Côte d’Ivoire: Gbagbo wins (2)

So you have the Mugabe model in full swing: war chest – propaganda – vigilantes – armed troops – foreign friends – assets to strip. Now, you can sit tight. Meanwhile, your country has become so incredibly polarised as to render it ungovernable. Suppose by some unforeseen miracle Gbagbo decides to up and leave and give Ouattara the seat of power. His vigilantes will still be out on the street; his army will not listen to the new incumbent; his patronage network will continue to sabotage the economy. In short: he wins.

The key is to make sure the money keeps running. No source is suspect; anything goes. We already mentioned oil-rich states of any shade and stripe, rogue or non-rogue. But there is more.

It should have surprised no-one when it was discovered that among the strong financial forces propping up Mugabe and his clan were British high street banks, even while the clan media were churning out shrill anti-British propaganda. “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again,” they droned. Anyone who has read Orwell’s Animal Farm (Zimbabwe is a carbon copy of that tale) will immediately recognise the ever-returning question of the ruling pigs: do you want Jones back? No – but Barclay’s Bank will certainly do…

Airbus for oilmen (Photo: Flickr)

Other example. While an unspeakably cruel civil war was raging in Angola and pitted the nominally socialist MPLA, in government, against the US and South Africa-supported UNITA rebels, the authorities in Luanda were happily doing business with oilmen…from Texas. There was (and still is) a direct air link between Luanda and Houston, owned by the Angolan state oil company Sonangol and operated by a US carrier. It’s known as the “Houston Express”, for oilmen from both countries.

Similarly, a famous French businessman (goes by the name of Vincent Bolloré) has big interests in Côte d’Ivoire. He is also a friend of Gbagbo’s arch enemy, president Nicholas Sarkozy of France and his former minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner. Small matter. Monsieur Bolloré is fundamentally not interested in who runs the country. He’s interested in making money, because that is his business. We may not like this, we may rail against it but business rarely takes clear political sides. It hedges. Business is not immoral , that is not its defining characteristic. It has, however, an essentially utilitarian ethic. Which is why corporations run their “corporate responsibility” programs out of the department where it belongs: public relations. If corporate responsibility makes them look good and is good for business, they’ll have it. If not – they won’t.

See if you can lay your hands on a biography written by the UK journalist Tom Bower, about a now forgotten but larger-than-life businessman. It is called ‘Tiny’ Rowland, the rebel tycoon’ and has at its centre the man who took an obscure little Anglo-Rhodesian firm, Lonrho and turned it into a short-lived multinational conglomerate with interests from Cape Town to Khartoum. Rowland could fly his private jet into Kenya, Malawi or Zambia and drive straight to the presidential palace for an audience. He would use the same private jet to fly rebels and government officials halfway around the continent to the negotiating table for peace in Mozambique – ultimately, of course, because the war was bad for his business. He turned tax evasion into an art form but at the same time wanted to be fêted as a truly loyal British citizen. He is probably best remembered for his epic fight with the Egyptian Businessman Mohamed Al Fayed, the father of Princess Diana’s boyfriend when she died in a Paris car crash, about ownership of Harrod’s department store.

Rowland would have felt right at home in Côte d’Ivoire today – on both sides.

Côte d’Ivoire is rich, has shedloads of assets to strip and enough rich foreign friends to supply the ruling clan with whatever it needs. Gbagbo wins, thanks to the Bollorés and the Angolas of this world. And he’ll be there for a while yet, the people be damned – quite literally, as it was reported last week that in Abidjan his fearless army lobbed a few mortars into a market in the Ouattara stronghold of Abobo, bravely killing up to 30 market women, who were of course armed to the teeth…with merchandise. Meanwhile, their gallant opposite counterparts in the West of the country have sent 100,000 terrified civilians across the border to the relative safety of…Liberia.

Would the other side be any better? On the evidence available to us now the answer must be: no. The armed groups up North have been asset-stripping that part of the country for years, to give you just one example. So in short, winning elections usually means that one rapacious clan is replaced by another. Which begs another question: why bother in the first place? Let’s leave that question for another time…

 

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