Monday, October 1, 2012

Poloitics in Cote D'ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire - History and Politics

Constitution & political system

  • Constitution - adopted 3 November 1960; revised numerous times, last time July 1998. It was suspended following a bloodless coup on 24 December 1999. A new constitution was approved by a referendum held on 23 July 2000.

  • Legislative branch - Unicameral National Assembly (225 seats)

  • Legal system - based o French civil law system and customary law

  • Elections - Presidential, last held October 2000; Legislative, last held December 2000.

Political groupings and alliances

  • Rassemblement des républicains (RDR)
  • Front populaire Ivoirien (FPI)
  • Parti démocratique de Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI)

Pre-colonial History of Cote d’Ivoire

Archaeological excavations of numerous objects in present day Cote d’Ivoire reveal that the place has been inhabited since prehistoric times. However, its present demographic configuration suggests the influence of migration on the population, especially by splinter groups from the former reigning West African kingdoms of the 12th to the 17th century. Its present name – the “tusks coast” or “Ivory Coast”- reflects one of the commodities that most interested the European merchants who used to trade along the coast.

The ancestry of the present inhabitants of the territory has been traced to and located in various groups, some of which have inhabited the same place for hundreds of years. The three main groups along the coast and the immediate hinterland include the Kru, the Kua-Kua and the Akan. Best known for their navigation skills, the Kru probably got their name from a corruption of the English word “crew”. The Kua-kua were fishermen and also controlled the local commerce demonstrating excellent skills in brokering between the traders from the deeper hinterland and the European merchants established on or trading along the coast. While the Kua-kua were more ethnically diverse the Akans were more cohesive. They seemed to have immigrated to their present location from the Ashanti Confederacy in Ghana and then broken up into the Agni and the Baoule.

The indigenous Senoufo who inhabit the north of Cote d’Ivoire fell constant prey to slave traders as a result of their incapacity to form centralized states. In the northeast are the koulango de Bouma, originally part of the Dagomba, who formed very powerful states that conquered the Lorhron, and overran the gold mines of Lobi. There were also the Dioulas, great merchants in the religious city of kong, led by Sekou Ouattara. They controlled the camel caravans trade routes that transported gold and kola from the forests in the south to the markets of Sudan. In 1895, the Kong kingdom was captured and occupied by Samory and after several attempts to break away, the city was destroyed. The French who had landed at the coast and were extending their influence towards the north finally defeated Samory.

Colonial History

The first Europeans to land on the coast of Cote d’Ivoire were Portuguese navigators in the early 1470s, but the inhospitable nature of the place and the lack of landing facilities prevented them from erecting any fortes. Trade in slaves, tusks, gold and pepper attracted Europeans like the Dutch, the Danish the French and especially the English, whose influence was exerted along the African coast through the Royal African Company, which had perfected its art of penetrating into the hinterland. To match the British competition, the French Compagnie du Senegal had to set up a trading post at Assinie. However, the wars of Louis XIV prevented them from consolidating their hold on the territory and thereafter, no other Europeans were interested in Cote d’Ivoire until the mid 19th century.

Although the French presence at Assinie was rather brief, it later gave them priority right to the territory. Even after the French government instructed Fleuriot de l’Angle to conclude treaties with the local chiefs of Assinie and Grand Bassam in 1843/4, French penetration into the interior only started after the Berlin Conference of 1885. The territory of Cote d’Ivoire only received its territorial autonomy as a French colony after the passing of the decree of 8 March 1893. Its first governor was Binger.

With the defeat of Samory in 1898, French influence extended to the northern territories where the people were subjected to taxation and the program of “civilization”. This provoked a high level of resistance amongst the indigenous people - especially the Baoules - which was only quelled by the force of arms.

To pre-empt a recurrence of the situation, the new governor instituted a program of pacification where whole villages were forced to move into places more easily controlled by the colonial government. By 1912 a head tax had been imposed, Africans were forced to grow cocoa and many were conscripted into the army. The harshness of French rule meant that resistance was also protracted for a period of over 40yrs. This led to the emigration of many Africans who chose to move to other areas including Ghana and Liberia – some after conversion by William Harris who baptized them into Christianity.

French control over Cote d’Ivoire has been exercised from different “capitals” - Before the territory gained its independence in 1893 the capital was Goree, then it moved to Saint Louis, then Conakry and finally grand Bassam, which was in Cote d’Ivoire itself. In 1900 the capital was moved to Bingerville, (and later to Abidjan in 1935) and for better administrative purposes the country was divided into “circles” which were in turn broken down into cantons and then to villages. The French appointed leaders to all these levels of government, including the village chiefs who were reduced to their junior agents in complete disregard of local traditions. Until 1938 there was no political activity in Cote d’Ivoire. There were no coordinated bodies of Africans ready to champion their ideas. It was therefore very easy for the French to perpetrate the harsh treatment that they meted out until the 1940s.

After the Brazzaville Conference of 1944, however, General de Gaulle’s speech opened up the possibility of recognizing the rights of Africans in French colonies. It was then that African plantation owners grouped together to protect their rights. The African Agricultural Union (Syndicat Agricole Africain) was then born with Felix Houphouet as its leader. Besides being a farmer himself, he was a traditional chief, doctor and plantation owner. This marked his debut in to local politics which soon led him to the leadership of the “African bloc” that won the Abidjan municipal elections in 1945. Two months later he was elected to the French constituent assembly as a deputy to represent African interests. Political parties were soon born out of this awakening with the Rassemblement Democratique Africain (RDA formed in 1946 in Bamako and led by Houphouet) emerging as the most important. The RDA itself was a party for the whole of French West and Equatorial Africa, operating through smaller local affiliates like Houphouet’s Parti Democratique de la Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI), which was formed in 1945.

As a minister in several French cabinets, Houphouet (he later added “Boigny” to his name which means “irresistible force” in Baoule), helped draw up the Loi-Cadre or “enabling laws” of 1956, through which many French colonies including Cote d’Ivoire obtained internal self-government in 1957. Houphouet was initially opposed to complete independence from France. However, his party the PDCI easily won the first elections in Cote d’Ivoire and in the absence of Houphouet who was still a minister in France Auguste-Denise was appointed Vice Chairman of the Council of Government, with the French Governor being the Chairman. Later, Houphouet had to return home in 1959 to reorganize the party after its leadership developed problems with followers. On 7 August 1960 Cote d’Ivoire gained its political independence.

Post Independence History

The independence constitution of October 1960 gave executive powers to the president as head of government for a five-year term of office with no limit to the number of possible re-elections. Houphouet-Boigny and his PDCI were re-elected to power for the next 30yrs until his death in office in 1993. However, multiple candidates were allowed to compete on a non-party basis in municipal and legislative elections from 1980.

Because of the history of turbulence that characterized post independence West African politics, Cote d’Ivoire under Houphouet was seen as a bastion of peace and security. However, the government has had to deal with a few conflicts in the country. In 1963 there was a coup attempt that implicated a number of former ministers. As a result of its failure many of them were sentenced to death, with others sent to long prison terms. However, Houphouet in his usual wisdom reprieved most of them and commuted others. In 1970, the Betes, who had constituted some of the most ardent critics of the government’s policies, were subjected to one of the most violent confrontation against government forces in a crisis that led to the death of almost a thousand people in the region of Gagnoa. Other crises have originated from smaller coup plots, teachers’ and students’ riots and workers demonstrations. In a few of the cases the French military had to be called upon to quell the violence.

Houphouet enjoyed a generally comfortable reign characterized by a long period of steady economic prosperity due to high levels of foreign investment. The country also became Africa’s leading exporter of coffee and after 1978 overtook Ghana as the leading exporter of cocoa. Timber exports grew rapidly after 1960 and the country also invited expatriates to control the palm oil sector, which helped to boost the national economy. Houphouet also allowed workers from neighboring countries like Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, to work in the plantations. By 1990 40% of the population was made up of foreigners. Abidjan became one of the wealthiest capitals in West Africa with high-rise buildings transforming the skyline.

However, the second half of the 1980s heralded both economic and political turbulence in the country as the markets for Ivorian products experienced a period of economic down turn with a sharp fall in world prices. While the effects of old age started weighing down on Houphouet-Boigny with a constant decline into senility, there came a national appeal for multiparty democracy. Although he managed to win the first multiparty elections of 1990, it was not without complaints of vote rigging, leading to violent demonstrations and strikes. The opposition was inexperienced and fragmented and they faced harassments from government officials who constantly obstructed their programs. Protests and riots resulted, with the leader of the opposition Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI - founded in 1982), Professor Laurent Gbagbo, arrested and detained for months along with hundreds of students, workers and other opposition leaders, as they marched through the streets of Abidjan. The ruling PDCI won 163 of the 175 seats with only 61 incumbents returned.

Later in the year, Houphouet (who had acquired the name “Le Vieux” meaning “the old man”) decreed the establishment of the post of Prime Minister, and appointed Dr. Alassane Dramane Ouattara, a US trained economist and the then serving governor of the West African Central Bank, as the first PM. Unrests continued with opposition to the structural measures Ouattara had been called upon to implement. Members of the armed forces joined the protests but were prevented from carrying out a mutiny in July 1991 by General Guei who had been appointed as the army chief of staff. In August 1992 a general amnesty was announced for all jailed opposition leaders.

On 7 December 1993 Houphouet died of prostate cancer and within hours Henri Konan Bédié named himself as the successor, with the support of the French government. He had been groomed for the post by Le Vieux himself, who in 1990 had enacted some constitutional amendments, stipulating that the successor to the throne, in the event of his death, was to be the president of the National Assembly. The new president was to hold office until the next scheduled election. Ouattara, with the support of General Robert Guei, opposed the move preferring the Supreme Court to assume temporary charge until new elections. When the courts upheld Bedie’s move, Ouattara resigned as the PM, and took up a managing director appointment at the IMF in Washington. Bédié quickly moved his loyalists into all key positions in government while sidelining Ouattara supporters.

In 1994 the CFA was devalued by 50%. Cote d’Ivoire’s robust export sector coupled with the success of Ouattara’s structural reforms, helped Bédié to weather the political and economic storms, preparing him to ward off challenges to the 1995 presidential elections. To reinforce his position he initiated of policy of Ivorite by adopting an electoral code that required both parents of presidential candidates to be Ivorian and also stipulating that the candidate himself must have lived in the country for the past five years. Ouattara’s candidacy was thus dislodged. Gbagbo and his FPI also boycotted the 1995 elections which were marred by persistent demonstrations of students and trade unions. The results proclaimed a 95% win for Bédié. He also succeeded to pull off a victory at the November legislative elections, claiming 147 out of the 175 seats in parliament. To top it all, the French Minister of cooperation announced to Bédié “… France will be at your side, Mr. President”. In 1998 he revised the constitution adding two more years to the original five-year term of office for the president.

1999 was a year of economic gloom in Cote d’Ivoire. The Agricultural sector that produced 75% of the country’s exports by value was in uproar. The crash in cocoa and coffee prices hit a seven-year low, forcing farmers to hold back on the sale of their stock, smuggling some into neighboring Ghana where prices were more favorable and even burning some in protest. The government’s remonstration to the IMF that Ouattara was using his position as Deputy Director to make things difficult for the Bédié government, met with a harsh rebuke. In June news of embezzlement of EU funds and the generally high level of corruption in the country resulted in the dismissal of three government ministers and 18 civil servants. Although the government promised to repay the money, IMF disbursements to the country following the March agreements were frozen in July.

After his retirement from the IMF in August, Ouattara returned to the country to be appointed as the presidential candidate for the Rassemblement des Republicains (RDR). Persistent maneuverings by the Bédié government to thwart his attempts at proving his eligibility as a presidential candidate marked the rest of the year for him. This helped to erode the support Bédié would have had from the international community to back his political career that was obviously in serious crisis as the next few months were to prove. The general situation of instability in the country prompted Ouattara and Gbagbo to seek other means of upping the stakes against Bédié. This resulted in the creation of some form of joint cooperation between the two that proceeded towards consultations with the presidents of Togo, Gabon and Senegal from whom Ouattara and Gbagbo sought advise to heap pressure on Bédié to amend the provisions of the electoral code on presidential eligibility.

Bédié countered by denouncing their moves as attempts at interfering in the internal politics of his country. The government issued a warrant of arrest for Ouattara. This provoked public anger, resulting in more street protests, the arrest of the entire top leadership of the RDR, jail terms for some and fines for others. Appeals by foreign governments did not seem to have any effect on the situation. In fact the Bédié government intensified its harassment of the RDR in other parts of the country. Ouattara had to flee. The only sign of relenting on his stance was during the Presidential address of 22 December 1999 where he hinted at some form of amnesty for the RDR’s jailed leaders. Two days later General Guei struck in an army led bloodless coup that forced Bédié to flee for asylum in France.

According to Guei their act was not actually a coup. It was a group of patriots fighting to create conditions conducive for the installation and proliferation of true democracy, through the holding of free and fair elections. Ouattara echoed this view on his return to the country, describing the act as an Ivorian revolution worthy of the material support of the international community. A few foreign governments muttered their disapproval but there was an apparent sense of relief, with little or no attempts by anybody to restore Bédié.

Guei immediately asked political parties to submit candidates to form a government of national unity in which the army was to be in control of the defense ministry, security, interior and foreign affairs. However, by May 2000 an alliance had developed between the PDCI and the FPI, which resulted in the sacking of all but one RDR ministers from the cabinet – apparently with the support of Guei. In July a new constitution was tabled for approval in a referendum that registered a 58% turnout. It was approved by an 87% vote, with the support of Ouattara’s followers who he had encouraged to vote yes, hoping that the matter would be tabled to the Supreme Court. On October 22 Guei announced his candidacy for the presidency, in direct contradiction to his initial claims of political neutrality on ascending to power. A purge of the army soon followed, after voices of discontent were heard. Later in the month, the Supreme Court headed by Tia Kone, Guie’s former legal adviser, disqualified all but five of the presidential candidates, causing the RDR and the PDCI to boycott the elections. In December another decision was taken by the court to bar Ouattara from running for the parliamentary elections.

The results of the presidential elections showed that Laurent Gbagbo had won 51% of the votes and General Robert Guei won 28%. The rest was shared amongst the other less important groups. However, the General refused to give up power claiming victory over Gbagbo. This sparked off a popular outcry supported by the army against Guei. 300 people lost their lives in the process. Guei was forced to relinquish power and take refuge in his hometown of Kabakouma near the Liberian border. Gbagbo was thus sworn into power and has continued the policy of Ivorite that persists in preventing Ouattara from running for elections.

Legislative elections slated for December 2000 were also marred by violence after Ouattara's candidacy was again disallowed, prompting another boycott by the RDR. The 22 independent candidates elected to the legislature only confirmed the degree of dissatisfaction with the participating parties. The level of violence in the country prevented elections from being carried out in 29 constituencies in the mainly RDR supporting North. By-elections in January 2001 succeeded only under very tight security. By the end of the polls the FPI had won 96 constituencies, PDCI had 94, 22 elected independents, and 5 returned the RDR although the party had generally boycotted the elections

Gbagbo started his reign with efforts to promote national reconciliation, with a forum planned for September. There was an attempted coup, generally believed to have orchestrated by Muslim northerners with the support of the countries north of Cote d’Ivoire. Many northerners were arrested including leaders of the RDR. This also sparked off a wave of confrontations against foreigners forcing many of them to flee from the country. In March 2001 local elections were held with the RDR winning 27%, the highest number of seat communal seats. The RDR and the PDCI together won 123 seats against 33 won by the FPI in a total of 197 seats.

In October 2001 the Forum for National Reconciliation finally started with the intention of settling the long-standing national political imbroglio. The main political leaders including Gbagbo, Ouattara, Bédié and Guei (the Big Four) were present but little was done to disentangle the jam. The Big Four held subsequent meetings in January 2002, but little seems to have changed.