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Félix Houphoët-Boigny: 1944-1993

For half a century the affairs of the Ivory Coast, independent from 1960 after the dissolution of French West Africa, are dominated by Félix Houphouët-Boigny.

With twin careers as a doctor and cocoa planter, he first makes his mark in politics in 1944 when he organizes the SAA (Syndicat Agricole Africain, or African Farmers Union) to protect the interests of black planters against competition from European settlers. In the following year he is elected to the national assembly in Paris and founds his own political party in the Ivory Coast, the PDCI (Parti Démocratique de la Côte d'Ivoire).

Houphouët-Boigny campaigns strongly and successfully in 1958 for the Ivory Coast to remain part of the French Community. On independence in 1960 he is elected president, retaining the post in six subsequent elections. There are attempted coups in 1963 and 1972, but Houphoët-Boigny maintains for the most part a peaceful one-party regime in his relatively prosperous nation (the world's largest exporter of cocoa), while remaining on good terms both with France and with his African neighbours.

The long-serving president dies in 1993, during his seventh term.

Towards democracy: from1990

The introduction of democracy to the Ivory Coast begins during the final years of Houphouët-Boigny's rule. Opposition parties are authorized for the first time in 1990. Houphouët-Boigny easily defeats an opposition candidate in the presidential election of that year. The first time the opposition has any serious chance is in the election of 1995, when Henri Konan Bédié of the ruling PDCI stands to inherit the Houphouët-Boigny legacy.

Bédié wins the presidency, after mass demonstrations and a final boycott by opposition parties displeased by the terms and conditions on which the election is held. Among similar protests the PDCI also wins 148 of the 175 seats in the national assembly.

In December 1999 the president is deposed in a coup by General Robert Guëi, who promises elections for October 1999. In the elections the military at first claim victory for Güei, in an evidently rigged election with a very low turnout. But supporters of his civilian opponent, Laurent Gbagbo, take to the streets and succeed in forcing the military to climb down. Güei backs down and Gbagbo becomes president.