Ivory Coast Table of Contents

World War II had a profound effect on the future of all French West Africa. The fall of France and the establishment of the German-allied Vichy government in France forced the French colonies to declare loyalty either to the Vichy regime or to the Free French under General Charles de Gaulle. Although all the AOF governors remained loyal to the Vichy government, Ivoirians largely favored the Free French.

The Vichy government, espousing Nazi racial theories, subjected French West Africa to economic exploitation and overt racism. French planters intensified their labor recruitment practices and military conscription. Farmers were forced to meet production quotas to supply the armed forces at the expense of the local residents, whose standard of living had already been greatly lowered by the cutoff of imports from Europe.

The onset of World War II and the rapid surrender of France, the self-described purveyor of a so-called higher civilization, sharply revised political thinking in Côte d'Ivoire. Ivoirians resented Vichy policies and began to express feelings of Ivoirian nationalism. Ivoirian intellectuals were attracted by some of the Marxist ideas introduced by anti-Nazi movements and by some French teachers and labor organizers. In 1943 branches of an organization known as Communist Study Groups were established in the principal cities of West Africa, including Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire. Many African intellectuals in these groups later became prominent as postwar national leaders.

Brazzaville Conference

After the defeat of France and the alignment of many West Africans with the Free French, the political maturity of the indigenous populations developed. De Gaulle recognized the need to revise the relationship between France and its colonies in Africa. In January 1944, Free French politicians and high-ranking colonial officials from the French African colonies met in Brazzaville (in present-day Congo). The Brazzaville Conference, as it came to be known, recommended political, social, and economic reforms. It accepted the representation of the colonies in the French Constituent Assembly, which was to draw up a new French constitution after the war, and the subsequent representation of the colonies in whatever parliamentary body the constitution established. The conference also recommended that the colonies be administered with greater autonomy and that both French citizens and Africans be permitted to elect a legislative assembly. In addition, the conference committed the French government to respect local customs, abolish the indigénat, adopt a new penal code, end labor conscription, improve health and educational facilities, and open positions in the colonial administration to Africans.

The only immediate effect of the conference was the passage of a law in August 1944 granting workers in the AOF the right to organize. In October 1945, after the defeat of Germany and the end of the war, the first countrywide elections were held in Côte d'Ivoire to choose two delegates for the French Constituent Assembly, which was to meet in Paris before the end of the year. French citizens residing in Côte d'Ivoire elected one delegate, and a restricted African electorate chose Félix Houphouët-Boigny as the other delegate. Houphouët-Boigny, a wealthy African planter and French-educated physician, was the cofounder of the African Agricultural Union (Syndicat Agricole Africain--SAA), which was formed in 1944 to fight for the abolition of forced labor and the rights of African planters. Much of Houphouët-Boigny's support came from the SAA, whose members included some 20,000 African planters as well as laborers, civil servants, traders, and other Africans engaged in the money economy. In spite of his popularity, however, Houphouët-Boigny won by only a narrow margin.

Two factors explain the closeness of the vote. First, the French colonial administration disapproved of the SAA and consequently supported the candidacy of a Mossi, costing HouphouëtBoigny the votes of the majority of Mossi, who constituted one of the largest ethnic groups in Upper Volta. And second, HouphouëtBoigny , a Baoulé, faced rival candidates from the Bété and Agni ethnic groups. Houphouët-Boigny's support came from most of the rural voters in the south and the forest area, but he would not have won the election without the support of most of the voters in the Bobo Dioulasso region in Upper Volta (a part of Côte d'Ivoire's annexed territory).

When the French Constituent Assembly met in Paris, 63 of the 600 delegates represented the African colonies. The African delegates, all members of the educated elite, demanded liberal reforms in the colonial system, for which they received support from French socialist and communist delegates. In the end, the assembly reevaluated colonial policy and drafted a plan for the union of France and the colonies.

In addition to abolishing the indigénat and forced labor system, in 1945 and 1946 the French government decreed a number of other important reforms concerning Africans. It granted freedom of speech, association, and assembly to the residents of the colonies; it provided funds for economic and social development; it permitted the AOF to adopt a new penal code; and it granted all inhabitants of French colonies French citizenship. France's failure to define closely the rights of citizenship, however, prevented the indigenous populations of the colonies from the full exercise of civil rights on the grounds that they were not yet ready for it.

French Union

The first draft of the French Fourth Republic's constitution, which included whole passages of the Brazzaville recommendations, proved too liberal for the French electorate, which rejected it in a May 1946 referendum. When a second Constituent Assembly convened in June, pressure from conservative elements in France and in the colonies was strong, and sharp differences of opinion developed among the delegates. The advocates of colonial autonomy included all the colonial deputies and the French political left wing. Most African deputies, including Houphouët-Boigny, supported the idea of local self-government and political equality for the French and the Africans. The French political right and center, however, favored a nominally federalist system, within which France would preserve its dominant position. A compromise was finally reached, and the plan for the French Union was written into a new draft constitution, which was adopted by the assembly on September 28, 1946. It was approved as the constitution of the Fourth Republic in a referendum held in France and the overseas possessions on October 13, 1946.

Under the French Union, the French West African colonies were designated as overseas territories. The French government exercised all legislative and executive powers, and the administration of Côte d'Ivoire continued under the Ministry of Overseas France (Ministère de la France d'Outre-Mer).

Despite the acceptance of the French Union in Côte d'Ivoire, longstanding economic grievances gave rise to the development of anticolonial sentiment. With the large-scale introduction of cash crops between World War I and World War II, a wealthy African planter class emerged. These Africans competed with Europeans who had come to Côte d'Ivoire to make their fortunes. Colonial policies strongly favored the Europeans: they received free labor under the forced labor system, higher prices for their crops, and access to protected markets. African resentment against this discrimination grew during World War II, when economic hardships weighed especially heavily on African plantation owners.

The rights to free speech and assembly, guaranteed by the constitutional reforms of 1946, permitted the formation of African political parties. A number of parties based on ethnic and regional interests were organized in Côte d'Ivoire and elected members to the Territorial Assembly, created as a result of the 1946 reforms, and the Abidjan municipal council. The Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (Parti Démocratique de Côte d'Ivoire--PDCI), created in 1946 out of the SAA to appeal to a wider following than its predecessor, became the dominant party. It soon attracted the radical intellectuals from the wartime Communist Study Groups and became a significant political force in French West Africa. Its leader, Houphouët-Boigny, was rapidly becoming a prominent national figure. Having successfully sponsored the law abolishing forced labor, he had regained support from the Mossi of Upper Volta. He served in 1946 as a delegate to the French Constituent Assembly and, later that year, to the newly constituted French National Assembly.

Regional Political Cooperation

Increasing political activity and a growing national consciousness were both responsible for and stimulated by the postwar constitutional reforms. Pressure from the SAA and similar organizations in other territories brought about most of the 1946 reforms. The reforms grouped the territories into the AOF under one elected council, the Grand Council in Dakar, thereby encouraging cooperation across territorial boundaries. As a result, in 1947 Houphouët-Boigny and several other French West African leaders formed the African Democratic Rally (Rassemblement Démocratique Africain--RDA).

The RDA was established during a critical period in French history. In 1946 and 1947, France was confronted by open rebellion in Indochina and Madagascar and by unrest in North Africa. Internally, the alliance between conservatives and communists, uneasy from the start, was collapsing. The French viewed the RDA, which called for full equality and consequently enjoyed the support of African and French communists, as another serious threat to French colonial interests. As a result, the French colonial administration harassed the RDA, which was also opposed by Africans allied with the more moderate French Socialist Party. Nevertheless, the RDA soon emerged as the dominant political force in French West Africa, and Côte d'Ivoire, where African and European planters were in direct competition, provided the most fertile ground for recruiting a militant African party. Consequently, Côte d'Ivoire became the stronghold of the RDA, and Houphouët-Boigny became the RDA leader. Thus, France also considered Côte d'Ivoire and Houphouët-Boigny's party, the PDCI, as threats to French colonial rule.

After a strongly conservative and discriminatory colonial administration was installed in 1947, relations between the PDCI and the administration became openly hostile. The administration actively sponsored rival parties and manipulated elections. It dismissed PDCI supporters from government jobs and jailed most PDCI leaders. Only his parliamentary immunity enabled Houphouët-Boigny to escape imprisonment. The PDCI retaliated by organizing strikes, boycotts of European goods and services, and mass demonstrations. In 1949 the hostility erupted into violence as government troops fired on African demonstrators on several occasions.

By 1951 the PDCI was close to collapse. Its alliance, through the RDA, with the French Communist Party had alienated the more moderate elements of the party. Government-sponsored rival parties had eroded much of its popular support and drastically weakened its position in elective bodies of the French Union. Houphouët-Boigny, in a radical effort to preserve the PDCI, severed connections with the French Communist Party and expelled the RDA's secretary general, who supported the communist association. He then abandoned the PDCI policy of militant opposition to the administration and embarked on a policy of practical cooperation. This policy change restored the strength and prestige of the PDCI at home and of the RDA in the rest of the AOF and France. Also, it led to political concessions as well as significant economic cooperation with France and members of the local French community. Within a short time, Côte d'Ivoire became the wealthiest territory in the AOF.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress