The French have a history of imperial grandeur that, although it was occasionally punctured by the English and the Germans, made them feel great, particularly when ruling non-Europeans in IndoChina, Algeria, Madagascar, and large chunks of West Africa.
The end of colonialism removed the “grandeur” and subsequently France uncomfortably appeared to be playing second fiddle to the Anglo-Americans.
French leader Nicolas Sarkozy needed out and, having found a formula, France leads the West in imperial resurgence.
France is a good imperial manipulator, surpassed only by England, and had engaged other Euro-powers in imperial competition for territories in Africa.
Through dubious excuses, each had extended territorial claims to the African continent.
They enjoyed being territorial colonial powers until the 1950s when they had to leave.
Once territorial colonialism became irrelevant, Euro-powers evolved long term strategies on how to fix the Africans.
This is what Kwame Nkrumah popularised as neo-colonialism which he thought was more advanced and sinister than territorial imperialism.
He had, notes Crawford Young, “offered a wager” to Ivory Coast’s Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1957 on the kind of relations that African countries should have with their former colonisers.
This was on whether to resist, Nkrumah, or to accept, Houphouet-Boigny, neo-colonial trappings.
The two Africans were to compare notes after ten years, in 1967, but no one collected the wager because Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966, before the time.
Ivory Coast and Ghana exemplify the dilemma that post-colonial African states faced in rejecting neo-colonialism or later trying to ditch it.
Neo-colonialism occurred in one of two ways. First are those countries whose “nationalist” leaders willingly accepted neo-colonialism because, among other reasons, of a belief that it was in the interests of the country.
Among the former French colonies, Ivory Coast became a model of a successful neo-colonial state while among the former English colonies Kenya willingly played that role.
The second way was one of being forced into the neo-colonial status by intervening to remove “leaders” who could not understand their subservient role in the international arena and to impose new “presidents” who understood. It happened in Congo, Ghana, and now Ivory Coast.
Ivory Coast also represents the dilemma faced by a willing neo-colonial state deciding to stop being “willing.”
As soon as it shows signs of adjusting the nature of “civilised relations,” it quickly finds out that it is not free to do so as imperial forces “shock” it back into compliance.
In the post-Boigny period, Ivory Coast tried to free itself from the clutches of French control and the man reportedly responsible was a historian named Laurent Gbagbo.
Not willing to let go, France acted quickly to stop Gbagbo thinking like Nkrumah and eventually succeeded in re-conquering its former colony.
Gbagbo failed to anticipate imperial craftiness. He should have studied the fate of Patrice Lumumba and Nkrumah and what is happening to Robert Mugabe.
Although he survived confrontations in 2003/2004, France had big guns and maps of where the bunkers were because it had built them.
More important, the French controlled the global propaganda machine that in 2011 cheered them on.
The re-conquest of Ivory Coast shows the resurgence of France as the leader of imperialism, not playing second fiddle to others.