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Ivory Coast’s Cocoa – A Blessing and a Curse – 2

September 30, 2017

Ivory Coast during the Civil War in the early 2000s

Ivory Coast’s Cocoa – A Blessing and a Curse – 2

The $ 300 plus million Catholic Church that Honcho Felix built in the Ivory Coast is described as the biggest Catholic church in the world (by some) with the fewest [worshippers] in the pews

His $ 11 plus a billion fortune- French dealings. Some model in Africa!

The plan to exploit so many, and then build a giant Catholic church.

How French..

Jim Hagood

Houphouët-Boigny – France’s Key Man in West Africa

Although he is dead and gone now for 24 years, the spirit of Félix Houphouët-Boigny (pronounced hoofoo bowanyee) lives on in the Ivory Coast….malheureusement! – as the French would say. At his death in 1993 he had acquired an estimated net worth of somewhere between $7 and $11 billion, much of it from the profits skimmed off from the country’s lucrative (for him anyway) raw cocoa bean industry. Cocoa beans are the main export product of Ivory Coast and dominate the country’s economy, referred to as “l’or brun” – “brown gold” in french. The owner of seventeen villas in Europe, at the time of his death Houphouët-Boigny was considered by some sources to have been the largest property owner in Paris, while the country as a whole has been mired in poverty.

Although Houphouët-Boigny started out his career as an anti-colonial nationalist – in fact he was the leader of the cocoa producers’ union for a while and one of the founders of the Rassemblement démocratique africain (RDA) an assemblage of anti-colonial African radicals – by the early 1950s he had, for all practical purposes switched allegiances. But then it was most useful to have a political turncoat who earned his spurs early on in a radical social movement for then France could cover its continued racist and exploitative policies in Africa under the cover of “moderate” African nationalism, which was by the way, neither moderate nor particularly nationalist at its heart.

According to at least one source (François-Xavier Verschave. La Françafrique. Stock, 1998. p.128), his transformation from a pan-African anti-colonial leader to little more than one of France’s most effective neo-colonial stooges, was precipitated during the early 1950s after several of his colleagues in the RDA were tortured to death by the French colonial administration at the time. Among those who suffered this painful, horrible fate was Senator Victor Biaka-Boda. There were many others. Fearing for his life, Houphouët-Boigny changed sides, casting his fate with the French colonial authorities from henceforth.

His political, economic and spiritual corruption would be complete.

On into the post-colonial period, Houphouët-Boigny would continue to be a faithful partner of French neo-colonial interests, not just in his own country, Ivory Coast, but in French machinations throughout West Africa. In 1956 he coined the term “Francafrique,” a term that “has come to symbolise everything that went wrong with the French neocolonial relationship that meant keeping its former colonies in Africa on a tight leash, shown in political interference and protecting France’s political and economic interests: organised coups to remove African leaders who attempted to go rogue; covert military interventions to secure natural resources; and corruption and illicit outflows.

New convert that he was, over the course of his career he would turn on his former anti-colonial and revolutionary colleagues with unspeakable cruelty and thoroughness and serve French neo-colonial interests faithfully like the political altar boy for Paris that he became. He spent his entire career as president of Ivory Coast surrounded – and essentially run by French advisers, many of them working for French intelligence and answering to Charles De Gaulle’s main African adviser, Jacques Foccart who would continue to play an important role in securing France’s interests in Africa even long after De Gaulle had parted from the scene. The degree to which Houphouët-Boigny was tied at the hip to French interests is reflected in the fact that it is said (by Verschave – see citation above) that from the mid 1950s until his death in 1993 that the Ivory Coast president and Foccart were in daily contact.

Want Independence: Follow The Rules! Who Made The Rules? Guess?

As in other former French African colonies gaining independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, according to Paris (and Bruxelles) there were certain rules that had to be followed if independence was to be “granted” by the French. Follow the rules, “independence” followed. Breaking the rules that Paris set was risky business, not only for individual rebels but for whole countries. What were “the rules?” Not complicated! As in other former French African colonies gaining independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, according to Paris (and Bruxelles) there were certain rules that had to be followed if independence was to be “granted” by the French. Follow the rules, “independence” followed. Breaking the rules that Paris set was risky business, not only for individual rebels but for whole countries. What were “the rules?” Not complicated!

• Accept close relationship with Paris in the post-independence period

• Agree to secret “cooperation agreements” which basically gave France continued control of its former colonies’ economic, security and military operations; it gave France priority in foreign contracts and veto power in any change in economic priorities or direction.

• “French advisers” in the newly African countries were given a free rein.

• Accept the French controlled currency for “French” Africa – the CFA franc, which became yet another way to control and manage African independence.

A half century before Charles De Gaulle and his “Africa man” – Jacques Foccart – imposed such guidelines on their former colonies, in 1901, the United States had “led the way” with the passage of the Platt Amendment, an amendment to the 1901 Army Appropriations Bill. Through the Platt Amendment, Washington basically gave itself the right to intervene militarily in Cuba if it thought/felt that country was doing anything to undermine U.S. security concerns in the Caribbean, or threatening the vaguely worded U.S. interests thus beginning a trend that would later be known as “neo-colonialism.” On December 25, 1901, Cuba amended its constitution to contain, word for word, the demands on its sovereignty of the Platt Amendment.

A half century before Charles De Gaulle and his “Africa man” – Jacques Foccart – imposed such guidelines on their former colonies, in 1901, the United States had “led the way” with the passage of the Platt Amendment, an amendment to the 1901 Army Appropriations Bill. Through the Platt Amendment, Washington basically gave itself the right to intervene militarily in Cuba if it thought/felt that country was doing anything to undermine U.S. security concerns in the Caribbean, or threatening the vaguely worded U.S. interests thus beginning a trend that would later be known as “neo-colonialism.”

Then in the early 1920s, under the leadership of then Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, the British would follow essentially the same form of neo-colonial rule in Iraq and Egypt, ie, small administrative and modest military presence, a veil of independence, but retaining generally tight control, “colonialism on the cheap.” So De Gaulle and Foccart had a rich historical sampling to choose from.

Neo-colonial dominated countries appear to be free and independent, while in essence their economies and security relations are dominated by others. a form of  “sneaky colonialism.” Countries involved appear independent – but aren’t. In fact they are even more closely controlled by a more powerful, foreign country. At the same time the colonizing entity saves money and manpower by only having a small core of  economic and military “advisers” in the colony rather than a large administrative and military presence.

So it was with post independence French colonial Africa. Independence in name, dependence in essence.

No one followed these “rules” as closely as Houphouët-Boigny in Ivory Coast, in fact he was a model of collaboration for other Africa countries emerging from colonialism The resulting system was one which had the trappings of independence without its essence. As in the colonial period, France continued to rule, but now from behind the scenes rather than in plan sight. Those anti-colonial leaders that did not follow in Houphouët-Boigny’s footsteps, ie, who worked for genuine economic and security independence as a part of the decolonizing package, found that life could be rather difficult.

Even prior to independence Houphouët-Boigny proved his allegiance to Paris by turning on the RCA, the pan-African anti-colonial movement he helped found, as well as its national chapter, the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire. In the early post independence years, with the help of French advisers, Houphouët-Boigny ruthlessly suppressed all domestic opposition to his plans to turn the country over, lock, stock and barrel, to France. In these efforts he was accused of having personally participated in the torture of his political opponents. The repression was so extensive that it silenced any challenges to his rule for decades.

It should not come as much  of a surprise that after Houphouët-Boigny’s death, sucking the wealth of the country dry and having pitted one ethnic group against another in a system solidified only by repression that Ivory Coast would descend into a quarter of a century of political turmoil and civil war, none of which has been completely resolved to this day. Besides crushing any domestic dissent, Houphouët-Boigny became an active campaigner against any expression of African nationalism looking to free itself from European economic dependance.

Many examples could be cited, but among the most notorious was his active participation in the murder of neighboring leader from Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara. Sankara was actively trying to move his land-locked African country towards greater independence when he was assassinated by elements of his military with the active collusion of Houphouët-Boigny and the French. Sankara had accused Houphouët-Boigny of being a “reactionary, rightest, and an instrument of French neo-colonialism in Africa” – all of which, despite the rhetoric involved, was quite accurate. So in October, 1987, Houphouët-Boigny, with no small amount of French connivance, had Sankara killed.

His reputation recently resurrected by the people of Burkina Faso, Sankara today is considered “up there” with the greats of pan-African nationalism, along with Nkumah (who Houphouët-Boigny also hated), the Congolese Lumumba, the Cameroonian Nyobé, and a few others. Sankara was then replaced by Houphouët-Boigny intimate Blaise Compaore, a like-minded French controlled autocrat, who would rule Burkina Faso with an iron hand until he was overthown by a nationwide popular revolt. On his expulsion from the country, not surprisingly, he found fled and found refuge in Ivory Coast.

Women farmers carry wood as they leave a cocoa plantation on October 18, 2008 near the village of Boko, some 200km north of Abidjan, where a group of women have created in 2005 an association of coffee-cocoa producers. Cocoa farming in Ivory Coast, traditionally undertaken by men, has recently become an activity for some women who do not hesitate to defy traditions to engage in this activity with the hope of a better life. AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO

Anglophone vs. Francophone

From the outset of his French-orchestrated rise to power, Houphouët-Boigny served Paris in other ways. France had long been involved in what amounted to a worldwide competition with Great Britain for control of Third World colonies throughout the 19th and early 20th century. On numerous occasions, the two countries nearly went to war with each other over which one would have more influence in the Middle East, Africa, Asia. That competition overflowed into the post colonial period with the two continually spatting with one another over African spheres of influence.

The “Anglophone” vs. “Francophone” zones of influence were essentially over control of strategic raw materials and basic food stuffs. By way of example, this conflict for interest spheres continues today as evidenced by the turmoil in Cameroon in which the English-speaking zones in the west of the country are seeking autonomy from the French controlled national government based in Yaoude. Ivory Coast is firmly in French hands and as such historically has involved in a series of African intrigues to undermine British influence. Two historical events of note stand out in this respect.

• During the Nigerian war of secession that followed independence (1967-1970), the oil rich province of Biafra in the country’s southeast region near the border with Cameroon, attempted to split off from the main body of the country. In order to weaken what they understood as British-dominated West Africa through the largest African state, Nigeria, largely through the offices of Houphouët-Boigny, the French actively supplied the secessionists with money, arms and strategic advice. The French state-controlled oil company ELF was intimately involved in pushing the French government to play that role as were other international energy concerns

• In the 1980s and early 1990s just prior to his death, Houphouët-Boigny became involved in another attempt to undermine a West African neighbor that France viewed as too connected to Anglo-American interests, Liberia. Over more than a decade Houphouët-Boigny provided material support to renegade warlord Charles Taylor. As Taylor terrorized the population of Liberia, enslaving many into forced labor, raping and pillaging his way across the country, he was doing so funded in money and weapons by France (through Houphouët-Boigny). The western regions of Ivory Coast abutting on Liberia served as a base for Taylor’s operations.  Taylor’s black marketed precious metals, and slave-labor produced commodities reached the broader market through the Ivory Coast port of  San Pedro.

The Cocoa Connection

As odd as it might seem to outsiders, key to Houphouët-Boigny’s rise to political power and economic wealth, was his control of a good portion of Ivory Coast’s cocoa bean industry. There are some indications that he personally controlled half of the country’s production. Much of the profits from that industry was siphoned off into his personal off shore accounts in France, Switzerland and different tax havens, a procedure his successors faithfully followed, Houphouët-Boigny having paved the way. Mobutu would follow similar procedures in his rape of the Congo (then Zaire). In the latter’s case, under the guise of nationalizing different industries, inordinate amounts of the nation’s wealth were redirected into his personal accounts abroad. That was only the beginning.

The Ivory Coast’s state cocoa marketing company was controlled by relatives and friends of the president. It, and other state-run concerns, became covers, clearing houses for all kinds of illicit activities, from the money laundering of drug money, and other black market activities in which “the Houphouët-Boigny clan working in tandem with Lebanese merchants shared in the loot. Twenty five years after the death of Houphouët-Boigny, these networks were still quite active, as noted in this U.S. Department of State 2014 memo on drug trafficking through Ivory Coast which I’ll quote at length.

Following a civil war and a nine-year political/military crisis during which the country was effectively split in two, a new government was formed on May 6, 2011. Ivoirians continue to be involved in regional criminal activities, such as the smuggling of consumer goods and agricultural products, and in the subsequent laundering of the proceeds. Smuggling over Cote d’Ivoire’s porous borders, motivated in part by a desire to avoid duties or taxes or to sell goods at a higher profit, generates illicit funds that are primarily laundered via informal value transfer systems, such as money service businesses or exchange houses, and via mobile telephone payments or transfers.

There are growing concerns about the increase in cyber theft through online commercial transactions. In addition, Ivoirian authorities believe criminal enterprises use the formal banking system, as well as the used car and real estate industries, to launder funds. Hezbollah is present in Cote d’Ivoire and conducts fund-raising activities, mostly among the large Lebanese expatriate community in the country. The potential use of Ivoirian territory as a transshipment point for drugs from South America to Europe concerns law enforcement officials.

While the statement makes special mention of the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah being involved in money laundering – which I do not doubt actually – targeting Hezbollah is politically motivated in the sense that it is a relatively small player compared to others; those who profited (and continue to) much more included French intelligence agencies, French political parties and French-run multinational corporations such as ELF, Bouygues, Bolloré just to name a few. There are a complex series of networks – together referred as “Francafrique” which bring together French business, government and military leaders with their Ivorian counterparts in what has been for decades an orgy of profit taking…at the expense of course of the people of the country. In the end calling them “networks” or “clans” is an overstatement, as they are little more than semi-legitimate mafias. All this started with Houphouët-Boigny  who set up the system in Ivory Coast.

It is unsustainable.

______________________

Links

Ivory Coast Cocoa – A Blessing and a Curse – Part One

 

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