebels" and to shoot at any party that gets out of control.
According to Kokora, "the press coverage on Cote d'Ivoire is so unfair and biased. In the French media, everything the rebels do is good, and everything the government does is bad. How can the Western world help our nation's democracy if they encourage people to rake power by military force, unless there are other motives they don't want to tell us about?"
On 26 January, hours after an agreement brokered near Paris by the French government had given key ministerial positions to the rebels in a "national reconciliation government", rampaging crowds in Abidjan (angered by what they saw as "excessive pressure from France" on President Laurent Gbagbo to yield to the concessions), attacked the French embassy in Abidjan and the French military base at the airport.
Under the agreement, the main rebel group, the Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire, would get the key defence and interior ministries, while the political opposition was assigned the foreign affairs and justice portfolios. That left Gbagbo's government with the finance and energy ministries. (The two other rebel groups -- the Popular Movement of the Great West and the Movement for Justice and Peace -- were all to share in the "reconciliation" bounty). From Paris...