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Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 13:44 GMT
France's watchful eye on Ivory Coast
Soldiers escorting Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo
Ivorian troops are fighting rebels alone - for now

Ever since independence in 1960, Ivory Coast has maintained strong ties with its former colonial power.

French investors, soldiers, and political advisers have traditionally played a key role in sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest economy - and the world's leading cocoa producer.

Ivory Coast Instability
1960 - independence
1990 - opposition parties legalised and Houphouet-Boigny wins multiparty elections
Houphouet-Boigny dies and is replaced by Konan Bedi
1995 - opposition parties boycott election
1999 - military coups puts Robert Guei in power
2000 - Uprising follows October elections and Gbagbo becomes president
2001 - attempted coup put down

When Ivory Coast was ripped apart by its first-ever coup in 1999, the French watched nervously as four decades of Paris-backed stability lay in ruins.

The current crisis is also deeply worrying for France - which had some 20,000 nationals in Ivory Coast when it began.

It has sent some 3,000 troops there to protect them, as well as to monitor a shaky ceasefire.

Intervention?

France has a military co-operation pact with Ivory Coast - dating back to 1962.

But French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has stressed that the reinforced French presence is unrelated to this agreement - under which France can intervene only in the event of an attack from abroad.

"It is envisaged, as with a number of African countries, that if states are attacked by other states, France can be called on to support the legitimate government's defence action," Mrs Alliot-Marie said. "That is not the case today."

There was a time when the French were less reluctant to intervene heavily in what they viewed as their African back-yard.

Between the early 1960s and the 1990s, French troops were despatched more than 20 times to protect friendly regimes from both internal and external threats.

But in the mid-1990s Paris governments became more cautious.

There were two reasons for this: France could no longer afford to support bankrupt economies single-handedly, and some of its African clients had become political embarrassments.

Benign neglect

The turning point was probably the 1994 genocide by France's proteges in Rwanda.

From the mid-1990s, aid recipients - including Ivory Coast - were made to embrace IMF-inspired economic reforms.

France reduced its military presence across the continent.

Paris, in short, moved slowly towards a policy of benign neglect with respect to French-speaking Africa.

But it retains stronger ties with Ivory Coast than with most other former colonies.

If the country descends into chaos, France is unlikely to stand by as thousands of its nationals are threatened.


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23 Dec 98 | French in Africa
21 Apr 98 | Analysis
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