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Ivory Coast: The Fall Of A Political Titan 

By Peterkins Manyong

“The Clash of the Titans”. Most movie watchers know this film. The main character is called Perseus. He is the son of Zeus, Chief of the Greek gods. Zeus’ fathers him through a beautiful girl called Diana. Thanks to his determination and the encouragement of his father, Perseus embarks on a mission to win the hand of the equally charming young princess, Andromeda.

In the movie, Perseus performs extraordinary feats, including the taming of the flying horse, Pegasus, the cutting off of the head of the dreaded Medusa whose looks turns everyone facing her into stone. He triumphs over his step-brother, Calibus, fathered through Thetis, goddess of the sea.

Finally he triumphs over the flesh-eating monster called the Kraken, before winning the hand of Andromeda. “The clash of the Titans” is real movie magic, as the blurb of the film states. What is fascinating about the film is not just the sophisticated technology, but also the fact that the gods only provide arms and encourage those going to war. They don’t descend to fight for them.

That is the role which the UN (comprising the gods of this world) professed when they first intervened in Ivory Coast. But the whole thing has degenerated into an unedifying spectacle where, unlike what happens in the movie, with the French, especially, abandoning their role as referees and condescending to become players by fighting for Alassane Ouattara. No human being ever won a war against the gods. Or as Shakespeare’s Earl of Gloucester puts it, “Like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.”

Laurent Gbagbo, a History professor, certainly knew he could not win. But he seems to have wanted to remind fellow Africans what they knew, but seemed determined to forget that no ex-French colony has won independence yet and may never do so.

The whole thing lies in French foreign policy from colonial times. Unlike the English who knew from their experience with India and the thirteen North American colonies that make up the present US, that African colonies must one day go away, the French viewed their spheres of influence in Africa as an extension of France overseas (France Outre Mere).

That is why Abidjan, for instance, was constructed following the plan of Paris. Where a popular uprising obliged them to pack bag and baggage and quit, the French carried out such mean acts like digging railways and damaging infrastructure they had put up, for instance, in Guinea Conakry.

The Guineans led by Sekou Toure, their pioneer President, preferred freedom in poverty to riches in slavery. Ivory Coast is one other country where the French invested immensely. Late Houphouet Boigny played politics the way the French wanted it. He did as much for fellow Ivorians what the puppet does on a string: allowed Paris to dictate policies to him.

The next President was expected to do same. They were, therefore, prepared for everything except a Laurent Gbagbo who would question what the French were still doing in Ivory Coast more than forty years after independence. Among other deviances, Gbagbo introduced nationalism as an item for discussion in the Ivorian Parliament.

With a satirical question “Ils font quoi ici” (What are they doing here?) he ordered the removal of structures depicting Charles de Gaulle and other colonialists from strategic positions in Ivory Coast. He did to the French in practical terms what Longue Longue did in music and got for himself ten years in a French jail. At the height of confrontation with the French, 9 French soldiers succumbed to Ivorian bullets.

The French retaliated by bombing the Ivorian air force. The rest of it is familiar history. Gbagbo was later to deal the French a real psychological war. While President Biya and others rushed to France for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of their country’s independence, Gbagbo remained in Ivory Coast. Nicholas Sarkozy surely did not take that kindly.

Has Gbagbo Succeeded Or Failed?

At the time of writing this analysis, Gbagbo had called for a ceasefire after the bombing of the Presidential palace, reportedly by a French man fighting for Ouattara’s forces. What Ares, the god of war, did by interfering in the Trojan War and got wounded by the Greek hero, Diomedes, the French pilot did it in Ivory Coast and got away with it.

Obviously, because unlike Ares whose father Zeus chided him for his buffoonery, Sarkozy’s conscience has since taken leave of him. The era of Gbagbo’s heroism in war may be over just like in the case of the proverbial John Brown whose body lies a-smouldering in the grave. But the ideological war, like John Brown’s soul, goes marching on.

Gbagbo may have lost the war, but he has certainly not lost the argument. And he had to wait till the end, till that painful moment in order to provide ocular proof that the French are still the puppet masters in Ivory Coast.

W.B. Yeats says history is repetitive, often failing to make sense. The train of Ivory Coast’s liberation has been derailed. By their open display of imperialistic ruthlessness, the French have sent a stern warning to their other puppets at the helm of their other estates – Cameroon, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville et al: that nobody singes their beards and goes happily away to tell the story.

Gbagbo fought on like a bear tied to the stake. In the days of chivalry he would have met Ouattara in the final battle the way Macbeth meets Macduff after Birnam’s Wood had moved to Dunsinane Hill. But, who doubts it? Gbagbo would have cut off Ouattara’s head. Fortunately for Ouattara, the long arm of technology has saved him the embarrassment. Gbagbo had to be fought only with guns and air strikes.

As Ouattara moves ahead to take his place at the Ivoirian Presidential Palace, let him bear in mind this often quoted adage; “He who conquers by force has subdued his opponent only by half.” He will live for the next five years with memories of the fact that he had to wade through slaughter to the Ivorian throne.

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