8 August 2000

Cote d'Ivoire: >From Houphouet-Boigny to Robert Guei

opinion

ABIDJAN, Cote d'Ivoire — Cote d'Ivoire is a unique country in sub-Saharan Africa in more ways than one.

Its first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, was able to lead its 15 million inhabitants - including five million foreigners - and a mosaic of 60 ethnic groups peacefully for a long time.

He maintained national unity from independence on 1 August 1960 until his death in 1993. During his reign, the country was spared of coups and upheavals that had become a commonplace in many African countries.

Stability and peace impacted positively on an economy based on coffee and cocoa, the country's main exports.

Houphouet-Boigny worked with Philipe-Gregoire Yace, who was speaker of the national assembly (1960-1980), and Alphonse Boni, who was president of the Supreme Court in the same period. Mathieu Ekra, Gabriel Dadie and Germain Coffi Gadeau were also his lieutenants during his rule.

The physician and farmer was propelled to power under the banner of the African Democratic Rally (RDA).

Ivorian women also played a big part in the struggle for independence, taking part in a march on the colonial prison in Grand Bassam (40 km east of Abidjan) and the country's first capital, to protest the arrest of the leaders of the Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI), the Ivorian chapter of the RDA.

Two of the women who featured prominently in the country's colonial struggle are Anne-Marie Raggi and Marie Kore.

Although he did not designate a successor while he was alive, Houphouet-Boigny groomed Henri Konan Bedie, his economy and finance minister, for the post.

This probably explained why at the PDCI congress in 1980, the elder statesman tactfully allowed Bedie to replace Gregoire Yace as speaker of the national assembly.

By occupying this post, Bedie naturally became the next in succession to the president, in keeping with Article 11 of the Ivorian constitution. Thus from 1980 to 1990, Bedie served in this capacity.

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany in 1989, Houphouet-Boigny was obliged to open the country to multiparty politics.

Among the opposition groups to emerge was Laurent Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front.

In the face of economic difficulties and 30 years of power, the Old Man, as he was fondly called, for the first time appointed a Prime Minister in the name of Alassane Dramane Ouattara, popularly called ADO.

On 7 December 1993, the Old Man died. The problem of his succession resurfaced but thanks to Article 11, Bedie was able to assume power immediately and surrounded himself with a new generation of politicians.

He appointed Daniel Kablan Duncan, who was Ouattara's deputy, as head of government.

Duncan selected young technocrats, most of whom came from the Bretton Woods institutions and from within the PDCI ranks.

However, the Bedie team, with a strong PDCI component, found it hard to do away with the old single party mentality and its corollary of corruption, nepotism and bad governance that went with it.

By 1995, Bedie was finding it difficult to run the country after elections effectively boycotted by the opposition.

This situation created rifts within the PDCI whose most frustrated members rallied behind Ouattara and his Republican's Rally (RDR).

Worse, Bedie started his first term of office by alienating the army when he forced the army chief of staff, Gen. Robert Guei, to retire prematurely.

The latter took his revenge on 24 December 1999, when he cashed in on an army mutiny to seize power and become the country's third head of state.

Guei is surrounded by comrades-in-arms who are nonetheless well versed in Houphouet-Boigny's ideals, after having treaded the corridors of power.

The most visible among them is Gen. Abdolaye Coulibaly, who was the Old Man's former pilot and Lansana Palenfo, his former security minister.

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