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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker
 

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game