Ivory Coast Table of Contents

Despite Houphouët-Boigny's efforts to consolidate power and build a strong military, several events in the early 1960s demonstrated the vulnerability of the new regime. In 1962 a group of young radical PDCI members, displeased with the regime's moderate policies, allegedly planned to capture Houphouët-Boigny and other party leaders. More than 125 people were arrested and secretly tried in the president's hometown of Yamoussoukro. Fortyfour of the alleged plotters were convicted. In 1963 the government announced the discovery of another plot, which allegedly involved a coalition of hostile groups, including left-wing youth, discontented politicians, and northerners who resented southern domination in the government. In April 1971, Houphouët-Boigny released the last of those who had been jailed following the 1963 trials and virtually admitted that the charges had been baseless.

Changes in Government and Party Structures

In 1965 Houphouët-Boigny reorganized his administration to accommodate the growing number of Ivoirians qualified to fill government positions. The four existing départements were redivided into six départements with twenty-four préfectures. A corresponding increase in the number of prefects (préfets) took place. By the end of 1972, there were 115 subprefectures. This rise in the number of administrative subdivisions facilitated easier public access to government offices that the new civil code, implemented in 1964, necessitated.

Houphouët-Boigny also purged the party of more than 200 party leaders in mid-1964. The group included five members of the Political Bureau and six members of the Executive Committee of the party's Youth Auxiliary, who had been implicated in alleged treasonous activities. In the ensuing overhaul of the party structure, party leaders modified the PDCI's organization to parallel the reorganized state bureaucracy; forty-five new party sections, corresponding to the number of new subprefectures in 1965, were added to the existing sections. Each was led by an elected secretary general. The number of party sections was increased again in 1970 to correspond to the increase in the number of subprefectures. The new sections were subdivided into village committees in rural areas and into ward and ethnic subcommittees in towns.

Sources of Popular Discontent

After independence, the production of export cash crops such as coffee and cocoa supported the development of nonagricultural economic growth, particularly in the Abidjan area. The commercial development of Abidjan and its growing status as the administrative center of the country consequently attracted even more French private investment and personnel. This concentration of economic and political activity in Abidjan led to population shifts toward the south and the creation of a modern capital, the life of which contrasted sharply with Côte d'Ivoire's up-country village life.

The country's increasing economic wealth, however, did not benefit all segments of the population. Rapid urbanization brought massive urban unemployment and rising conflict. Labeled by the government as the sans-travail, unemployed Ivoirians in Abidjan began to organize protest demonstrations in 1969 to pressure the government to achieve greater Ivoirianization of lowlevel jobs. On September 30, 1969, about 1,600 demonstrators were arrested in the capital, leading to resentment of both government and foreign workers among the sans-travail.

Another problem area existed between Ivoirian intellectuals and some elites on the one hand and white Europeans, mainly the French, who held numerous skilled jobs in the economy and civil service, on the other hand. The Ivoirian government was reluctant to undertake a large-scale Ivoirianization of the economy. It wanted to preserve Côte d'Ivoire's economic ties to France and to avoid staffing the administration with untrained bureaucrats. Consequently, many Ivoirians perceived Houphouët-Boigny as favoring Europeans over Ivoirians in employment.

Another rift resulted from the influx from other African countries of hundreds of thousands of unskilled workers, most of whom were Mossi from Upper Volta. The Ivoirian government encouraged the import of cheap foreign African laborers, who worked on the large coffee and cocoa plantations and in industry. Competition between Ivoirian and foreign workers exploded into violence in September and October 1969, when widespread attacks on Mossi workers occurred in Abidjan.

A fourth area of conflict resulted from the antagonism between students and the PDCI government. This antagonism manifested itself in recurrent protests by university students. Large numbers of Ivoirian students who had studied in France or were influenced by students from many other sub-Saharan African countries rejected the PDCI's ideological movement away from socialism that had begun in 1950. They rejected what they perceived as the regime's neocolonial policies vis-à-vis France. Many students also objected to the government's placement of the major student organization under the control of the PDCI.

A confrontation between the students and the government occurred in May 1969, when the student organization, the Movement of Ivoirian Primary and Secondary School Students (Mouvement des Etudiants et Elèves de Côte d'Ivoire--MEECI), presented a list of demands to the government for specific reforms at Abidjan University (present-day National University of Côte d'ivoire) and held a strike in which 150 students participated. The government arrested all Ivoirian student protesters in Abidjan, expelled all foreign students, and closed the university for two weeks, leading to further expressions of student discontent at the university. The government's crackdown aroused the sympathy of other discontented groups, including the sans-travail and secondary students in other towns. For its part, the government considered student activity as a threat to its authority and political stability, and it blamed the strike on outside communist influences.

Consolidation of Power in the 1960s and 1970s

After the 1963 alleged coup plot, Houphouët-Boigny took steps to ensure party and military loyalty. His success over the ensuing years lay in his carefully crafted system of checks and balances, using ethnic differences, political animosities, and co-optation to guarantee his own supremacy. To satisfy the the political elite, he resorted to state and party patronage, mostly in the form of highpaying jobs. To diffuse the potential for ethnic conflict resulting from perceived inequalities in the development process, he divided cabinet appointments among representatives of Côte d'Ivoire's major ethnic groups.

To fortify his hold over the armed forces, he assumed direct control of the police and military, the size of which he reduced from 5,300 to 3,500 members. He divided responsibility for internal security among seven groups--a 3,000-man militia linked to the party and composed almost exclusively of Baoulé (Houphouét-Boigny's ethnic group); a 3,000-man gendarmerie; the police; a special presidential guard; a small navy; a small air force; and the army. He also broadened his executive powers so that he alone could appoint and promote senior military officers. With the removal of political rivals following the 1962 and 1963 conspiracy trials, Houphouët-Boigny's was unchallengeable.

In the 1970s, as the Ivoirian polity became somewhat more sophisticated, Houphouët-Boigny of necessity refined his style. He began replacing aging and loyal party militants with younger intellectuals and highly trained technocrats for whom he often created positions in his government--and who therefore owed him fealty. After the 1970 party congress, Houphouët-Boigny also began naming younger members to the political bureau and as candidates to the National Assembly. He ingratiated himself with the middle and lower classes by speaking out frequently about the failures of government officials. His preferred method of addressing popular issues was through dialogues in which the public could air their grievances to their seemingly attentive leader. During the first dialogue in January 1974 with 2,000 party workers, Houphouët-Boigny invited criticisms and appointed various committees to study and recommend reforms. In March a second dialogue with foreign and local business leaders elicited resolutions and warnings to inefficient and corrupt cadres and to the Lebanese and French business communities. No reforms of substance occurred following either of these sessions, but by allowing public criticism albeit in a tightly controlled environment, the president remained informed about popular dissatisfaction. Subsequently he could take steps either to remedy or to suppress problems while maintaining his firm grip over Ivoirian politics.

Houphouët-Boigny also continued to invite traditional, or ethnic, leaders to participate in both party and government at the local level so that he could maintain constructive ties with the traditional elite. Nevertheless, he was not always able to extinguish all micronationalist sentiments. For example, the Agni of Sanwi claimed that their kingdom had become part of Côte d'Ivoire without their consent. In December 1969, the Sanwi king called for the kingdom to secede and led a separatist revolt. Government troops swiftly suppressed the rebellion. In November 1970, a Bété leader, Gnagbé Niabé (also known as Gnabé Opadjelé) proclaimed himself grand chancellor of Côte d'Ivoire. When Houphouët-Boigny refused to accept Gnabé's candidacy for president or grant his request for a cabinet post, Gnabé gathered a large group of supporters and marched on Gagnoa. Again, government troops captured the rebel leader, ending the small rebellion.

Houphouët-Boigny's ability to maintain stability lay in his belief in strong management and organization, which led him from independence to building an administration based on the solid, bureaucratic institutions left by the French. In fact, the large number of French bureaucrats and entrepreneurs remaining in Côte d'Ivoire supported Houphouët-Boigny's monopoly on political power and thereby contributed to the perceived effectiveness of the public and private sectors of the Ivoirian economy. In November 1975, he was reelected president, claiming nearly 100 percent of the vote.

In the early 1970s, notwithstanding political calm and rapid economic growth, underemployment and unemployment continued to pose problems in Côte d'Ivoire. Immigrants continued to flood the lowest end of the job market, while whites continued to dominate the top executive jobs. In addition, the uneven distribution of social services and jobs throughout the country exacerbated the regional economic disparities arising from the growing concentration of wealth in the south. And finally, the adverse effects of the 1973 Sahelian drought on northern farmers caused even greater dissatisfaction among the rural population.

Houphouët-Boigny relied on his charisma and the government's offers to dispel discontent. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he gained popular favor by alternating Ivoirian independence festivities between Abidjan and the different prefecture capitals. Prefecture capitals hosting the festivities underwent massive rehabilitation, which included jobs in construction for new governmental buildings, streets, and housing. And when neither charisma nor largess mollified his critics, Houphouët-Boigny skillfully blamed others. In July 1977, he reorganized his cabinet, dismissing four of the country's most influential political figures, who, although instrumental in the growth of the Ivoirian economy, were also accused of involvement in fraudulent schemes to enrich themselves. These figures became useful scapegoats for continuing fraud and maldistribution of the nation's wealth.

On two occasions in the early 1970s, Houphouët-Boigny traveled to the north to convince local populations that he was not to blame for the state of affairs and to dispense politically timely aid in the form of development programs. The enthusiasm generated by the president's northern visits spread to other regions seeking largess from a presidential visit. Eager to exploit this nationwide burst of personal support, the government scheduled presidential trips throughout the country over the next several years.

The military also showed signs of restlessness. An alleged coup conspiracy by a group of discontented young officers, in June 1973 followed by the 1974 military overthrow of Niger's Hamani Diori, Houphouët-Boigny's lifelong friend, undermined Houphouët-Boigny's confidence in the government's security and precipitated changes in the military. Although many Ivoirian political observers thought that the conspirators of the alleged coup had done nothing more than discuss among themselves the need for greater economic equality in Côte d'Ivoire, the government dealt with them harshly. Shortly thereafter, Houphouët-Boigny replaced two senior French military officers, who had allegedly fomented discontent among Ivoirian officers, with Ivoirians. Further changes, designed to instill military loyalty by giving the armed forces more scope in national affairs, took place in July 1974, when Houphouët-Boigny appointed military officers to both high- and low-level positions in the civil administration. And finally, in February 1979, Houphouët-Boigny appointed eight army officers as prefects and subprefects to give the military a greater stake in maintaining the status quo.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress