The Abidjan "Harvest"

By Tom Kamara

The Perspective
Jan 16, 2001

The continuing roller-coaster politics in the Ivory Coast, since the death of its founding President Houphouet Boigny, is a warning that fanning the flames consuming a neighbor's home can be a ghastly mistake. Following the squashing of its recent coup attempt, the Ivorian authorities are accusing neighboring states and threatening breaking of diplomatic ties with the alleged and unnamed conspiracy-states. Immediately after the dust settled, an Ivorian delegation was in Monrovia for undisclosed reasons. Were they protesting possible Liberian links to the coup?

To buttress the claims of conspiracy by neighbors, the Government claimed arms seized from the dissidents were of Russian origin. Interestingly, the authorities, who had previously accused ousted General Robert Guei of recruiting mercenaries in Liberia, also announced that a Liberian was amongst the coup makers arrested. This is fascinating revelation in that a week prior to the abortive coup, the Liberian Government zealously announced that 13 of its alleged opponents were on trial in the border town of Danane for allegedly crossing into Ivorian territory with arms. During mass protests that ended the reign of Gen. Robert Guei, a number of Liberian mercenaries were allegedly arrested for backing Guei. Thus how is it that these two partner states in war and mayhem have found themselves at loggerheads? In reality, it all has to do with Abidjan preparing to harvest its crops of destabilization planted in December 1989 when Cote d'Ivoire transformed itself into a base for military and other operations that have left hundreds of thousands refugees and the displaced, along with millions of dollars in endless relief programs replacing economic development within the region. In truth, Cote d'Ivoire, along with Burkina Faso and Libya, declared war on Liberia in December 1989 and later on Sierra Leone in 1991 and now on Guinea. But some how, Abidjan believed that it could benefit from the horrors of its neighbors and it did, only for some time. Now is harvest time.

But Truth can be painful and uncomfortable. In this case, the truth is that Abidjan is needlessly looking for scapegoats when it is responsible for its own political and soon to be enormous economic problems. Laurent Gbagbo will preoccupy himself with remaining President, being the slave of the military he relies on for survival, with no time for conceiving socioeconomic programs. Sub-Sahara Africa's third largest economy could end up like its neighbors'. In the end, after Ivorians exhaust their pogroms against foreigners, they will look into their inner selves and turn on one another to give "ivoirite" its true meaning. They will realize that there is abundant canon fodder around Cote d'Ivoire to be transformed into "rebel generals", rebel leaders with a make-believed political agenda. Such is far easier in a society plagued with bandits hijacking cars and robbing banks in broad daylight even when stability was not in question. Now with a "legitimate" AK-47 and a political agenda a la Charles Taylor or Foday Sankoh, the sky is their limits. Precedents are already underway in the persistent looting of shops belonging to foreigners. Once the foreign shops are gone, the "children of ivoirite " will look for others and they will find Ivorian shops.

The arms seized from the dissidents after the coup may indeed be Russian, but they are in fact Ivorian, for it was the Ivory Coast that helped transformed West Africa into an armory, infesting a region now in chaos and beyond help without international involvement. Abidjan is slowly but surely harvesting what it planted. And since one cannot plant beans and harvest corn, the anarchy that Abidjan conceived for its neighbors is lowly reaching its doors.

Without the blessings of Abidjan's political establishment at the time, it would have been significantly impossible for Taylor and Sankoh to implement their programs of destabilization now taking roots in West Africa. Blaise Compaore and Col. Gaddafi may have trained the insurgents for unimagined horrors, but in the absence of the Ivorian corridor, their projects would have landed on rocks. Sierra Leone rejected Taylor's requests for a corridor and at hindsight, Freetown may have been at peace had it given Taylor territory as Abidjan did.

The Ivory Coast was determined to ensure the misery of its neighbors. When reminded in early 1990 that the man and organization they were backing, Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), were causing horrors across the border and unsuitable for political power, an Ivorian official is reported to have replied: "We have a saying in our tradition. When palm oil is wasted in your house, you don't step in it and walk all over the place." This meant that although Liberia was dying, there was no need turning back. It must be placed deeper and deeper into the dungeon of terror. Says Stephen Ellis in his Liberian classic, The Mask of Anarchy:

"In the north of the country, Danane had virtually become a Liberian town, and was a main staging post for the NPFL's logistics. Ivorian gendarmes escorted NPFL-convoys, leaving no doubts of the official attitude to the warIvorians officials at the town of Guiglo openly admitted buying gold, diamonds looted goods from Liberian militiamen, provided only that they did not carry arms on Ivorian soil, and selling them rice, soap and fuel in return"

Indeed! Danane, a sleeping border town, saw an unprecedented boom in trade. Looted Liberian goods flooded the town. Ivorian nationals undertook massive construction of makeshift huts, which they rented at exorbitant rates to scrambling Liberians. International relief organizations and others made Cote d'Ivoire their base of operations and brought with them the accompanying economic benefits. Liberia, which was once the main transit point for major airlines, now depended on Air Ivoire to ferry passengers from Abidjan into destroyed and pathetic Monrovia since its international airport was set ablaze by men promising change and development. Ivorian businessmen, security chiefs, and politicians benefited immensely in Liberian blood. In Monrovia, the local Air Ivoire manager plunged himself into Liberian politics naturally on the side of the NPFL, becoming the owner of a sprawling poultry and vegetable farm and a nightclub, among several businesses. It was goodtime! To keep the goodtime going, Cote d'Ivoire became one of the main diplomatic backers of the NPFL, defending its horrors and providing its leaders, who now had huge bank accounts and plush homes in Abidjan, protection.

This marriage with terror for personal benefits was far from abnormal. For years, the Ivory Coast has made itself a home for people bent on destroying their countries. Angola's Unita rebels were supplied Ivorian passports for their operations that have left their country in unending misery. Zaire's Mobutu is said to have owned a plush home in Abidjan. The buffoon "Emperor" of the Central African Republic, Jean Bedel Bokkassa, lived in Abidjan after he was driven out of his self-style "Empire." Houphouet Boigny once reportedly asked assassinated Liberian President William Tolbert to also buy a home in Abidjan. According to sources, Tolbert refused, in turn asking his friend to buy a home in Monrovia. Foday Sankoh was given a VIP treatment in Abidjan for a length of time. The Ivory Coast was one of the few African states that saw humanity in Apartheid, advocating business and political links with its leaders.

Throughout the Liberian war and later Sierra Leone woes, Abidjan provided no helping hand. Not a single peacekeeping soldier or a nurse ever crossed the border to see the fires lit from the Ivory Coast burning the helpless. Instead, the Ivorians opted to supply mercenaries and guns that sent populations of other countries dying and fleeing. It is time they reap what they sowed. It is Abidjan's Harvest Time!