Bedie, Henri Konan 1934–
Henri Konan Bedie 1934–
President of Cote d’Ivoire
Henri Konan Bedie was the leader of Cote d’Ivoire’s National Assembly when the West African nation’s longtime president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, died in 1993. A provision to the constitution provided for an interim successor upon the death of a president in office, and Bedie stepped into the leadership role. The calm transition was typical of politics in Cote d’Ivoire, which could boast nearly four decades of peace and prosperity. Yet later, Bedie would face criticism for amending that same constitution to ensure the continuation of his presidency, despite the outward appearance of majority-rule democracy that the document enshrined. The Economist theorized that Bedie may be fearful of reform-minded elements in the government should they gain power. “Companies with links to the president’s family are allegedly growing fat in financial services and commodity trading, while others gobble up the most profitable privatised state companies,” the British journal of international affairs explained.
When Bedie became president of West Africa’s most stable nation in 1993, he took control of the only country in this region of the continent never to have experienced a coup, army rule, or civil war since independence from European colonial rule. Betraying its French past is its very name (“Ivory Coast” in translation), which also alludes to its wealth of natural resources. A nation of 14 million, it is a major producer of coffee and cocoa, and can boast skyscrapers, a strong middle class, and relatively tenacious ties to its onetime colonial ruler, France. The majority of Ivorians are of Baoule or Bete ethnicity; Senefrou and Malinke are also two other populous groups. Many adhere to traditional religious practices, but about 60 percent are of Muslim faith.
Cote d’Ivoire lies on a long stretch of the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean. Its neighbors are Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. The late Houphouet-Boigny turned his home village of Yamoussoukro into the official capital, but the city of Abidjan remains the administrative center and seat of government for Cote d’Ivoire; Bedie would later face similar criticism for building a hotel in the village of his birth. Born in 1934, he was educated in France at the University of Poitiers, married in 1958, and began his political career roughly at the same time that Cote d’Ivoire was granted independence
Born 1934, in Dadiekro, Cote d’lvoire; married Henriette Koinzan Bomo, 1958; children: two sons, two daughters. Education: Attended the University of Poitiers. Politics: Democratic Party of Cote d’lvoire (PDCI).
Career: Caisse de Sécurité de la Cote d’Ivoire, assistant director ,1959-60; Embassy of the Cote d’lvoire to the United States, Washington, DC, counsellor, 1960; member of the permanent mission from the Cote d’Ivoire to the United Nations, New York City, 1960; Embassy of the Cote d’lvoire to the United States, charge d’affaires, 1960; ambassador to the United States, 1960-66; Minister-Delegate for Economic and Financial Affairs, 1966-68; Minister of Economy and Finance, 1968-75; special advisor, IFC, 1976-80; elected deputy to the National Assembly, 1975, named president of the National Assembly, 1980, re-elected 1980, 1985, 1990; as second-in-command was named president of the Republic of Cote d’lvoire, 1993; elected president, 1995. Other political posts include president of the Office Africain et Malgache de la Propriété Industrielle and a seta of the Political Bureau of the PDCI.
Addresses: Office— Presidence de la Republique, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
from France. When this event occurred in 1960, Houphouet-Boigny became president, and Bedie left his post as assistant director at the Caisse de Securite de la Cote d’Ivoire to serve as a counsellor at the Cote d’Ivoire’s new embassy in the United States.
Later that year Bedie served in his country’s fledgling delegation to the United Nations, but returned to Washington and became charge d’affaires at the embassy. At the end of 1960, he was appointed ambassador to the United States, a post in which he served for six years. Returning to Cote d’Ivoire, he served as Minister-Delegate for Economic and Financial Affairs from 1966 to 1968 and Minister of Economy and Finance for seven years, until 1975.
Elected to the National Assembly, Bedie, like all other delegates, could only run on one ticket—that of the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI)—since Houphouet-Boigny did not permit other political parties to challenge his rule. Bedie was re-elected in 1980 and won a bid to serve as president of the National Assembly as well. When opposition parties were finally legalized in 1990, a provision was made stipulating that the president of the National Assembly would assume the presidency upon the death of an incumbent.
Thus Bedie succeeded Houphouet-Boigny in late 1993, and embarked upon a program of economic stability and growth. “He has even suggested a nickname for his country of 14 million: the ‘Elephant of Africa,’” wrote Howard French in the New York Times.“Under his guidance, he promises, this beast will soon be pulling the rest of this mostly poor region into the 21st century.” Cote d’Ivoire’s scheduled elections were planned for late 1995 in which voters might affirm their support of him and the PDCI. But the event was preceded by weeks of political unrest that late summer and early fall, to which Bedie “had the bad judgment to react harshly,” noted a 1995 report in The Economist. Bedie banned street demonstrations after his paramilitary gendarmerie clashed with peaceful protesters; the incidents escalated in violence with the use of tear gas, and several demonstrators died when the gendarmes opened fire on an Abidjan crowd in October.
Bedie had already quelled a more subtle threat to his rule. His longtime political foe was Alassane Dramane Ouattara, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) director and former prime minister of Cote d’Ivoire who had challenged Bedie’s move to succeed Houphouet-Boigny in 1993. Ouattara, a Muslim, is a charismatic figure and popular with Ivorians. He was introduced as the candidate of one of the opposition groups, Rally of the Republicans. But in 1994 Bedie passed a law that declared that any potential candidate for the presidency must have two parents of Ivorian birth, which made Ouattara ineligible. Another law stipulated that a candidate must have five years’ residency in Cote d’Ivoire, again disqualifying Ouattara since he relocated to Washington, D.C. for the IMF post.
Furthermore, Bedie and his PDCI enjoyed control of state-run television, and some print journalists were arrested along with dissidents. The president was criticized by international human-rights organizations for his heavy-handedness, and both opposition parties, Rally and the Ivorian Popular Front, decided to boycott the 1995 elections. As French wrote in the New York Times, Bedie’s actions were part of a wider “trend seen increasingly in Africa’s still novel experiment with multiparty politics: insecure leaders, unwilling to submit to the risk that elections inherently pose, rejigger the rules to eliminate or cripple their most serious rivals.”
In response to this crisis in the weeks leading up to the election, some Ivorians began removing the portrait of their president that was a traditional sight in shops and homes as a form of silent protest. “No Ivorian wants violence, but we have chosen to refuse dictatorship,” one man told the New York Times. PDCI campaign posters were also defaced. “President Bedie has tolerated irregularities that do not honor our country,” Le Jour editor Diegou Bailly told French in the New York Times.“Politics are intimately linked with economics, and the ‘African elephant’ that the Ivory Coast seeks to build must first be built on the basis of confidence, right here at home.”
Still, international leaders did not offer too strong a criticism of Bedie: he had ably maintained the political stability in his country as well as engineered a solid turnaround of its economy, actions viewed not without praise by Western powers. Not surprisingly, Bedie won the 1995 elections, which went unsupervised by international observation teams. Over the next few years Cote d’Ivoire continued uninterrupted on its course of domestic stability and economic growth, and in 1997 Bedie made history by engineering a diplomatic reconciliation with neighboring Ghana, a longtime rival. France also began to take a less active role in Ivorian affairs.
Yet Bedie also enshrined his controversial eligibility laws into the constitution, and then in 1998 passed a law that extended the presidential term from five to seven years.
Another proviso allowed him to postpone elections if political instability looms. Lastly, Bedie’s most striking revision to the constitution was the creation of a second chamber in the National Assembly: a senate which could have a third of its members appointed by the president. Auguste Miremont, the Democratic Party leader in the National Assembly and an ally of Bedie’s, told James Rupert in the Washington Post that such a chamber would allow the president to include in the political process “highly competent young people … who would not be able to be elected,” Miremont explained.
Encyclopedia of Africa South of the Sahara, Vol. 1, Scribner’s, 1997.
Economist, October 7, 1995, p. 48; December 12, 1998, pp. 46-47.
New York Times, October 13, 1995, p. A8; October 22, 1995, p. A9; October 24, 1995, p. A3; August 24, 1997, sec. 1, p. 6; January 4, 1998, sec. 4, p.3.
Washington Post, October 21, 1998, p. A25.