Who’s Watching the Ivory Coast — and Why?

Are democracy and human rights the only U.S. motives for CIV’s stability?

At last Friday’s CSIS discussion (co-sponsored by the OSI and NDI folks), President-elect of Cote d’Ivoire Alassane Ouattara was patched in via telecoference from his U.N.-protected bunker at the Abidjan Golf Hotel, addressing a U.S. audience for the first time since his disputed election.

Roughly 100 people attended, while organizers said that around 250 others were watching the webcast live on-line. CSIS Africa director Jennifer Cooke, who was moderating, marveled at that “big audience.” Given that it seemed to be a hastily-prepared discussion (the media alert was released only a day prior, and a misguided reporter even asked P.J. Crowley to confirm whether Ouattara was going to be meeting with State Department officials at the end of the week, which assumed that he was going to physically be in Washington), a few hundred people frankly isn’t that big of an audience — especially globally. But for a country roughly the size of New Mexico, and given the myriad of other crises taking place around the world, it is no doubt getting considerable attention.

To open the panel discussion after Ouattara hung up, OSI’s Akwe Amosu asked: “How often have we ever seen ECOWAS, the African Union, the U.S., the E.U., the U.N., international NGOs, civil society all agree about a situation — anywhere, but certainly not in Africa? It’s extraordinarily rare.”

U.N. leadership, typically cautious, has taken an uncharacteristically strong stance, planting its feet firmly on the side of Western-bred Ouattara, directing its 9,000-odd (now 11,000),  7 billion dollar UNOCI force to protect him at the Golf. Observers see this as but part of Ban’s re-election campaign — a move to appease the P-5, who hold his second term in their veto-wielding hands. The Western 3, to whom Ban panders unabashedly, back Ouattara without question, while China and Russia are more hesitant.

All this attention seemingly because what happens in Cote d’Ivoire, analysts say, is a test for Africa — a continent that will witness 17 elections this year alone. The CSIS panelists argued that if democracy can be ushered in (as peacefully as possible) on the Ivory Coast, it can be ushered in anywhere. Well, not exactly. But the fate of CIV is certainly a key concern for regional stability, with 25,000 refugees already displaced, around 600 people crossing the border to Liberia every day, nearly 300 killed so far and a third mass grave allegedly found, according to the latest U.N. figures.

So, of course regional bodies, Western powers and civil society are concerned. Supposedly, State Department official Jason A. Small told the CSIS audience, President Obama asks about Cote d’Ivoire every day. But also paying attention is a host of corporate speculators with direct stakes in the country’s future.

Woody Allan famously said that 90% of life is showing up. On Oct. 31, 2010, 80% of Cote d’Ivoire showed up to the polls. 54% of them voted for President-elect Ouattara. 46% didn’t. And when Laurent Gbabgo stubbornly proclaimed himself the victor last month, Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh of the NDI told us, only two ambassadors showed up to his swearing-in ceremony: those from Angola and Lebanon. “Very telling,”  he quipped — the audience chuckled.

Who bothered to show up to the CSIS event? 153 people RSVP’d. There were, of course, representatives from think tanks, NGOs, universities, IFIs and members of the press, as well as officials from the State Department, USAID and the DOD (4 from Defense, actually) and other interested embassies (including Japan, which funds a UNIDO program in CIV, and two people from the E.U. delegation). But nearly 20% of the RSVP list, from what I can tell, were representatives of, or lobbyists for, corporations — mostly oil, finance and defense firms — who hold significant sway in Washington. Are democracy and human rights the only U.S. motives for CIV’s stability? Here’s a glance at that inventory of private stakeholders:

  • Chevron — An international consulting firm’s memo from last summer about the Ivorian oil industry calls the country an “important regional refiner with ambitious plans to play a more central role in West Africa’s petroleum product market. The Gbabgo administration’s goal is to more than double production to 200,000 barrels per day within the next few years, and to bring a second refinery on line.”
  • GoodWorks International, LLC — They have an office in Abidjan, Chevron is one of their clients and it’s co-headed by this guy… Wow, they pulled the MLK, Jr. card. Here’s a less acerbic (you won’t find the words “corporate whore” in this article), but just as critical NYT piece on Andy Young.
  • KRL International, LLC — One of their clients is Kosmos Energy, a firm with direct interests and investments in the the oil-rich waters lapping the Ivory Coast. Another client is private security contractor Military Professional Resources, Inc., accused king of the mercenary peddlers and a subsidiary of L-3, one of the U.S.’s most favored defense contractors. A Leslie Wayne-penned NYT article from Oct. 2002 scrutinized the likes of MPRI, who has admitted that its trainees carried out ethnic cleansing in Croatia and whose CEO famously claimed to have “more generals per square foot than the Pentagon.” They say they’re in over 40 countries — and if they’re not already in CIV (most contracts aren’t publicly disclosed), they’re in the area. “In Africa, MPRI has conducted training programs on security issues for about 120 African leaders and more than 5,500 African troops,” Wayne wrote — and that was nearly a decade ago.

While we’re on the topic, according to Ouattara, there are 3,000 mercenaries in the country at the moment.

  • The Ballard Group, LLC — Deloitte, a client, has an office in Abidjan which serves the immediate region and is its main hub for UEMOA (Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa) dealings.
  • Jefferson Waterman International — By looking at its (partial) client list, which includes oil companies, defense contractors (like DynCorp, another beneficiary of the military-industrial complex) and entire governments, JWI could be interested in the fate of CIV for a number of reasons.
  • Covington and Burling, LLP — Halliburton and Xe (formerly Blackwater) are clients. Enough said?

Other notables:

  • IJET Intelligent Risk Systems
  • Choharis Global Solutions
  • Manchester Trade, Ltd.
  • PRM Consulting

In Fomunyoh’s words, “Very telling.”

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Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.

One Comment

  1. Plus ca change . . . We’ve seen this story a hundred times in sub-Saharan Africa. Even if the UN and the “world community” somehow help to “bring democracy” to this country, does anyone think it’ll be there to stay? Africa is a hopeless place.

    I happen to know more than I should about this business because my 12-year-old has become obsessed with England and English culture; as a result we watch BBC World News every evening on PBS. Ivory Coast gets major play there night after night. Maybe it does on the networks and cable too; I haven’t noticed. But as with Tunisia (but even more so) it’s a story that almost no one in America cares about. The fate of the Ivory Coast (which will doubtless, uh, fluctuate as the years roll on) is of concern to some urban intellectuals in the U.S.-Western Europe, but Western publics generally are smart enough to know not to waste any worry over it.

    I don’t want to sound naive about “corporate whores” — we all know the oil companies were involved in Iran ’53, and United Fruit in Guatemala, ’54, for example — but what’s the evidence that the companies doing business in I.C. are supporting the bad guys? And is it somehow wrong for the U.S. to place commercial interests on the table alongside democracy and human rights? Commerce is not a crime, it’s a necessity. Intellectuals would be very hungry and cold if the corporate whores weren’t supplying the food and energy that even the most rarified among us require.

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