By Mamadou Koulibaly*
On January 25th, the Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara made a state visit to France. During this extraordinarily lavish and publicized visit, a new defense agreement was signed by the Ivorian President and his French counterpart, replacing that of 1961. What do we know about this agreement?
The media have relayed some statements about this signing and it is essentially the transparency of this new agreement that is put forward. It is said that it does not include any secret clause. Apparently, France will take responsibility for the training of the new Ivorian army and 300 French soldiers will permanently be based in Abidjan, to serve as a strategic point for the fight against Al-Qaida.
Notwithstanding these brief statements, one can only wonder about the real transparency of these agreements which content is delivered with such restraint. If they are so transparent, why weren’t these agreements published in full? How could Alassane Ouattara sign a treaty that commits the Ivorian people, without even informing them of its content? Same applies to the French President, knowing that French intervention in Côte d’Ivoire is financed by the French taxpayers.
To sweep aside these objections, the Ivorian President says he will submit the text to the Ivorian Parliament. However, one thing is obvious: the Ivorian authorities do not seem eager to see the newly elected National Assembly start with its activities. In any case, the treaty is already signed and it is too late to modify its content. This is indeed a text imposed on the Ivorians by their president.
From what we know, some points are already questionable. In fact, one wonders whether it is wise to entrust the training of the Ivorian army to the former colonial power, which is already very present in the country and its largest trading partner. From the little information made public, it appears that France will become Côte d’Ivoire’s main supplier of military equipments. Are these purchases, in contradiction with the rules of the market, in favor of the Ivorian taxpayer who will have to settle the final invoice? It is shocking to see this type of protected monopolies being added to the long list of privileges already awarded by the Ivorian President to his friends and acquaintances.
Going further, Alassane Ouattara made the following statement in the daily newspaper “Le Monde” on January 26, 2012: “It is important that we have a stronger cooperation in terms of equipments and training, but also in terms of intelligence and fight against terrorism”. Is Abidjan really a strategic point for the fight against terrorism? As we all know, Al-Qaida networks are mainly grouped in the Sahel; therefore, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso would obviously be far more suitable locations.
By experience, we know that the 1961 defense agreements were actually trade agreements, and this is what raises worries and concerns. The proof that the military aspect only represented a façade for the commercial side was made in 2002, when Cote d’Ivoire was the victim of an assault and France refused to apply the agreements. Indeed, had France been compliant with the signed agreement, it would have helped the Ivorian army to repel the rebels, instead of protecting them for nine years. Yet, the French authorities had engaged themselves since 1961 to militarily defend the Ivorian regimes in place, in return for a privileged access to their natural resources.
This preferential access to the natural resources reserved for France is relatively unknown and this may be considered a chance for Côte d’Ivoire, then if a Briton, an American, a Canadian, an Australian, a Chinese, an Indians, a Brasilian and any other were aware of these clauses, they would never invest in a country where the exploitation and trading of raw materials are controlled by the French authorities. To really measure this, it is important to read a portion of the Appendix 2 of this agreement:
Appendix 2 of the Defense Agreement between the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey, the French Republic and the Republic of Niger regarding the cooperation in the field of strategic raw material and products.
To ensure the protection of their mutual interest on the subject of Defense, the parties agree to cooperate in the area of Defense materials under the conditions defined below:
Article 1: Raw materials and products classified as strategic include:
– First category: liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons;
– Second category: uranium, thorium, lithium, beryllium, its compounds and minerals
This list may be modified by mutual agreement, depending on the circumstances.
Article 2: The French Republic regularly informs the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey and the Republic of Niger of the policy it intends to follow with regards to strategic raw materials and products, given the general Defense needs, the evolution of the resources and the world market situation.
Article 3: The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey and the Republic of Niger inform the French Republic of the policy they intend to follow, with respect to the raw materials and strategic products, as well as the measures they intend to deploy for the implementation of this policy.
Article 4: The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey and the Republic of Niger facilitate, to the benefit of the French military forces, the storage of raw materials and strategic products. Whenever the interest of the Defense requires, they restrict or prohibit their exports to other countries.
Article 5: The French Republic is kept informed of programs and projects to export raw materials and strategic products of the second category listed in Article 1 outside of the territories of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey and the Republic of Niger. With respect to such materials and products, the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey and the Republic of Niger, for purposes of defense, reserve a prior sale to the French Republic after meeting the needs of their domestic consumption, and purchase from her as a priority.
Article 6: The Governments shall, on any issues related to the appendix, make all necessary consultations.
Issued in Paris, on April 24, 1961
Félix HOUPHOUET-BOIGNY Hubert MAGA
Michel DEBRE Hamani DIORI
In this context, it is understandable that any new agreement requires a thorough analysis both from the Ivorians and the investors – other than the French – settled in the country or wishing to move there. Thus, we urge the Ivorian civil society and the foreign investors to put pressure on the authorities in order to get, as soon as possible, full knowledge of the content of this new agreement signed in Paris early 2012.
* Mamadou Koulibaly is a Former Speaker of the Ivory Coast Parliament and now serves as President of the opposition party LIDER – Liberté et Démocratie pour la République and President of Audace Institut Afrique