Cote d’Ivoire: Return of the Dinosaurs, France’s Proxy War against the ECO Currency in Abidjan

Outgoing Ivorian President, Alassane Dramane Ouattara has been officially invested as the candidate of his Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy for the October 31, 2020 Presidential Election. The nomination ceremony took place Saturday, August 23 at a stadium in Abidjan and the ruling party officials said over one hundred thousand supporters took part at the event. The move paved the way for President Ouattara to accept the designation, and he doubled down on his resolve to defy public outcry to his candidacy.

Mr. Ouattara has since been on the campaign trail telling whoever wants to hear that: “We are the only political group able to guarantee development and the continued improvement of living standards for our citizens, in peace and security”. This is often the singsong of long-serving heads of state across Black Africa as they generally posit that kicking them out would result in chaos. In their thinking, they are always the only ones with the capacity to deliver their countries from ‘darkness’, hopelessness, and economic damnation. Although in essence, they have mostly been identified as the real obstacles to sustainable development, economic emergence, growth, and prosperity- the darkness itself.

When Mr. Ouattara rose to power in April 2011 following the fall and arrest of then-President Laurent Gbagbo, he promised to promote and create democratic institutions that would guarantee peaceful political transitions and bring prosperity. He quickly became famous for always saying he would never go the way of other African leaders who often modify the constitutions of their countries to try to hang onto power forever. He attracted admiration and support when he repeated several times that the younger generation in Africa needed to be given a chance and he was going to be the torchbearer in this regard.

On March 5, 2020, 78-year-old Mr. Ouattara announced he would not stand for re-election, even as he insisted that constitutional amendments introduced in 2016 allowed him to run again, arguing that the modifications reset the time button. He pledged to “pass on the torch to a new generation”, and told a gathering of the governing RDHP party they “will be in good hands” as he backed er Amadou Gon Coulibaly to be the party’s standard-bearer at the October 3 poll.

The March 5 announcement drew applause from all over the world and from all casts of society. French President, Emmanuel Macron tweeted that: “I greet the historic decision taken by President Ouattara, President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, a man of his words and a statesman, not to seek another mandate at the next Presidential Election. This evening, Côte d’Ivoire has set the example”. In some quarters, promoters of democracy even contemplated nominating Ouattara for the Moh Ibrahim award that rewards African leaders who do not manipulate the constitutions of their countries to extend their stay in power.

The death of Prime Minister Gon Coulibaly, which has been considered suspicious in some quarters, only provided a pretext for Ouattara to emerge again from the rear like a messiah forced to come to the rescue of an orphaned people. His actions prior to the death of Gon Coulibaly left no one in doubt that Ouattara was not about to relinquish his hold on power.

The President used the courts and the country’s public administration to block his most bitter, but popular rivals from contesting the October election. To keep former President Gbagbo, who was just recently cleared from any wrongdoing regarding charges brought against him at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity (this was about the role he played in the 2010 post-election violence when he refused to recognize an Ouattara victory and hand over power), out of the game completely, he was brought before the courts and charged with embezzlement of state funds. Gbagbo was tried in absentia, found guilty and sentenced to a 20-year jail term.

The fate of Gbagbo was re-enacted on one-time ally Guillaume Soro, who served as Prime Minister and then-Speaker of the National Assembly. He commanded a rebel force which backed Ouattara in his fight against President Gbagbo, as he refused to accept, he had lost the 2010 elections. To ensure no political settlement agreed to with Mr. Soro came to fruition, Mr. Ouattara first accused him of fomenting a coup to overthrow him. The coup option was dropped at the last minute in preference for a trial on embezzlement charges. Mr. Soro was also tried in absentia, found guilty and handed down a 20-year jail term with a fine of $7.6 million. According to Reuters News Agency, the verdict was announced after a trial that lasted only a few hours, and Mr. Soro was not present as he lives in exile in France.

Local politicians and influential members of the civil society wasted no time in condemning what they considered a muzzling of political opponents to benefit the sitting president. In a video recording, iconic artiste, Meiway condemned Ouattara’s decision to run again for president, along with his crackdown on political dissent. Many have predicted trouble, judging from the most history of the country that emerged from a bloody civil war that claimed over 3000 lives between 2009 and 2011.

Fears of civil strife cannot be discounted as misguided, considering that Mr. Soro still retains the loyalty of former rebel commanders who now hold senior positions in the military, according to BBC Africa editor, Mary Harper. He remains a threat, especially at a time the masses are disenchanted with a president who has demonstrated that he cannot keep to his own word.

The Gbagbo camp remains actively opposed to anything Ouattara and a faction of the “Front Patriotique Ivoirien” (FPI) party loyal to the former president but opposed to standard-bearer Affi N’Guessan has distinguished itself. They recently joined the sympathizers and supporters of one-time president, Henri Konan Bédié, one of the four allowed by the Constitutional Council to run at the October 31 poll to call for street actions against Ouattara.

The anger that continues to fill the hearts of the people is being felt in the streets almost daily. Days of violent protests in different parts of the country have this far, left several opposition supporters dead and dozens arrested. Opposition leaders have accused authorities of using excessive force to quell the demonstrations. A recent report by Amnesty International said police in the commercial capital of Abidjan had at some point, apparently allowed groups of machete-wielding men to attack those who defied a ban to protest against Ouattara.


The Dinosaurs are Back

Mr. Ouattara must be thinking hard about how to undo his foes and friends of yesterday once and for all. The trio: Gbagbo, Bédié and Ouattara had at least once stood with one another. Mr. Gbagbo is reported to have opposed Mr. Bédié in the mid-1990s when he tried to use ‘Ivoireté’ claim that Mr. Ouattara was not an Ivorian because his father originated from Burkina Faso. In 2010, Mr. Bédié threw his weight behind Mr. Ouattara in a power-sharing deal to oust Mr. Gbagbo, his party- the PDCI earned some ministerial portfolios in the government until recently.

Today, FPI party faction leaders loyal to Mr. Gbagbo who was released by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and allowed to live in Belgium, have rallied a call by Mr. Bédié to maintain street calls for Mr. Ouattara to leave power. There is a likelihood the faction would back Mr. Bédié if he makes it past the first round of the poll on October 31. These dinosaurs, joined by Mr. Soro are most likely to leave Côte d’Ivoire in shreds if the younger generation of one of the world’s biggest cocoa producers do not rise to the occasion and take their destiny into their own hands, especially as the French agenda in the country and the stakes for her at the October 31 poll go far beyond just late President Felix Houphouët-Boigny’s country.


France’s Proxy War against the ECO Currency


French President Emmanuel Macron and Ivory Coast's Alassane Ouattara- the new axis of trouble for Africa's economy (C)

On Saturday, December 21, 2019, French President, Emmanuel Macron at a joint news conference with President Ouattara announced the ‘death’ of the CFA F, a colonial currency in use in fourteen former French African colonies that had come to be seen as a symbol of economic strangulation and imperialism. The announcement followed an agreement with eight French-speaking West African countries that are part of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.

Mr. Macron wrote: “I wanted to engage France in a historic and ambitious reform of cooperation between the West African Economic and Monetary Union and our country. We do it for African youth,” on his Twitter page on Saturday, December 22, 2019. But this did not go well with the African Youth, and Black Africa in general. Economists on the continent quickly analyzed that France was using West Africa’s craving for a single currency to not only rename its colonial currency and leave it in place, but to expand its imperial tentacles into English-speaking African economies that had no colonial links with Paris.

The move almost single-handedly spearheaded by Mr. Ouattara, a well-known French puppet on the continent was always going to lead to controversy. Although he claimed on his Twitter handle that “The reform of the CFA takes into account our desire to build our future in a responsible manner, in order to attract private investment, create jobs and pursue the economic development of our countries,” the Ivoirian President failed to convince sceptics that France was acting in good faith. The details of the move as outlined by Mr. Macron confirmed these fears.

The bone of contention among Africans all over the Black continent was about the plans by France to remain involved. This because the ‘new’ currency announced by Macron will not require African countries in the ECO’s economic bloc to keep half their reserves with France or have a French representative sit on their currency’s board, but will, however, remain pegged to the euro and guaranteed by France. The mere mention of France as guarantor has been considered bad news: that is what portrays the currency as the same old CFA F simply changing names to ECO, but remaining the channel through which France would continue to control African economies.

Above this concern, and most worrying to France is the reaction of English-speaking Members of ECOWAS and Guinea-Conakry. Following a meeting in Abuja on Thursday, January 16, 2020, the English-speaking nations: Nigeria, Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone, along with Guinea, issued a communique condemning the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU)’s decision to unilaterally rename the CFA Franc as the ECO. They raised concerns over the peg to the euro and the Banque de France’s guaranteed convertibility of the currency, which requires collective pooling of foreign reserves. This has caused larger economies such as Nigeria and Ghana to exercise reticence to go all-in on the ECO in the short term.

In a statement following the meeting of Members of the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ), Nigeria Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed said the action was “inconsistent with the decision of the Authority of the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS for the adoption of the ECO as the name of an independent ECOWAS single currency”.

The statement that sanctioned that meeting read in part “WAMZ Convergence Council wishes to reiterate the need for all ECOWAS Member countries to implement the decision of the Authority of the Heads of State and Government towards the implementation of the revised roadmap of the ECOWAS single currency programme”.

The French government got alarmed in June 2020 when Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari described the decision by WAEMU to rename the CFA F ECO as a “matter of concern that a people with whom we wish to go into a union are taking major steps without trusting us for discussion”. He pointed out that Nigeria was committed to a West African Monetary Union with the “right fundamentals” guaranteeing credibility, sustainability, prosperity, and sovereignty, calling for compliance with the process. Mr. Buhari pushed further by urging the region to proceed with caution and comply “With the agreed process of reaching our collective goal while treating each other with utmost respect,” while adding that the dream of a strategic monetary union will be in jeopardy without these.

France as an imperialist power is repugnant to the mention of the word “sovereignty” on the African continent, especially when it has to do with her economic interests. It was at this point that it became clear to the authorities in Paris that Gon Coulibaly would not have stamina and personality enough to protect their plans to maintain a hold on the currency of its former colonies with regional giants like Nigeria and Ghana threatening to push them out by all means. Everything had to be done to keep Mr. Ouattara in place until the future of the ECO was guaranteed.