vrijdag, januari 03, 2003

Ivory Coast 101, It's the Chocolate, Stupid

Once again, in the interminable struggle to eclipse the amaranthine clucking over the looming war with Iraq, a phenomenom that John McLaughlin facetiously termed "Iraq Around The Clock" on his show last week, Desultory Turgescence turns its attention away from the tiresome and evermore threadbare repetitions of Iraq and everyday news to bring you an update on big tumults in other parts of the world currently overshadowed by this single-minded approach to world news. Today, welcome to the infamous Cote D'Ivoire.

Admittedly, the last I recall hearing about this former oasis of political stability and economic prosperity was in 2000, when, after fourteen presidential hopefuls were banned by the Ivory Coast's Supreme Court from running for president, the Clinton Administration's Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice derided the decision as "a transparent effort to eliminate the competition and manipulate the outcome of the election," and "a very dangerous and ill-conceived course." And the only reason I even recall this is because shortly thereafter, the United States held its own Ivory Coast-style presidential elections wherein its own Supreme Court made an equally ill-advised decision, abrogating, in essence, the 2000 US Presidential Election results for the much simpler Orwelian-style leadership of the current administration.

So, what's happening in the Ivory Coast these days? Well, despite a life expectancy of about only 43 years, a GNP that ranked 15th in all of Africa at about $700 and almost 11% of the population living with AIDS/HIV, the Ivory Coast is a surprisingly popular place. Millions of migrants from nearby countries, including traditional wonderlands of extreme wretchedness and squalor like Burkina Faso and Mali come there ostensibly because the Ivory Coast makes alot of money in chocolate.

As is usually the case, the migrants wore out their welcome. Ironically enough, these migrants are predominantly Muslims and in fact, the northern part of Ivory Coast is largely Muslim, while the south is mostly Christian. No sportsfans, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the math from there.

As a result, things following the naturally downward spiral course they usually follow in the third world, on September 19th of this year there was an attempted coup, the third in three years for the Ivory Coast. Since then things there have gotten, yes, you guessed it, worse. 750 troops tried to seize barracks and installations in the picturesque Abidjan as well as the fashionable Bouake and the budding metropolis of Korhogo but were overpowered in the commercial capital, only succeeding in establishing themselves in the other two areas.

As it stands now, the north-south, Muslim-Christian nature of the dispute in the Ivory Coast is very similar to Nigeria, home of the flagitious Muslim fanatic fringe that made world news in November when the Miss World contest had to be moved to London in the face of rioting caused by them freaking out over an article in one of the local newspapers. The application of Islamic law in these countries (and most others in the Middle East) being what it is, its no mystery to me which side I'm rooting for.

That's right, the Christians!

But before I jump on the bandwagon, I have to admit I'm a little worried because the benefactors of the good guys in the Ivory Coast are none other than the French, the same French that brought us great jokes like:

What did the Mayor of Paris say to the German Army as they entered during WWII?
"Table for One Hundred Thousand?"


Why don't they have fireworks at Euro Disney?
Because every time they shoot them off, the French try to surrender.

So, you're the good guys in the Ivory Coast and you've got the French pouring into your country to help you. Not a good start. Hundreds of French troops landed in the Ivory Coast ordered to protect some 20,000 French citizens then beefed up their involvement since the two splinter rebel groups using foreign fighters seized key towns near the western border with Liberia. The French troops have had several battles already with the rebel groups and one of the new groups, the Ivorian Popular Movement of the Far West (MPIGO), has clashed with French troops three times and a rebel commander Felix Doh said he wouldn't rule out more confrontations with French. In fact, perhaps summing up the general world-wide disdain most have for the French, he added: "If France wants a war, France will get a war."

Doh however, seems to have learned far too quickly from the French. Just a little more than a week later he told The Associated Press by telephone: "I would like to present my apologies to the French forces," . He said he had no information about vehicles being destroyed and did not say what led to the clash.

As to the question of where are we now, the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has now arrived in the Ivory Coast to whine and plead for everyone to just get along.

After all, in a more serious matter, this fighting disrupts exports of cocoa from the Ivory Coast which is the top global producer which then drives the cost up. Cocoa, as you know, is what chocolate is made from so while the goings on of the Ivory Coast and the chicanery of the French troops may not seem as interesting as bombing Iraq, just remember that if things get too far out of control, you might be watching the bombing of Baghdad with an empty box of chocolates or at best, a much more expensive box of chocolates.

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