Jonathan And His Nigerian ‘Houphouetistes’ (2)

Opinion

The Ivorian overseer awarded a first contract of over 300 million euros to French company, Bouygues, for the construction of Abidjan’s third bridge. The contract is of significant symbolic import because one of the immediate sparks of the September 2002 coup d’etat that metamorphosed into a civil war was the award of the construction of this third bridge in Abidjan, to a Chinese firm by the Gbagbo administration. This was because the French tender for the bridge was 300 per cent of the quotation submitted by the Chinese for the construction of the same bridge.

In the sixth month of President Ouattara in office, French companies, Bouygues and Bollore, have seized the reins of Ivorian business with contract awards from the Ouattara administration to the tune of over 1,500 million euros or over $2 billion! Yes, contract worth over $2 billion awarded to French companies in six months. This does not include the award of a 30 million euro contract for the refurbishment of a private 18th century mansion owned by Felix Houphouet Boigny in the 7th Left Bank Arrondisement of Paris. This contract also went to Bouygues. Over $2 billion worth of contract were obviously awarded without international tender or safeguards, including a complete lack of due process and transparency.

Africa Intelligence notes that it is Ouattara’s Cote d’Ivoire’s definition of its uniquely exception francaise. It provides details of current and impending transactions of the French with Ouattara.

With diversification being sought by the rest of Africa to expand its global economic relationships, Ouattara’s Cote d’Ivoire is sliding back to the hegemonic clutches of France, whose interests now absolutely hold sway in Francophone West Africa’s economic powerhouse.

The totalitarian control of this critical economic space in West Africa is undiminished even with the arrival of Chinese and Indian investors during Gbagbo’s era. The Indians and Chinese are ultimately marked to be rolled back to oblivion. Led by Bouygues and Bollore, the flagships of France’s economic domination of Cote d’Ivoire, other French companies are eager to join in the loot. Meanwhile, Total has resumed exploration for crude oil along the border with Ghana. Bouygues, which is building Abidjan’s third bridge, is negotiating a contract to extend the Ciprel power plant. And in partnership with Bouygues, Vinci will build a new airport in San Pedro. This contract had originally been awarded to a South African company by the Laurent Gbagbo administration. These public works in Cote d’Ivoire are designed to keep French production lines running and provide employment for the French in homeland France.

The French also now dominate the service sector. In banking, the omnipresent French BNP and Societe Generale subsidiaries, BICICI and SGBCI, would team up with Banque Populaire Caisse d’Epargne (BPCE), which is poised to close its acquisition of Banque Atlantique Cote d’Ivoire (BACI).

Against this background and six months into the Ouattara experience, one cannot but ask President Goodluck Jonathan, Foreign Minister Gbenga Ashiru, Victor Gbeho, the President of ECOWAS Commission and their Houphouetiste policy wonks a few questions. Where are the hallmarks of the Ouattara democratic governance in Cote d’Ivoire, including transparency and accountability in this institutionalised daylight robbery of Ivorian resources? How do these fit into the strengthening of ECOWAS across colonially inspired barriers created by France in West Africa? How would/has our policy in Cote d’Ivoire help(ed) Nigeria and West Africa to cope with the challenges of the global crisis? Can Nigerians be informed what is in there for Nigeria, the sub-region and Africa in Ouattara’s Cote d’Ivoire? For whatever it was worth, President Laurent Gbagbo sought to integrate this regional economic power house, Cote d’Ivoire, in the ECOWAS Project. He granted licences to Nigerian telecommunication outfits to operate in that country and was determined to join the West African gas line project, but Nigeria helped to scuttle this vision. And now, Houphouetism is back in Cote d’Ivoire and France is back in its old business in West Africa.

For discerning students of Nigeria’s foreign and security policy, Houphouetism is a vision and concept not associated with West African integration and the advancement of African solidarity. Where is the rational calculus in Nigeria’s policy making? Let us discuss the implications of Nigeria’s policy in Cote d’Ivoire and how it has advanced or impeded our interests. It is called accountability.

•Osuolale Alalade wrote this article for TheNEWS magazine.