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Houphouët-Boigny, Félix 1905–

Félix Houphouët-Boigny 1905

President of the Ivory Coast

At a Glance

Political Activism Began

The Representative in Paris

Equal Time in Paris and Abidjan

After Independence

The Troubled 1980s

A Multiparty Ivory Coast

Sources

Félix Houphouët-Boigny, president of Côte dIvoire (the Ivory Coast), has been in office since the country became independent of France in 1960. He also heads the ruling Parti Démocratique de la Côte dIvoire (Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast; PDCI), which he established in 1946. An intensely charismatic man as well as a sophisticated diplomat, he is known as Le Vieux (The Old Man) by the sixty-plus ethnic groups that make up Ivorian society. Houphouët-Boigny believes that a developing country needs strong leadership to overcome its citizens civic naïveté thus he holds the final authority over the press and the Supreme Court, while the National Assemblytheoretically able to override presidential decisions with a two-thirds vetoactually serves to ratify them.

The Ivory Coast had been a French colony for twelve years when Dia Houphouët was born in 1905. The son of a wealthy cocoa planter and his wife, he attended the mandatory white mans school in his home village of Yamoussoukro, moving on in 1916 to a slightly larger town called Bingerville. There he embraced the Catholic religion introduced by the French missionaries.

His next destination was Dakar, Senegal. He completed a degree in primary school teaching in Dakar in 1919, following up with a medical degree at the newly established Dakar Medical School. Houphouët graduated in 1925 at the head of his class. He held the title African doctor, which proclaimed him a qualified physician, though he lacked the academic background usually provided in France for a medical doctor. Nevertheless, as part of an education far more extensive than most Ivorians possessed, it marked him as a member of the Ivory Coasts intellectual elite.

Houphouët went into the colonial service, gaining good experience in the governments role in health care and learning about the medical and social conditions all over the country. In 1928, he was posted to a poverty-stricken and depressed region called Abengourou, where he found the rate of alcohol abuse alarmingly high. Having seen this in other regions, he soon traced the cheap alcohol to European traders, who were supplying it to the Ivorian farmers in lieu of steady and fair prices for their cocoa crops. Further probing revealed that the prices were controlled by these traders and the French planters, and that the Ivorian farmers were helpless against them

At a Glance

Born Dia Houphouët (pronounced oo-phoo-way), October 18, 1905 (some sources are doubtful about the accuracy of this date), in Yamoussoukro, Dimbokro District, Côte dIvoire (Ivory Coast); added family name, Boigny (pronounced bwa-nyee), 1945; son of a cocoa planter; Obtained married Marie-Therese Brou; children: five. Education: Obtained primary school teaching degree, 1919; graduated from Dakar School of Medicine, Senegal, 1925. Politics: Parti Démocratique de la Côte dIvoire (Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast; PDCI). Religion: Catholic.

African doctor in the Ivory Coast colonial service, c. 1926-40; district chief of Canton, 1940-60; founder and general secretary of the Syndicat Agricole Africain, 1944; elected to Abidjan Municipal Council, 1945; representative of the Ivory Coast to the French Constituent Assembly, 1945; cofounder of the Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast (PDCI) and representative to the French Constituent Assembly, 1946; cofounder and president of the African Democratic Rally (RAD), 1946; member, French National Assembly, 1946-58; named West African minister in French government and mayor of Abidjan, 1956; president of Ivory Coast Territorial Assembly and Grand Council of French West Africa, Dakar, Senegal, 1957-58; prime minister of the Ivory Coast, 1958-60; president of the Ivory Coast, 1960.

Awards: Grand Master of the National Order of the Ivory Coast; Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, France; honorary doctorates from the University of Tel-Aviv, University of Rennes, and University of Pennsylvania.

Addresses: Office Office of the President of the Republic of Côte divoire, B.P. 1354, Abidjan, Côte dIvoire; or c/o Embassy of the Ivory Coast, Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20008.

A second reason for the increase in drinking was linked to working conditions that dated to back to 1912, when the indigénat had been encoded, giving the colonial administration the right to demand that all Ivorian men between the ages of 15 and 50 work for the government for ten days per year without pay. This angered the farmers, especially after the decree was broadened during the 1930s to accommodate the European planters. The Ivorians were even more furious about other laws that barred them from the protected markets that French citizens took for granted and denied them the same privilege of commandeering forced labor. Instead, they often had to leave their own lands to work for their French counterparts.

Political Activism Began

Dr. Houphouët was outraged by these conditions. At once he wrote a letter to a progressive newspaper in Dakar and persuaded the Ivorian farmers to refuse delivery of their crops until they received fair prices for them. His next opportunity to ease the economic situation came in 1940, when he came into a chieftaincy he had inherited after the assassination of his maternal uncle. Though the legacy had come to him at age five, tribal custom had decreed that he should not receive it until he matured enough to understand that it gave him the responsibility for the welfare of his people. As a highly educated 35-year-old man, he left the colonial service to become chef de canton, or district chief.

Other duties connected with the new position were to ensure orderly and hygienic villages and to see that the districts children attended school. Houphouët also acted as chief spokesman for the group of villages in the Yamoussoukro district, passing information between the colonial administration and their subjects. This middleman position gave him a broad view of both cultures, so that he was equally at home whether he was in an ethnic setting or in one based on European culture.

Houphouëts chieftaincy also brought him plantations as part of the family inheritance. A planter himself, he understood that the first step to justice for his countrymen would have to be a mass break with the discriminatory European planters association, the Syndicat Agricole de la Côte dIvoire. However, he also knew that this could only be achieved with the support of other canton chiefs. His first step, therefore, was to found the Association of Customary Chiefs, an organization that made him a familiar figure to his colleagues throughout the country.

In 1944 he formed the Syndicat Agricole Africain (SAA) along with seven other Ivorian planters who wanted to break with the European planters association. Success came quickly. Within a year the SAA had a membership list of 1,600, which grew to 20,000-strong by 1947.

Elections for the Abidjan Municipal Council in August of 1945 brought another opportunity for Houphouët to earn support. Voters from Abidjan were a powerful force, for the population had soared to 45,000 from just 17,000 in 1934, the year in which the city had been declared the countrys capital. To fill nine municipal council slots, citizens from both the European and African populations were chosen from a common roll. Some slates suggested a mix of blacks and whites, while others chose only blacks of a single ethnic group, or only whites. Houphouët had a different concept. Daringly he suggested that the slate be made up purely of Ivorians from major ethnic groups. This idea caused several offended African candidates to withdraw and many insulted European voters to abstain. His path to success thus cleared, Houphouët rode in to a landslide victory.

The Representative in Paris

By now Houphouët was a highly respected leader with three secure sources of support. As a member of the Abidjan Municipal Council, he had the urban voters behind him; tribal backing was also his, because of his association with the canton chiefs; and his position as the founder of the rural SAA brought the strongest support of all, for these constituents chose him to represent them in October 1945 at the French Constituent Assembly. At this time, he added the family name Boigny, meaning ram, to the well-known Houphouët. Then he left for Parisone of the first Africans ever to appear at the headquarters of French government.

Still determined to improve the lot of the Ivorian farmers, Houphouët-Boigny chose opposition to the indigénat as his main issue. His timing was flawless; the bill he introduced attracted little attention in a French government trying to regroup after World War II. It passed through the French Constituent Assembly without incident, though it brought tremendous change to his homeland.

Houphouët-Boignys role in abolishing the forced labor law assured him an overwhelming majority in the Ivory Coast when he ran again for election as a representative to the French Constituent Assembly. This time there was a new banner for him to representthe Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast, or PDCI, an organization that he helped to found for this special purpose.

When World War II was over, the French government was able to turn its attention to its colonies, which it now called overseas territories. Noting that violent opposition was swelling in these areas, France instituted sweeping reforms. French citizenship (though without full rights) was bestowed upon the former colonists, and funds were provided for economic and social development. The French even drafted a new constitution, granting these subjects freedom of speech and expression and allowing them to form their own political parties.

There was one exception to this newfound liberty: the French government was vehemently anti-Communist, suspecting this ideology of causing all the anger and rebellion in their overseas territories. All leaders of these areas, Houphouët-Boigny among them, were carefully scrutinized for Communist alliances.

The influence of Communism was especially prominent in a new organization called the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), formed in 1946 as an umbrella to all political parties in the former colonies. The French government discouraged moderate party leaders from joining the RDA. This proved to be a mistake, however, since the Communist voice grew all the louder for the smaller opposition. Houphouët-Boignys PDCI, a member of the RDA from its inception, soon began to experience harassment instigated by the French government. Violence and French-sponsored rival parties spread, weakening his party severely. Houphouët-Boigny escaped imprisonment only because he was a member of the French National Assembly.

With his party shattered, he had to decide whether his country would benefit more from an alliance with the idealistic Communist party or from cooperation with wealthy, technologically advanced France. Alliance with France won; Houphouët-Boigny broke with the Communist party in 1950 and expelled the general secretary of the RDA from the Ivory Coast. He continued to support French colonial rule throughout the 1950s.

Equal Time in Paris and Abidjan

Giving equal time to government matters both in France and in his homeland, Houphouët-Boigny became the first West African minister in the French government in 1956, simultaneously stepping into the mayoral seat in Abidjan. He further consolidated his power the following year by assuming the presidency of both the Ivory Coast Territorial Assembly, an organization created after 1946, and the Grand Council of French West Africa, in Dakar, Senegal. These posts brought him power at levels ranging from local to international without compromising his ties to France.

In 1958, Charles de Gaulle became the president of France. Continuing with the reforms, he proposed a French Community in which France was the senior partner to each overseas territory. In turn, each member state was to have its own government. De Gaulle set up a referendum at the same time, offering each member state the option of severing all ties with France or of continuing as an overseas territory within the French Community.

Aware that his country needed financial aid and help with professional and technical training, Houphouët-Boigny voted to remain, resigning his post in the French National Assembly to become the Ivory Coasts first prime minister. However, dissatisfaction with Community administration and pressure for independence within his own ranks caused him to leave the organization in 1960. He declared the Ivory Coasts independence on August 7, 1960, and without opposition was voted its first presidenta personal success repeated every five years for three decades.

After Independence

The new republics constitution gave the president a great deal of power. Publicized on November 2, 1960, it proclaimed him head of state, government, and the military. While he could be reelected after five years, he could not be deposed by the assembly. The constitution also specified that he could appoint and remove his ministers personally and that Supreme Court judges were to be appointed by him. The National Assembly was allowed limited powers for making laws, and the press was given a place clearly marked for them as public servants.

Thus safely settled at the pinnacle of government, Houphouët-Boigny was free to form a society based on realistic capitalism. Exemplifying personally the benefits of an elegant lifestyle, he lived in a palace in Cocody, a plush Abidjan suburb. He further emphasized his alignment to Western capitalism by inviting American political figures Robert and Ethel Kennedy to share in the independence celebrations in 1961. In turn, seeking foreign aid and encouraging American investment, he visited Washington in 1962, where the elegant, French-educated Madame Houphouët-Boigny dazzled the press, who dubbed her Africas Jackie after then-U.S. first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Concentrating first on revving up the countrys economy, Houphouët-Boigny focused on agriculture, traveling to Israel to learn about suitable crops and planting methods. Soon the list of profitable exports included pineapples and other tropical fruits, timber, sugar cane, rubber, palm oil, and rice; all these products were processed or refined in local plants supported largely by foreign investors.

To attract investors, Houphouët-Boigny wooed international entrepreneurs with lenient taxes and easy repatriation of their funds. Government intervention in their business affairs was kept to a minimum and contact with them was limited to studies that would help to sharpen the skills of Ivorian businessmen or benefit indigenous industry. Foreign manufacturers, with their modern machinery and abundant money, were invited to establish plants in the Ivory Coast for chemicals, paper, vehicles of all types, and a variety of durable goods.

By 1966 the change in the population ratio was noticeable. There were now one million Africans in the Ivory Coast, of whom 47% were native Ivorians and 46% were agricultural laborers and civil servants from neighboring states. The other 7% of the population, about 30,000 in number, were French executives and advisers, plus businesspeople from Syria and Lebanon.

While these newcomers had helped to make the economy the most prosperous in West Africa, not all Ivorians were enjoying the benefits of their presence. There was an ever-widening flood of unskilled rural job seekers pouring into the towns and farm laborers were resentful of the workers coming in from neighboring countries. There was also a swelling throng of Ivorian entrepreneurs, advisers, and teachers who were earning less than their European counterparts and who therefore blamed the president for favoring foreigners over his own people.

Houphouët-Boigny recognized the problems, but he was still eager to preserve his economic ties to France. He was also reluctant to dismiss the efficient foreign bureaucrats and executives in favor of Ivorians not sufficiently skilled to keep the economy progressing. The impasse came to a head in 1969, when about 1,600 demonstrators were arrested in Abidjan after pressuring the government to Ivorianize more secretarial, banking, and other jobs requiring little training.

Other unrest came from the rapid post-independence changes. The year 1963 saw an attempt to kidnap the president and other government officials. A second disturbancereportedly Communist-inspiredled to the arrests of several highly regarded government officials. One of them, the president of the Supreme Court, died in prison under murky circumstances; rumors that he had been beaten to death were countered by other claims that he had hanged himself from a prison shower by his pajama legs. Houphouët-Boigny called a meeting of foreign diplomats and showed them two tiny coffins and some bottles of poison, ostensibly juju weapons that the prisoner had intended to use on the president. Having thus been initiated into treachery from trusted allies, Houphouët-Boigny now decided to make sure his civil servants were politically committed to him. The ranks of the army were beefed up to 6,000 trained men.

During the 1970s, the Ivory Coasts economy was flourishing. The president allocated generous amounts of money for the construction of roads, railways, and hydroelectric power plants to make communication and transportation of manufactured goods easier. This became even more important late in the decade, when oil deposits were discovered in the country. In joint celebration of this boom in the economy and his seventy-second birthday, Houphouët-Boigny relaxed a life-long teetotaling rule enough to take a couple of sips of champagne.

The Troubled 1980s

By 1980, the president was in his mid-seventies and the question of his successor began to take on more importance. Reluctantly, he passed a constitutional amendment creating the office of vice-president, with the informal understanding that the holder would eventually succeed him. But competition among rivals was so keen that the president found it undignified, and the empty office was abolished in 1985, when the next elections took place.

The important succession issue was overshadowed by a massive worldwide recession that began in 1980. Cocoa and coffee prices plummeted far enough to sink the per capita gross domestic product by roughly 30 percent between 1980 and 1983. Rising interest rates, escalating tensions in the labor force and increasingly loud mutterings about the benefits of multiparty government did not help; neither did political rivalry between the younger and the older members of the PDCI.

Also in response to the dimming economy, both violent and white collar crime soared. The problem was not so marked in Yamoussoukro. Though it had been declared the new capital city in 1983, and the president now kept a palace there complete with moat and crocodiles, it was not as tempting a target for criminals as Abidjan, with its large population, its wealthy businesses, and its political activity. (Particularly hard hit was the French community, whose numbers had halved to 27,000 since 1980.) In other cases of resentment against foreigners, the 180,000-strong Lebanese population of Abidjan began to lose their popularity with the government and receive warnings about monopolistic business practices and customs fraud.

The atmosphere in the Ivory Coast was boiling by 1986, when President Houphouët-Boigny decided to build the worlds largest cathedral at Yamoussoukro. Intended as his eventual tomb, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace was designed to accommodate 300,000 worshippers. The new churchs construction cost an estimated $180 million, supplied by the sale of 16,000 state-owned flats and villas to university teachers.

The basilica caused a buzz of controversy. Opponents could not understand why it had been constructed at all, when the earnings from coffee and cocoa had halved from $1.5 billion to $776 million between 1986 and 1989, government wage freezes were leading to strikes everywhere, and payment on foreign debt had to be suspended in May of 1987 and later restructured with a six-year grace period by the International Monetary Fund. Officially, the basilica was a gift to the Catholic Church. After some initial hesitation, Pope John Paul II accepted it on condition that part of the grounds be used to feed and aid the countrys poor.

A Multiparty Ivory Coast

The end of the decade brought the return from Paris of Laurent Gbagbo, a history professor who had long been pushing for a multiparty system of government in the Ivory Coast. Gbagbo had been involved in several disturbances, including a student demonstration whose defeat had sent him, self-exiled, to Paris for six years. Now welcomed home personally by the president, he was barred from teaching students, though he was permitted to welcome visitors to his university office. Gbagbo drew support from a swelling number of protesters dissatisfied with the one-party states lack of opposition checks and balances.

With his own staunch allies aging and his PDCI party policy unable to keep pace with the fast flow of events, President Houphouët-Boigny acknowledged that the Ivory Coasts time for a multiparty system had come. However, he was far from ready to retire from the action. By 1991 he had allowed the formation of 40 political parties, Gbagbos own Ivorian Popular Front among them. This fragmentation, however, did not allow effective opposition to the president, who was elected to a seventh five-year term in office in 1990 despite the growing volume of whispers about his dwindling eyesight, his need for medical attention before most public appearances, and a supposed decrease in his periods of lucid thought. Unperturbed by all the opposition, he left the question of succession to the future.

Sources

Books

Handloff, Robert E., editor, Côte dIvoire: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1988.

Mundt, Robert J., Historical Dictionary of the Ivory Coast (Côte dIvoire): African Historical Dictionaries, No. 41, Scarecrow Press, 1987.

Woronoff, Jon, West African Wager: Houphouët versus Nkrumah, Scarecrow Press, 1972.

Zartman, I. W., The Political Economy of the Ivory Coast, Praeger, 1984.

Periodicals

Africa Confidential, October 7, 1988; March 9, 1990; April 19, 1991.

Ebony, June 1990.

New York Times, February 27, 1989.

Time, April 24, 1964.

Washington Post, July 5, 1990.

West Africa, February 6-12, 1989; May 21-June 3, 1990.

Gillian Wolf

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Houphouët-Boigny, Félix

Félix Houphouët-Boigny

1905-1993

Government official

Félix Houphouët-Boigny served as president of Côte d'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) from the country's independence from France in 1960 until his death in 1993. He also headed the ruling Parti Démocratique de la Côte d'Ivoire (Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast; PDCI), which he established in 1946. An intensely charismatic man as well as a sophisticated diplomat, he was known as "Le Vieux" ("The Old Man") by the more than 60 different ethnic groups making up Ivorian society. Houphouët-Boigny believed that a developing country needed strong leadership to overcome its citizens' civic naïveté; thus he held the final authority over the press and the Supreme Court, while the National Assembly—theoretically able to override presidential decisions with a two-thirds veto—actually served to ratify them. Under Houphouët-Boigny's leadership the Côte d'Ivoire was politically stable and became one of the most prosperous African countries.

Born Under Colonial Rule

The Ivory Coast had been a French colony for 12 years when Dia Houphouët was born in 1905. The son of a wealthy cocoa planter and his wife, he attended the mandatory "white man's school" in his home village of Yamoussoukro, moving on in 1916 to a slightly larger town called Bingerville. There he embraced the Catholic religion introduced by the French missionaries.

His next destination was Dakar, Senegal. He completed a degree in primary school teaching in Dakar in 1919, following up with a medical degree at the newly established Dakar Medical School. Houphouët graduated in 1925 at the head of his class. He held the title "African doctor," which proclaimed him a qualified physician, though he lacked the academic background usually provided in France for a medical doctor. Nevertheless, as part of an education far more extensive than most Ivorians possessed, it marked him as a member of the Ivory Coast's intellectual elite.

Houphouët went into the colonial service, gaining good experience in the government's role in health care and learning about the medical and social conditions all over the country. In 1928, he was posted to a poverty-stricken and depressed region called Abengourou, where he found the rate of alcohol abuse alarmingly high. Having seen this in other regions, he soon traced the cheap alcohol to European traders, who were supplying it to the Ivorian farmers in lieu of steady and fair prices for their cocoa crops. Further probing revealed that the prices were controlled by these traders and the French planters, and that the Ivorian farmers were helpless against them.

A second reason for the increase in drinking was linked to working conditions that dated back to 1912, when the indignat had been encoded, giving the colonial administration the right to demand that all Ivorian men between the ages of 15 and 50 work for the government for ten days per year without pay. This angered the farmers, especially after the decree was broadened during the 1930s to accommodate the European planters. The Ivorians were even more furious about other laws that barred them from the protected markets that French citizens took for granted and denied them the same privilege of commandeering forced labor. Instead, they often had to leave their own lands to work for their French counterparts. Dr. Houphouët was outraged by these conditions. At once he wrote a letter to a progressive newspaper in Dakar and persuaded the Ivorian farmers to refuse delivery of their crops until they received fair prices for them.

Assumed Tribal Leadership

His next opportunity to ease the economic situation came in 1940, when he came into a chieftaincy he had inherited after the assassination of his maternal uncle. Though the legacy had come to him at age five, tribal custom had decreed that he should not receive it until he matured enough to understand that it gave him the responsibility for the welfare of his people. As a highly educated 35-year-old man, he left the colonial service to become "chef de canton," or district chief.

Other duties connected with the new position were to ensure orderly and hygienic villages and to see that the district's children attended school. Houphouët also acted as chief spokesman for the group of villages in the Yamoussoukro district, passing information between the colonial administration and their subjects. This middleman position gave him a broad view of both cultures, so that he was equally at home whether he was in an ethnic setting or in one based on European culture.

Houphouët's chieftaincy also brought him plantations as part of the family inheritance. A planter himself, he understood that the first step to justice for his countrymen would have to be a mass break with the discriminatory European planters' association, the Syndicat Agricole de la Côte d'Ivoire. However, he also knew that this could only be achieved with the support of other canton chiefs. His first step, therefore, was to found the Association of Customary Chiefs, an organization that made him a familiar figure to his colleagues throughout the country.

Organized Farmers

In 1944 he formed the Syndicat Agricole Africain (SAA) along with seven other Ivorian planters who wanted to break with the European planters' association. Success came quickly. Within a year the SAA had a membership list of 1,600, which grew to 20,000-strong by 1947.

At a Glance …

Born Dia Houphouët, October 18, 1905 (some sources are doubtful about the accuracy of this date), in Yamoussoukro, Dimbokro District, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast); died on December 7, 1993, in Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire; added family name, Boigny (pronounced "bwa-nyee"), 1945; son of a cocoa planter; married twice; children: five. Education: Obtained primary school teaching degree, 1919; graduated from Dakar School of Medicine, Senegal, 1925. Politics: Parti Démocratique de la Côte d'Ivoire (Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast; PDCI).

Career: African doctor in the Ivory Coast colonial service, 1926(?)-40; district chief of Canton, 1940-60; founder and general secretary of the Syndicat Agricole Africain, 1944; elected to Abidjan Municipal Council, 1945; representative of the Ivory Coast to the French Constituent Assembly, 1945; cofounder of the Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast (PDCI) and representative to the French Constituent Assembly, 1946; cofounder and president of the African Democratic Rally (RAD), 1946; member, French National Assembly, 1946-58; named West African minister in French government and mayor of Abidjan, 1956; president of Ivory Coast Territorial Assembly and Grand Council of French West Africa, Dakar, Senegal, 1957-58; prime minister of the Ivory Coast, 1958-60; president of the Ivory Coast, 1960-93.

Awards: Grand Master of the National Order of the Ivory Coast; Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, France; honorary doctorates from the University of Tel-Aviv, University of Rennes, and University of Pennsylvania.

Elections for the Abidjan Municipal Council in August of 1945 brought another opportunity for Houphouët to earn support. Voters from Abidjan were a powerful force, for the population had soared to 45,000 from just 17,000 in 1934, the year in which the city had been declared the country's capital. To fill nine municipal council slots, citizens from both the European and African populations were chosen from a common roll. Some slates suggested a mix of blacks and whites, while others chose only blacks of a single ethnic group, or only whites. Houphouët had a different concept. Daringly he suggested that the slate be made up purely of Ivorians from major ethnic groups. This idea caused several offended African candidates to withdraw and many insulted European voters to abstain. His path to success thus cleared, Houphouët achieved a landslide victory.

By now Houphouët was a highly respected leader with three secure sources of support. As a member of the Abidjan Municipal Council, he had the urban voters behind him; tribal backing was also his, because of his association with the canton chiefs; and his position as the founder of the rural SAA brought the strongest support of all, for these constituents chose him to represent them in October 1945 at the French Constituent Assembly. At this time, he added the family name "Boigny," meaning "ram," to the well-known "Houphouët." His hyphenated named was pronounced "oof-WET bwahn-YEE." Then he left for Paris—one of the first Africans ever to appear at the headquarters of French government.

Became a Political Force

Still determined to improve the lot of the Ivorian farmers, Houphouët-Boigny chose opposition to the indignat as his main issue. His timing was flawless; the bill he introduced attracted little attention in a French government trying to regroup after World War II. It passed through the French Constituent Assembly without incident, though it brought tremendous change to his homeland.

Houphouët-Boigny's role in abolishing the forced labor law assured him an overwhelming majority in the Ivory Coast when he ran again for election as a representative to the French Constituent Assembly. This time there was a new banner for him to represent—the Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast, or PDCI, an organization that he helped to found in 1946 for this special purpose.

When World War II was over, the French government was able to turn its attention to its colonies, which it now called "overseas territories." Noting that violent opposition was swelling in these areas, France instituted sweeping reforms. French citizenship (though without full rights) was bestowed upon the former colonists, and funds were provided for economic and social development. The French even drafted a new constitution, granting these subjects freedom of speech and expression and allowing them to form their own political parties.

There was one exception to this newfound liberty: the French government was vehemently anti-Communist, suspecting this ideology of causing all the anger and rebellion in their overseas territories. All leaders of these areas, Houphouët-Boigny among them, were carefully scrutinized for Communist alliances.

The influence of Communism was especially prominent in a new organization called the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), formed in 1946 as an umbrella to all political parties in the former colonies. The French government discouraged moderate party leaders from joining the RDA. This proved to be a mistake, however, since the Communist voice grew all the louder for the smaller opposition. Houphouët-Boigny 's PDCI, a member of the RDA from its inception, soon began to experience harassment instigated by the French government. Violence and French-sponsored rival parties spread, weakening his party severely. Houphouët-Boigny escaped imprisonment only because he was a member of the French National Assembly.

With his party shattered, he had to decide whether his country would benefit more from an alliance with the idealistic Communist party or from cooperation with wealthy, technologically advanced France. Alliance with France won; Houphouët-Boigny broke with the Communist party in 1950 and expelled the general secretary of the RDA from the Ivory Coast. He continued to support French colonial rule throughout the 1950s.

Giving equal time to government matters both in France and in his homeland, Houphouët-Boigny became the first West African minister in the French government in 1956, simultaneously stepping into the mayoral seat in Abidjan. He further consolidated his power the following year by assuming the presidency of both the Ivory Coast Territorial Assembly, an organization created after 1946, and the Grand Council of French West Africa, in Dakar, Senegal. These posts brought him power at levels ranging from local to international without compromising his ties to France.

Emerged as New Country's Leader

In 1958, Charles de Gaulle became the president of France. Continuing with the reforms, he proposed a French Community in which France was the senior partner to each overseas territory. In turn, each member state was to have its own government. De Gaulle set up a referendum at the same time, offering each member state the option of severing all ties with France or of continuing as an overseas territory within the French Community.

Aware that his country needed financial aid and help with professional and technical training, Houphouët-Boigny voted to remain, resigning his post in the French National Assembly to become the Ivory Coast's first prime minister. However, dissatisfaction with Community administration and pressure for independence within his own ranks caused him to leave the organization in 1960. He declared the Ivory Coast's independence on August 7, 1960, and without opposition was voted its first president—a personal success repeated every five years for three decades.

The new republic's constitution gave the president a great deal of power. Publicized on November 2, 1960, it proclaimed him head of state, government, and the military. While he could be reelected after five years, he could not be deposed by the assembly. The constitution also specified that he could appoint and remove his ministers personally and that Supreme Court judges were to be appointed by him. The National Assembly was allowed limited powers for making laws, and the press was given a place clearly marked for them as public servants.

Thus safely settled at the pinnacle of government, Houphouët-Boigny was free to form a society based on realistic capitalism. Exemplifying personally the benefits of an elegant lifestyle, he lived in a palace in Cocody, a plush Abidjan suburb. He further emphasized his alignment to Western capitalism by inviting American political figures Robert and Ethel Kennedy to share in the independence celebrations in 1961. In turn, seeking foreign aid and encouraging American investment, he visited Washington in 1962, where the elegant, French-educated Madame Houphouët-Boigny dazzled the press, who dubbed her "Africa's Jackie" after then-U.S. first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Supported Economic Development

Concentrating first on revving up the country's economy, Houphouët-Boigny focused on agriculture, traveling to Israel to learn about suitable crops and planting methods. Soon the list of profitable exports included pineapples and other tropical fruits, timber, sugar cane, rubber, palm oil, and rice; all these products were processed or refined in local plants supported largely by foreign investors.

To attract investors, Houphouët-Boigny wooed international entrepreneurs with lenient taxes and easy repatriation of their funds. Government intervention in their business affairs was kept to a minimum and contact with them was limited to studies that would help to sharpen the skills of Ivorian businessmen or benefit indigenous industry. Foreign manufacturers, with their modern machinery and abundant money, were invited to establish plants in the Ivory Coast for chemicals, paper, vehicles of all types, and a variety of durable goods.

By 1966 the change in the population ratio was noticeable. There were now one million Africans in the Ivory Coast, of whom 47% were native Ivorians and 46% were agricultural laborers and civil servants from neighboring states. The other 7% of the population, about 30,000 in number, were French executives and advisers, plus businesspeople from Syria and Lebanon.

While these newcomers had helped to make the economy the most prosperous in West Africa, not all Ivorians were enjoying the benefits of their presence. There was an ever-widening flood of unskilled rural job seekers pouring into the towns and farm laborers were resentful of the workers coming in from neighboring countries. There was also a swelling throng of Ivorian entrepreneurs, advisers, and teachers who were earning less than their European counterparts and who therefore blamed the president for favoring foreigners over his own people.

Houphouët-Boigny recognized the problems, but he was still eager to preserve his economic ties to France. He was also reluctant to dismiss the efficient foreign bureaucrats and executives in favor of Ivorians not sufficiently skilled to keep the economy progressing. The impasse came to a head in 1969, when about 1,600 demonstrators were arrested in Abidjan after pressuring the government to Ivorianize more secretarial, banking, and other jobs requiring little training.

Other unrest came from the rapid post-independence changes. The year 1963 saw an attempt to kidnap the president and other government officials. A second disturbance—reportedly Communist-inspired—led to the arrests of several highly regarded government officials. One of them, the president of the Supreme Court, died in prison under murky circumstances; rumors that he had been beaten to death were countered by other claims that he had hanged himself from a prison shower by his pajama legs. Houphouët-Boigny called a meeting of foreign diplomats and showed them two tiny coffins and some bottles of poison, ostensibly juju weapons that the prisoner had intended to use on the president. Having thus been initiated into treachery from trusted allies, Houphouët-Boigny now decided to make sure his civil servants were politically committed to him. The ranks of the army were beefed up to 6,000 trained men.

During the 1970s, the Ivory Coast's economy was flourishing. The president allocated generous amounts of money for the construction of roads, railways, and hydroelectric power plants to make communication and transportation of manufactured goods easier. This became even more important late in the decade, when oil deposits were discovered in the country. In joint celebration of this boom in the economy and his seventy-second birthday, Houphouët-Boigny relaxed a life-long teetotaling (abstaining from alcohol) rule enough to take a couple of sips of champagne.

Unrest Grew as President Aged

By 1980, the president was in his mid-70s and the question of his successor began to take on more importance. Reluctantly, he passed a constitutional amendment creating the office of vice-president, with the informal understanding that the holder would eventually succeed him. But competition among rivals was so keen that the president found it undignified, and the empty office was abolished in 1985, when the next elections took place.

The important succession issue was overshadowed by a massive worldwide recession that began in 1980. Cocoa and coffee prices plummeted far enough to sink the per capita gross domestic product by roughly 30 percent between 1980 and 1983. Rising interest rates, escalating tensions in the labor force and increasingly loud mutterings about the benefits of multiparty government did not help; neither did political rivalry between the younger and the older members of the PDCI.

Also in response to the dimming economy, both violent and white-collar crime soared. The problem was not so marked in Yamoussoukro. Though it had been declared the new capital city in 1983, and the president now kept a palace there complete with moat and crocodiles, it was not as tempting a target for criminals as Abidjan, with its large population, its wealthy businesses, and its political activity. (Particularly hard hit was the French community, whose numbers had halved to 27,000 since 1980.) In other cases of resentment against foreigners, the 180,000-strong Lebanese population of Abidjan began to lose their popularity with the government and receive warnings about monopolistic business practices and customs fraud.

The atmosphere in the Ivory Coast was boiling by 1986, when President Houphouët-Boigny decided to build the world's largest cathedral at Yamoussoukro. Intended as his eventual tomb, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace was designed to accommodate 300,000 worshippers. The new church's construction cost an estimated $180 million, supplied by the sale of 16,000 state-owned flats and villas to university teachers.

The basilica caused a buzz of controversy. Opponents could not understand why it had been constructed at all, when the earnings from coffee and cocoa had halved from $1.5 billion to $776 million between 1986 and 1989, government wage freezes were leading to strikes everywhere, and payment on foreign debt had to be suspended in May of 1987 and later restructured with a six-year grace period by the International Monetary Fund. Officially, the basilica was a gift to the Catholic Church. After some initial hesitation, Pope John Paul II accepted it on condition that part of the grounds would be used to feed and aid the country's poor.

Maintained Power Until Death

The end of the decade brought the return from Paris of Laurent Gbagbo, a history professor who had long been pushing for a multiparty system of government in the Ivory Coast. Gbagbo had been involved in several disturbances, including a student demonstration whose defeat had sent him, self-exiled, to Paris for six years. Now welcomed home personally by the president, he was barred from teaching students, though he was permitted to welcome visitors to his university office. Gbagbo drew support from a swelling number of protesters dissatisfied with the one-party state's lack of opposition checks and balances.

With his own staunch allies aging and his PDCI party policy unable to keep pace with the fast flow of events, President Houphouët-Boigny acknowledged that the Ivory Coast's time for a multiparty system had come. However, he was far from ready to retire from the action. By the early 1990s he had allowed the formation of 40 political parties, Gbagbo's own Ivorian Popular Front among them. This fragmentation, however, did not allow effective opposition to the president, who was elected to a seventh five-year term in office in 1990 despite the growing volume of whispers about his dwindling eyesight, his need for medical attention before most public appearances, and a supposed decrease in his periods of lucid thought.

Unperturbed by all the opposition, he left the question of succession to the future. The question had yet to be answered definitively when Houphouët-Boigny died on December 7, 1993. Shortly after the official announcement of Houphouët-Boigny's death, National Assembly President Aimé Henri Konan Bédié assumed leadership of the country under the provisions of the constitution. Despite the economic and social struggles of his last decade, Houphouët-Boigny would enjoy a legacy as the man who built the Côte d'Ivoire into a politically stable and strong economic force in Africa during his first two decades of power.

Sources

Books

Grah Mel, Frédéric, Félix Houphouët-Boigny: Biographie, Maisonneuve et Larose, 2003.

Handloff, Robert E., editor, Côte d'Ivoire: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1988.

Mundt, Robert J., Historical Dictionary of the Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire): African Historical Dictionaries, No. 41, Scarecrow Press, 1987.

Woronoff, Jon, West African Wager: Houphouët versus Nkrumah, Scarecrow Press, 1972.

Zartman, I. W., The Political Economy of the Ivory Coast, Praeger, 1984.

Periodicals

Africa Confidential, October 7, 1988; March 9, 1990; April 19, 1991.

Ebony, June 1990.

New York Times, February 27, 1989; December 8, 1993.

Time, April 24, 1964.

Washington Post, July 5, 1990.

West Africa, February 6-12, 1989; May 21-June 3, 1990.

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Felix Houphouët-Boigny

Felix Houphouët-Boigny

Felix Houphouët-Boigny (1905-1993), president of the Ivory Coast, was one of the first leaders of a successful nationalist movement in the French West African Federation. His policy was based on cooperation with France and moderation in domestic affairs.

Felix Houphouët was born in October 1905 in the village of Yamoussokro to an important Baoule family on the Ivory Coast. In 1946 he added Boigny to his family name. Houphouët attended schools at Bingerville and in 1918 entered medical school at Dakar. He qualified as a medical assistant in 1925 and practiced medicine in the Ivory Coast for more than 15 years, also becoming a successful planter.

In 1940 Houphouët was selected chief of his district. His first political activity was in reaction to the Vichy regime's policies which discriminated against African planters. In 1944, he helped organize the Syndicat Agricole Africain. It was the only large organization to protest against favoritism for Europeans at the expense of African producers. By 1945, the organization had branches throughout the country and served as the base for the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI), the first effective party in the Ivory Coast, whose leadership was greatly influenced by Marxism.

Interterritorial Party

Houphouët was elected in 1945 to the French Constituent Assembly. Disappointed over the restrictions on colonies contained in the second constitution of the Fourth Republic, he met with other African deputies at Bamako in October 1946 to form a new inter-territorial party, the Rassemblement Démocratique African (RDA), and he was elected president. In November 1946 Houphouët was elected to the French National Assembly. The RDA and its Ivory Coast base, the PDCI, were supported by the Metropolitan Communist party. In the latter 1940s the RDA organized strikes and boycotts of European imports.

Government reaction, particularly in the Ivory Coast, was severe. Hundreds were arrested, and in January 1950 one police action resulted in the death of 13 Africans. Control of a much-weakened RDA thus fell to Houphouët, who had parliamentary immunity from arrest. Houphouët decided that continued cooperation with the French Communists was a dead end, and he broke irrevocably with them in late 1950. The elections to the National Assembly in 1951 were the low point for the RDA, when it won only three seats.

The five years before the National Assembly elections of January 1956 was a period of rebuilding for the RDA, which had initiated its new policy of close cooperation with France. The elections vindicated Houphouët's decision, since the RDA won nine seats. Houphouët became mayor of Abidjan and later in the year was appointed a minister in the French government. In this influential position he was largely responsible for drafting the loi cadre of 1956, which devolved more authority to the territorial assemblies. The RDA dominated the 1957 elections for these assemblies in all but a few segments of the federation, and the PDCI had almost no opposition in the Ivory Coast.

Failure of Federation

The issue of federation or autonomous development divided the RDA. Some of its leaders agreed with Senegal's Léopold Senghor that the future of West Africa lay in a continued large federation. Houphouët, whose rich Ivory Coast provided a large portion of the federation's budget, wanted political evolvement to take place on the territorial level. The De Gaulle referendum of 1958 concerning association with the revised community was the turning point for French Africa and the RDA.

Guinea, the only territory to vote no, was given immediate independence. In early 1959, attempts to create a strong Mali Federation threatened Houphouët's plans. Bringing economic pressure to bear upon Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) and Dahomey (Benin), he caused their defection from Mali and later associated them and the Ivory Coast with the weak Conseil de l'Entente. These events lessened the RDA's influence in the federation, and Houphouët decided to concentrate upon the PDCI and the Ivory Coast. He resigned as a minister in the French government in April 1959.

De Gaulle's decision to grant independence to the Mali Federation within the French community so angered Houphouët that he demanded independence for the Ivory Coast. French acquiescence to requests for independence ended any chance for a meaningful federation. The Ivory Coast became independent in August 1960, and in November Houphouët was elected president. The legislature, chosen from a single list, were all PDCI members.

Pan-African Leader

Houphouët had a great impact upon pan-Africanism. In 1960 he proposed a meeting of French African leaders to help end the Algerian War, and in October 1960 representatives of 12 states met at Brazzaville. These states soon became known for their pro-Western ideas of gradualism and their opposition to the Ghana-dominated Casablanca powers. Houphouët's opposition to immediate political federation became the attitude not only of the Brazzaville powers but also of other states which were not members of the Brazzaville group.

Houphouët's control of the PDCI and the Ivory Coast did not lessen after independence. There were no serious challenges to his leadership, and the country's prosperity minimized unrest. In foreign affairs he continued to support moves toward greater economic cooperation between states such as the Organization Common Africaine et Malagache (OCAM). While opposing any political unification which would submerge the sovereignty of the Ivory Coast, Houphouët supported the Organization for African Unity (OAU) created in 1963.

The cornerstone of Houphouët's policy was close cooperation with France. His attitudes disturbed the radical bloc, and both Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Touré accused him continuously of advancing neo-imperialism. Houphouët responded by organizing opposition against the expansionist dreams of Ghana and the leftist regime in Guinea. He was instrumental in denying Nkrumah a much-needed triumph during the 1965 OAU meeting at Accra.

After Nkrumah's overthrow Houphouët was ready to call for French military aid against Guinea's threat to restore the Ghanaian leader by force. Houphouët braved the opposition of other states during the Nigerian civil war and recognized Biafra, thus alienating temporarily the victorious military leaders of Nigeria. Houphouët's policies, however they are criticized by some African leaders, have given the Ivory Coast, since its independence, one of the most stable governments in Africa.

The Legacy

While in office, Houphouët built the world's largest basilica in the jungle near his home village, Yamoussoukro, at a cost of approximately $300-million. He convinced Pope John Paul II to appear and bless the marble and glass cathedral with the gold dome.

At the outset of the 1980s, commodity prices of cocoa and coffee plummeted. Economic strife caused a public outcry that resulted in demands for Houphouët-Boigny's resignation. He fled to France where he spent most of his time.

Through most of his time in office, however, the Ivorians were happy with their one-party system, believing it a fair exchange for a time of prosperity. In 1990, pro-democracy protesters forced multi-party elections. Houphouët won with more than 90% of the vote.

Suffering with prostate cancer, Houphouët had arranged for his life support systems to be turned off at dawn on December 7, 1993—the 33rd anniversary of independence from France—the Ivory Coast's National Day. When Houphouët died, he had been president of the Ivory Coast since its 1960 independence, his 33 year reign the longest of any African leader. While he was officially 88 years old at death, many believed he was actually much older than that.

Further Reading

No biographies of Houphouët-Boigny are available in English. An understanding of the man and his policies can be gained only by reading a number of general works that deal with various aspects of modern West African politics and the Ivory Coast. For general background see Ruth Schachter Morgenthau, Political Parties in French-speaking West Africa (1964), and John Charles Hatch, A History of Postwar Africa (1965). A fine detailed review of politics is Edwin Munger's "The Ivory Coast" in his African Field Reports, 1952-1961 (1961), and in Aristide R. Zolberg, One-party Government in the Ivory Coast (1964; rev. ed. 1969). See also Ronald Segal, Political Africa: A Who's Who of Personalities and Parties (1961).

Much of the information updating the life of Houphouët-Boigny comes from the Web site of the Electric Library. These include a transcript of All Things Considered from December 7, 1993, Los Angeles Times, January 1, 1995, Time International, November 6, 1995. □

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Houphouët-Boigny, Félix

Félix Houphouët-Boigny (fālēks´ ōōfwā´-bwä´nyə), 1905–93, African political leader, president (1960–93) of Côte d'Ivoire. Descended from wealthy Baoule chieftains, he practiced medicine (1925–40) in Côte d'Ivoire and then entered government service. At the Bamako Conference (1946) he was elected chairman of the newly formed African Democratic Rally, subsequently a powerful force in African politics. As minister delegate (1956–57), he helped form French colonial policy. In 1958, when Côte d'Ivoire became a self-governing republic, Houphouët-Boigny was president of the constituent assembly. He became prime minister in 1959 and president of the republic in 1960. In 1990 he was elected to his seventh five-year term and for the first time with the participation of legal opposition parties. His political longevity may have been due to the relative economic prosperity induced by his policies of slow Africanization, encouragement of foreign investment, and French aid.

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Houphouët-Boigny, Félix

Houphouët-Boigny, Félix (1905–93) Ivory Coast statesman, first president (1960–93). He served in the French colonial government, becoming president on independence. His control remained almost absolute. Maintaining close relations with France, the Ivory Coast became one of the more affluent countries in West Africa. In the 1980s, a recession, exacerbated by expenditure on grandiose projects, caused mounting unrest and he was forced to legalize opposition parties in 1990.

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