The history of the Ivory Coast on trial at The Hague: Continuities in the opposition between the Houphouet’s and Gbagbo’s political thoughts, by Minister Justin Kone Katinan


By Minister Justin Kone Katinan

               Barely a week after the beginning of the trial of President Laurent Gbagbo and Minister Charles Blé Goudé, the distinctive features of the history of the Ivory Coast are truly standing out. As it appears, this trial is actually the trial of the history of Ivory Coast since 1959. Three systems of governance are on trial at the ICC: Gaullism, Houphouetism and Gbagboism. They are the defendants and they are respectively represented by three individuals: Nicolas Sarkozy for Gaullism; Alassane Ouattara for Houphouetism; and Laurent Gbagbo for Gbagboism.

               In order to make this analysis easier to understand, we will only focus on two of the three systems of governance: Houphouetism and Gbagboism inasmuch as Houphouetism is the Ivorian copy of Gaullism.

               We should not forget that General de Gaulle, who was the great winner, on his own right, of WWII, was above all a great colonialist, who toiled to maintain the French colonial empire. As an army officer, he was also pragmatic. The Brazzaville Conference that he convened in 1944, way before the official end of WWII, exemplifies his pragmatism. This Conference allowed the continuation of colonialism by adjusting it to the post-WWII era. All the institutional and policy changes that De Gaulle introduced in the colonial system, first in 1946 with the la loi cadre, then in 1958, with the referendum on the creation of the Franco-African Community, and finally in 1960, with token political independences, were meant to keep the colonial system in place. Since then, Gaullism has been the backbone of Franco-African relations nicely called “FrançAfrique.” In reality, the Ivorian presidential palace is controlled remotely by Paris. A host of French advisers are dispatched to attend to African presidents and make sure they stick to the master plan drawn up since De Gaulle. Yet, this master plan is essentially based on two main tenets: state violence and the corruption of the African elite

               From this angle, the period 2011-2016 under the Ouattara regime replicates the 1959-1970 era under the Houphouet regime. The characteristics of the two periods are: repression of all dissent through imprisonments and murders of opposition leaders. Twice, in 1959 and 1963, Houphouët suppressed all forms of opposition within his own party by jailing or assassinating all those who dared disagree with his rule. The purge was achieved with the help of his French advisors. The goal thereof was to stifle any voice that called into question the French colonial order. The use of violence was coupled with the tactics of assuaging the conscience of the weakest link among the Ivorian elite through a system of corruption established and nurtured under the supervision of French experts, the perpetrators. Thus “pacification” by violence was accompanied by “pacification” by bribing the Ivorian political and intellectual class. Ultimately, from 1959 to 1993, the Ivory Coast produced many generations of elites, who were corrupt and fed on the illusion of material welfare that Houphouetism offered them. The corrupt elite were recruited from all the sectors of the Ivorian society. None was spared to the point that the sectors, which, by nature, were considered beacons of morality were in fact deeply corrupt. Within the army, the uniforms camouflaged an institution, which became unethical at an early stage. The intellectuals, especially the academics followed suit.

               Against this gloomy background, a man has tried to bring changes. Laurent Gbagbo, this is the name of that man, initiated a policy of change at various levels to end Houphouetism that he has been fighting since the 1970s. The opinions that his struggle crystallized grew larger over time. But they were not homogeneous. While the hardcore partisans sought to break completely away from Houphouetism, they admitted in their ranks individuals with diverse motivations. As a result, Houphouetism has been present in the attitude of a very large portion of the Ivorian population, who was indoctrinated over for half a century. When the FPI got in power, all the companions of Laurent Gbagbo did not have the same motivations. Some dreamed that they would take over the corrupt elite in power and become the new financial elites, obviously by carrying the same corruption. Soon, the hardcore leaders, who founded the FPI on the basis of a common ideal, were reduced to a minority. Having come to power in difficult conditions, President Laurent Gbagbo implemented a politics of openness, which attracted some of the dregs of the Ivorian society corrupted by Houphouetism. Taking advantage of a decade-long war situation, they became important elements of the Gbagbo administration. Yet all corrupt elites are always versatile; they cannot stand difficulties and they are avid of luxury and filthy wealth. They are willing to do anything to maintain this fake lifestyle. They have neither honor nor dignity. They sing with the rooster to praise the beauty of the starting day, and at night, they whistle like owls to praise the darkness of their conscience. They do not fit in the day and they do not fit in the night. They fit in all at the same time.

               When they were seriously challenged, the Houphouetist dregs inside the Gbagbo administration regrouped, consolidated their bases, according to their nature, to pledge allegiance to the new master and keep up with the fate of dregs, which are nothing but the residue of a liquid and are undrinkable. These dregs include youths, the elderly, women, men, civilians, soldiers, in fact all the components of decades-long disorganized, unethical and corrupt society. Ouattara has understood this reality, and no one can blame him for leaning on these dregs to entrench his rule on the Ivory Coast. As the saying goes, there is a buyer because somebody is selling.

In 1990, when Ouattara arrived in Ivory Coast, after he was hired by the Françafrique network to prepare the next generation of Houphouetism, he discovered that the political spectrum was sufficiently favorable to his political ascension. He took advantage of a solid training from those who conceived, designed and shaped the Ivorian society according to their will and against the will of the Ivorian people. Soon, Ouattara, with the support of his commissioners, saw that he could thrive in the Ivory Coast through corruption. The Ivorian society lent itself to such corrupt endeavor. So Ouattara took advantage of his privileged position as Head of the Ivorian government at full gear at the time when the Head of State himself was dying. In the Houphouetist system, the clients selling their conscience are numerous. The key people, who compose the regime in power currently in Ivory Coast were recruited, during this period in the 1990s from among the armed forces, academic circles, senior civil servants. They were candidates to easiness. In the process, the stronger supporters of houphouetism pledged allegiance to Ouattara because of the money he could access due to his privileged position in the government. In short period of time, Ouattara was able to bribe to his side a great deal of the PDCI and of the Ivorian society. From this point of view, Ouattara is the mirror of our Ivorian society modelled on houphouetism. This is the reason why Ouattara does not bother changing his governance. He just replicates Houphouet’s governance. Ouattara is building an illusory economy based on huge loans as Houphouet did during his reign. We are in the realm of delusive politics enhanced by French propaganda aimed at making the pseudo Ivorian economic success the reflection of a successful French foreign policy. As it glamorized there was an Ivorian miracle in the 1970s, the same French propaganda, using the techniques of cosmetics, seeks to make people accept the idea that Ouattara has made the Ivorian economy a success story. Because they were influenced by Houphouetism, a significant portion of Ivorians fall easily for this propaganda. Yet, ineffectiveness uses beauty to create an illusion.

               At the political level, the violent repression that the FPI has undergone reflects Ouattara’s desires to pacify the Ivorian political society as Houphouet did in the past. The imprisonments and assassinations of opponents just remind us of Houphouetism. Those who cannot endure the political violence that they are challenged with, choose to collaborate with the oppressors or yield to bribery.

               Therefore, should we be stunned that some generals of our army, which is itself the image of houphouetism-fed Ivorian society, are ready to testify against the man, who was their Commander in chief? Why do we think it is unfair that opportunistic and aimless young Ivorians will testify against President Laurent Gbagbo, after they swore to remain faithful to him, just to enjoy lunch or dinner with him? This is really what houphouetism is all about. The issue is not an individual matter. It is a collective matter of the entire Ivorian society.

The Team of Translators


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