A coup, surreptitiously backed by US and French imperialism, took place in March this year in the Central African Republic, a former French colony over which French imperialism still has considerable sway. The coup overthrew the elected government of François Bozizé, and replaced him with a rebel leader, Michel Djotodia, who had been fighting government forces for several months at the head of an alliance of disparate opponents of the government going by the name of Séléka (‘alliance’ in the Sango language).
Following the entry of the rebel forces into the capital, Bangui, Séléka rebels formed a provisional government. Djotodia took for himself the defence ministry portfolio and was appointed the head of the government along with Nicolas Tiangaye, an international human-rights lawyer whom Bozizé had appointed prime minister prior to the coup in an attempt to appease his opponents. France rushed 500 troops to Bangui to protect the new government.
Although French imperialism supported Bozizé when he himself came to power by means of a coup in 2003 (though he has since won elections in 2005 and 2011), Bozizé himself turned out not to be quite the malleable puppet that his French backers had expected, as is revealed by diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks.
Several cables in 2009 complained of obstacles put by Bozizé’s government in the way of French corporation Areva’s attempts to secure uranium-mining rights (which were nevertheless ultimately successful). Another cable from the US ambassador was headed “Growing Chinese influence in the CAR evident” and warned that both US and French interests were losing ground to China, which was “ramping up its military cooperation, public diplomacy and development efforts”.
The cable noted that approximately 40 CAR military officers were being trained in China every year, whereas only two or three were being trained in the US and between 10 and 15 in France. Additionally, this cable made reference to the CAR’s “rich untapped natural resources” and warned: “With French investments moribund and French influence in general decline, the Chinese are likely positioning themselves as the CAR’s primary benefactor in exchange for access to the CAR’s ample deposits of uranium, gold, iron, diamonds, and possibly oil.”
The cable also stated that Bozizé was “welcoming this relationship as an alternative to more restrictive relations with the French and the West”, and warned that he would “increasingly embrace the Chinese as an alternative to the French and other western benefactors”. In fact, Bozizé openly declared in January 2011 his intention to “work to strengthen ties with China, and to promote oil exploration and development”.
On 27 December last year, Bozizé gave a speech in which he hinted that French opposition to his having issued oil exploration contracts to Chinese companies was the reason the French had changed sides and were supporting the rebels in their attempts to overthrow him. “Before giving oil to the Chinese I met with [oil company] Total in Paris and told them to take the oil,” he said. “Nothing happened. I gave oil to the Chinese and it became a problem.”
Imperialism turns against Bozizé
The terms upon which western imperialist companies demand the right to exploit the CAR’s resources of uranium, gold, diamonds and timber and to explore for oil tend to be considerably less favourable than those China is prepared to offer, which caused Bozizé to conclude various deals with China. At this point, western imperialism discovered that his rule had all along been ‘corrupt’, failing to mention that if that were so, the ‘corrupters’ were the western imperialist corporations – and in particular the French ones – who had been colluding with the government to loot the country’s natural resources.
France is 75 percent dependent on nuclear power, and therefore on uranium, for all its domestic energy needs, and has the full sympathy of Djotodia, who has said he will not be honouring the contracts with China.
However, it is well known that China, in return for the assets it acquires from African countries, invariably ensures that the countries it buys from obtain massive infrastructure improvements – improvements that are sorely needed in the CAR, which is extremely poor in the roads and means of transportation that China could have been expected to provide. How will Djotodia provide them if he tears up the CAR’s contracts with China? Will the French build them? Will the US? They certainly have not done so as yet, although over 50 years have passed since the CAR’s independence.
As far as US imperialism is concerned, it is a cornerstone of its policy in Africa to make up the ground it has lost to China in recent years – and to do so, as they say, by fair means or by foul (mostly foul). China’s substantial investments in Libya, for instance, were wiped out by the imperialist military intervention that overthrew of that country’s legitimate government.
Currently, China is Africa’s largest trading partner, with trade having nearly doubled over the last five years to nearly $200bn, twice that of the US. This is a trend that US imperialism cannot tolerate. It is determined to regain full control of its cash cow, and to that end is exponentially expanding its military presence in Africa – under the pretext of hunting down alleged perpetrators of human-rights abuses such as Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army – as well as setting up a drone base in Niger and backing French imperialist intervention in Mali.
Opposition to Djotodia
If Adam Nossiter of the New York Times is to be believed, the coup is not at all popular in Bangui. For a start, Djotodia is from the country’s muslim minority based in the north of the country, whereas Bangui is in the christian south, which fears the imposition of islamic law.
The rebels who took over Bangui were therefore greeted with a distinct lack of enthusiasm: “When Mr Djotodia’s high-speed motorcade barrelled down the calamitous roads to a military training centre 40 miles from the capital, the crowds that came to watch stood silent and stony-faced by the roadside. The Séléka leader waved and said, ‘Thank you, thank you’ through a car window, but there was no response.”
And further: “Residents simultaneously banged pots in their neighbourhoods for three nights in a row during a recent week, a ‘[em]concert des casseroles’[/em] meant to show the people’s displeasure.” The rebels who have now taken over the government sowed a trail of destruction, looting and murder in their advance on the capital, which it is claimed has only now slowed down because there is nothing left to steal. (See ‘Violent and chaotic, Central African Republic lurches toward a crisis’, 6 August 2013)
While ‘condemning’ what the US studiously avoids calling a coup (since it is constitutionally prohibited from giving succour to those who perpetrate coups), the imperialist powers that are benefiting from it have recognised the new Djotodia government in double-quick time, after ‘insisting’ that there should be ‘free and fair’ elections within a short timeframe. However, Djotodia has suspended the constitution and presumably a new one will have to be drawn up before elections can be held.
With the country riven by tribal and religious divides (studiously fostered by French imperialism), the task of establishing a national government by election seems impossible. All imperialism wants is a government committed to western imperialist interests with sufficient local influence to be able to safeguard its exploitation of the CAR’s rich natural resources with minimal intervention from the western imperialist military.
By having devastated the CAR’s economy over the decades, however, leaving it as one of the very poorest countries in the world, the imperialists have managed to kill the goose that was laying the golden eggs. And with China having assisted in blazing a trail of development and betterment of the lives of the masses of people all over Africa, it is very improbable that the people of the CAR or anywhere else will allow themselves to continue to be kept in the conditions of absolute poverty to which western imperialism has hitherto relegated them.
In the meantime, forces supportive of Bozizé (who has taken refuge in Cameroon) have begun an armed struggle aimed at his restoration, and Djotodia has dissolved the Séléka, distancing himself from some of the allies who helped him get into power. Since he has virtually no support base within the country it seems unlikely that he can last for long.