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Why did U.S. and French troops invade Ivory Coast?

By Monica Moorehead
October 10, 2002; Workers World

The brutal legacy of colonialism and neo-colonialism manifests itself in various ways in Africa. Take the present situation in Ivory Coast, a former French colony.

A military coup erupted in this West African country of over 14 million people on Sept. 19. The media, including allAfrica.com, report that rebel soldiers are attempting to overturn the existing government headed by President Laurent Gbagbo.

The rebels, according to the bourgeois media, are connected to forces in the neighboring country of Burkina Faso. The relations between these two countries have deteriorated over the years. So far hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been made refugees during the coup.

The U.S. and French military have intervened in this crisis using the pretext of humanitarian reasons. Washington sent in Special Operations forces from Germany to evacuate U.S. schoolchildren, whose parents are missionaries in Ivory Coast. French troops moved quickly to reach the school before the U.S. troops did, and then turned the children over to U.S. air transport at the central airport.

France already had troops stationed in five of its former colonies. They have evacuated hundreds of French citizens living throughout Ivory Coast. This intervention on the part of two imperialist countries begs the question of what role French and U.S. imperialism play not only in West Africa but Africa as a whole.

Role of U.S. and French imperialism

In the 19th century, French imperialism colonized more African territory than any other of its European counterparts. It maintains deep economic, military and administrative ties to almost all its former colonies.

Like so much of Africa, Ivory Coast is rich in natural resources, especially oil, natural gas, cocoa beans, and coffee. Despite this abundance of resources, the per capita income in 1996 was only $600.

During the Cold War against the socialist Soviet Union, U.S. imperialism focused on its geo-strategic interests in Africa. That time was also the high point of the national liberation movements, which the USSR supported.

More recently Washington has tried to supplant French and other imperialist interests in Africa. The U.S. has sent Special Operations forces to East Africa because it wants to stake a claim to untapped oil reserves in that region.

In 1997, the U.S., France and Britain, another colonizer of Africa, signed a pact to coordinate peace in Africa. This pact allows these imperialists to train indigenous soldiers throughout Africa. These troops allow imperialist intervention without the heavy presence of troops from the imperialist countries themselves. Despite the pact, these imperialist powers continually compete for hegemony in the region.

The U.S. and French governments care little about peace in Africa. In fact, they care little about the social plight of African people, the great majority of whom live on less than $2 a day and suffering greatly from the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is in the interests of imperialism to sow artificial divisions among African peoples on the basis of religion, nationality and land. This is the root cause of countless coups in Africa, including the current one in Ivory Coast.

Washington has used many phony pretexts for military intervention. These include the evacuation of U.S. medical students in Grenada in 1983 and the collapse of the central government in Somalia in the 1990s. It would not be surprising if rescuing the children of missionaries turns out to be the latest ploy to help lay the basis for further U.S. corporate plunder in Africa.

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