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Ivory Coast Modern History

Since the death of the country's strong man Félix Houphouët-Boignys in 1993, a long period of political unrest followed, in which politicians played on ethnic contradictions for their own purposes. In 2002, civil war broke out, which in practice divided the country into two parts: a southern one, ruled by Laurent Gbagbo who won the presidential election in 2000, and a rebel-controlled northern one. Hundreds of thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands fled before a fragile peace could be achieved in 2007.

For three decades, the Ivory Coast Democratic Party (PDCI) was the only allowed party in the country, but the real power lay with the president personally and with the state bureaucracy. Officially there was equality between the groups, but in practice the president's own people, the baulé, were favored. Houphouët-Boigny's birthplace of Yamoussoukro was made capital in 1983, but business and most of the administration remained in Abidjan.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Ivory Coast. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

In the 1980s, the economy deteriorated. The government's savings sparked widespread protests. A commission led by economist Alassane Ouattara was commissioned in 1990 to propose less drastic cuts. Demands for multi-party systems grew and in 1990 the first multi-party system was held. Opposition politician Laurent Gbagbo ran for Houphouët-Boigny in the presidential election but lost big. In the election to the National Assembly, the ruling party PDCI took 163 of the 175 seats against nine seats for the Gbagbo Party of the Ivorian People's Front (FPI).

After the election, a Prime Minister post was set up that went to Alassane Ouattara. But dissatisfaction with the government continued and was severely defeated, leading to new protests. Many people, including several opposition politicians, were arrested and sentenced to prison.

Contemporary History of Ivory CoastThe death of Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1993 triggered a power struggle between Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara and National Assembly Speaker Henri Konan Bédié. The President had assured himself of support from the Baulé hierarchy, the National Assembly and the government, and to some extent also with France and was elected President. Ouattara moved overseas to become Vice President of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington.

Many Ouattara sympathizers had to leave the government and were replaced by Bédié's supporters. Several regime-critical journalists were also imprisoned. However, Bédié, who had previously criticized Ouattara's economic policies, continued on the line with, among other things, extensive privatizations of state-owned enterprises. A devaluation of the CFA franc regional currency in 1994 had boosted exports.

In order to strengthen his own power, Bédié deliberately played on the ethnic contradictions within the country (see Population and Languages). He stressed the importance of an "ivory" of society, that is, important functions should remain with the people from the core country in the south. This led to a faction within the ruling PCDI breaking out and forming a new moderate middle party, the Republican Assembly (RDR), which had its strongest support in the Muslim-dominated northern part of the country.

The presidential election in the fall of 1995 became uneasy. The Bédié government had introduced a new electoral law that required candidates to prove that they originated from the Ivory Coast and had lived there continuously for five years before the election. The law was directed at Ouattara, who was alleged to have his roots in Burkina Faso and who had worked abroad for several years. Bédié won big, but many voters obeyed the opposition's demand not to vote. At the November parliamentary elections in November of that year, the PDCI took 146 of the 175 seats.

When the economy deteriorated again in 1998, Bédié's popularity declined. In Abidjan there were violent confrontations between Ouattara's supporters and the police. In 1999, the military took power in a coup. Bédié fled the country and dome leader Robert Gueï proclaimed president. According to Gueï, the purpose of the coup was to create democracy under civilian rule. He formed a unity government with representatives of both PDCI and RDR and FPI. Soon all RDR ministers were dismissed and a constitutional amendment was made, which specified that both parents of a presidential candidate must be born in the country. The law was intended to exclude Ouattara.

Prior to the 2000 presidential election, the Supreme Court had disqualified all candidates except Gueï and FPI leader Laurent Gbagbo. When the results indicated that Gbagbo would win, Gueï interrupted the vote and proclaimed himself victorious. The counter-reaction became violent, Gueï had lost the support of the army and was forced to flee. According to the Election Commission, Gbagbo had received just over 59 percent of the vote, against about 33 percent for Gueï, but turnout was low, especially in the northern part of the country.

Gbagbo was installed as president and refused to announce new elections, which RDR demanded. Now bloody clashes between RDR supporters and the security forces demanded at least 200 lives. During the election campaign, Gbagbo had made nationalistic statements similar to those made by Bédié. The propaganda against Ouattara also undermined anti-Turkic sentiments that had long been in Ivory Coast.

The RDR boycotted the parliamentary elections in December 2000. Not even one in three voters voted and in most places in the north the election could not be carried out because of the risk of violence. FPI became the largest party but did not get its own majority but formed government with PDCI.

In 2001, the parties agreed to form a new unity government. But in September 2002, groups of soldiers made a new revolt in protest against the government's decision to dismiss them. Struggles broke out in Abidjan and in the northern cities of Bouaké and Korhogo and Gueï were killed. Faithful soldiers managed to defeat the insurgency in Abidjan, but the rebels retained the grip in the north.

The rebels were led by a group of young officers, who called themselves the Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement (MPCI). They demanded Gbagbo's departure and that new elections should be held. The government claimed that Burkina Faso supported the rebels, and security forces and the FPI-loyal militia were pushing hard against immigrants from neighboring countries and Muslims from the north.

In October 2002, the rebels controlled half the country. The government army went on offensive, but the military successes failed. New unrest erupted in the West where two rebel groups, the Patriotic Front of the Great West (MPIGO) and the Justice and Peace Movement (MJP). for a while it was stated to control several cities. Both the rebels and the government side were accused of gross abuses against the civilian population and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee.

France and the West African cooperation organization ECOWAS sent soldiers to a peacekeeping force. An agreement to form a national reconciliation government was signed in January 2003 and a Muslim politician from the north was appointed prime minister. The three rebel groups now joined forces in the Alliance New Forces (see also Political system). But the contradictions between the warriors were too great and the government collapsed.

In March 2004, the opposition defied a demonstration ban and held a protest meeting in Abidjan. Over 100 people were killed when security forces fired at the protesters. The FPI-loyal militia groups, called Young Patriots, were also charged with the shooting. The following month, the UN Security Council sent a UNOCI peacekeeping force to the Ivory Coast. It would, among other things, monitor a buffer zone that went between rebel and government controlled areas.

In November 2004, government forces attacked rebel-controlled areas from the air and at least eighty civilians lost their lives. When a French posting was bombed and several French soldiers killed, France responded by knocking out most of the Ivorian air force. Anti-French riots were fired, police did not intervene, and at least 20 people were killed when French soldiers shot into a crowd.

In the same month, the UN Security Council introduced an arms embargo on the Ivory Coast, which applied to both the government and the rebels. African Union mediator, South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, succeeded in getting the parties to pledge to abide by the previous peace treaty. Facing threats of new UN sanctions, Parliament passed laws paving the way for Ouattara to stand in the presidential election scheduled for autumn 2005. However, Gbagbo changed its mind and refused to approve the laws unless a referendum was held. At the same time, the rebels in the New Forces did not agree to being disarmed, as long as the legislative changes did not take effect.

In April 2005, a new peace agreement was signed, which meant that all parties would be able to come up with the candidate they themselves selected. Gbagbo made this possible by using a statutory clause that allowed extraordinary measures. The parties again agreed on disarmament and a new joint army. But the agreement was not fulfilled and the presidential election was postponed.

The UN and AU set a time limit for how long Gbagbo would be allowed to retain power and a transitional government took office in December 2005 with representatives of the FPI, RDR and PDCI as well as the New Forces. In early 2006, a new peace settlement was made.
That process was also stalled until a new peace agreement was signed in March 2007 in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. According to this, a unifying government was to be formed, a new joint army leadership was appointed and elections were held within ten months. The parties also agreed on a timetable to provide all residents with ID documents in order to establish new voting lengths (approximately three million people were estimated to lack valid papers). The buffer zone, guarded by the UN and French troops, which had been established between the north and south would gradually be phased out and all foreign soldiers would eventually leave the country.

In April, rebel leader Guillaume Soro took over as prime minister. The new government included representatives of the FPI and the New Forces, but also the RDR and PDCI, some smaller parties and civil society representatives received ministerial posts. Gbagbo later approved a law that granted amnesty for crimes committed during the war.

The work to create a new national defense and the attempts to get the community service and administration in the north going slowly, as was the process of providing people with new ID documents. The same was true of the disarmament of former rebels. The Gbagbo side was accused of trying to delay the planned presidential election. After each delay, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the UN force UNOCI and the French troops.

But progress was also made. In May 2009, the former rebels handed over the rule of ten northern zones, including the area around the city of Bouaké, to a civil administration appointed by the president and in the fall of that year 6.5 million Ivorians had registered to vote in the elections. Regular reports, however, of new disturbances came, and both sides were accused of acquiring new weapons, despite the arms embargo on the Ivory Coast.

 
 

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