John Lichfield: A success for France's army, but a failure of its diplomacy

The Ggabgo loyalists will claim that their man is a victim of French post-colonial ambition

Share
Related Topics

Was the "arresting officer" French or Ivorian? Supporters of the veteran leader Laurent Ggabgo were keen yesterday to propagate the legend that their hero was forced to relinquish his grip on office by French special forces. Paris was equally determined to rubbish this claim and insist that no French soldier entered the presidential residence.

The argument is important – but also beside the point. It is important because Mr Gbabgo's supporters will try to keep his myth – and the Ivorian civil war – alive by saying that he was toppled by the wicked ex-colonial power.

It is beside the point because, whether or not a French boot entered the grounds of the presidential palace, it is clear that it was the French military which finally swayed the battle for Abidjan in favour of the forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara.

In the end, the French may have felt that they had little choice. A UN resolution gave the 1,600-strong French peacekeeping force – the Force Licorne – the right to intervene to prevent civilian casualties. This right has been interpreted more and more broadly in the last week until, finally, French helicopters and artillery began to pound the forces defending Mr Gbagbo's bunker.

France can – and will – argue that the best way to save civilians in Abidjan from further harm was to take out Mr Gbabgo. But Paris had hoped, in truth, not to have been so overtly involved in the defeat of the ex-president.

If this was a success for the French military, it was a failure for French diplomacy and geo-strategy. In theory, France was "neutral" in last November's election and supported Mr Ouattara's claim – as did the African Union and the UN – only because independent observers declared him the narrow winner.

In reality, France has favoured Mr Ouattara from the beginning. The new Ivorian president is an old friend of Nicolas Sarkozy. The French President, when he was mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, officiated at Mr Ouattara's wedding. Paris lost patience with Mr Gbagbo years ago.

All the more reason, therefore, for Paris to have preferred a "clean" defeat for the Gbagbo forces with fewer French fingerprints on Mr Ouattara's victory. The manner of his ousting, whether or not French special forces were present at the ex-president's arrest, will further complicate hopes of rebuilding a fractured country.

The Ggabgo loyalists will claim that their man is a victim of French post-colonial ambition. The fact that Mr Ouattara needed French military assistance may also weaken his position within his own divided camp.

President Nicolas Sarkozy came to power four years ago saying that it was time for France to adopt a new, more open and healthier approach to "Françafrique" – the name given to its former colonies in Africa. Events in Ivory Coast suggest that bad old habits, and ambiguities, die hard.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Sussex teenager killed fighting in Syria

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Actor Zac Efron  

Keep your shirt on Zac – we'd all be better for it

Howard Jacobson
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit