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Africa’s Winds of Change Return

DAKAR – How did Ivory Coast come to this? After gaining independence from France in 1960 with Felix Houphouet-Boigny as President, the country became the world’s largest exporter of cocoa beans and a significant exporter of coffee and palm oil. Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, sizeable export earnings, combined with easy access to credit, fueled an economic surge dubbed the “Ivorian miracle.” But then, escalating debts and plummeting commodity prices started taking their toll. Africa’s El Dorado was lost.

In 1990, Houphouet-Boigny appointed Alassane Ouattara, the governor of the Central Bank of the West African States, as Prime Minister to fix Ivory Coast’s growing economic problems. After Houphouet-Boigny’s death in 1993, Henri Konan Bédié assumed the presidency and revised the electoral code to bar Ouattara from entering the 1995 presidential contest on the grounds that he was not an Ivorian national. Bédié, not surprisingly, was re-elected unopposed. And, not surprisingly, he was soon accused of widespread corruption and toppled in a military coup in 1999.

It was in the midst of this militarization of Ivorian politics that Laurent Gbagbo emerged as the main opposition leader. When Robert Guéi, the military leader, organized a flawed presidential election in 2000, of which he declared himself to be the winner, a popular uprising ousted him and elevated Gbagbo to the post.

In 2002, Ivory Coast was rocked by a rebel uprising that partitioned the country, with the government led by Gbagbo controlling the south, pro-Ouattara rebels controlling the north, and a French army camped between the two.