Côte d'Ivoire: The New Nation

The New Nation

In 1960, Côte d'Ivoire withdrew from the French Community and declared itself independent. The new republic joined the Organization of African Unity in 1963. Côte d'Ivoire was one of the few African states to recognize Biafra during the Nigerian civil war (1967–70); this action, as well as Houphouët-Boigny's advocacy of dialogue with white-ruled South Africa, estranged the country somewhat from many other African states. In 1980, high unemployment and a falling standard of living led to an attempted coup. Student and labor unrest continued throughout the 1980s as the government cut wages and increased the privatization of industry. The capital was officially transferred to Yamoussoukro in 1983.

Côte d'Ivoire had been a de facto one-party state since its birth as a republic, but opposition parties were legalized in 1990 after widespread popular protests. Houphouët-Boigny, who had headed the government as well as the PDCI since independence, won a seventh term in 1990, in the country's first truly multiparty elections. After his death in 1993, assembly speaker Henri Konan Bédié succeeded to the presidency. Bédié retained the post after a 1995 election that was marred by violence and boycotted by the major opposition groups; former prime minister Alassane Ouattara was barred from running by changes in the election laws. Unlike his predecessor, Bédié began to exploit the nation's ethnic differences, seeking his support from the predominantly Christian peoples of S Côte d'Ivoire.

The economy improved in the late 1990s, as Bédié pursued free-market reforms that included wide-scale privatization and encouragement of foreign investment. In 1999, Bédié's government disqualified Ouattara, a northern Muslim, from mounting a candidacy in the 2000 presidential election and subsequently issued a warrant for his arrest, claiming he had forged documents that proved he was an Ivorian citizen. These actions provoked opposition demonstrations, and opposition leaders were arrested.

In Dec., 1999, after unpaid soldiers began looting in Abidjan, Bédié was ousted in a military coup led by General Robert Gueï; it was the first coup in the nation's history. Gueï initially appointed an interim governtment, but he dismissed it in May and subsequently appeared to be seeking to retain his hold on power. A new constitution approved in July, 2000, limited the presidency to citizens whose parents were both Ivorian citizens; the measure was regarded as an attempt to prevent the candidacy of Ouattara, who had returned to the country after Bédié's ouster.

In the October elections Laurent Gbagbo of the socialist Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) won the presidency amid a low turnout—Ouattara was banned from running and his supporters boycotted the vote—but the army halted the vote count and Gueï claimed victory. Street protests and the desertion of police and military units forced Gueï from power, and Gbagbo took office. Strife between southern Christians and northern Muslims erupted, however, after Ouattara challenged the legitimacy of Gbagbo's win.

In legislative elections held in December and January, Ouattara was again barred from running, and his Rally of the Republicans (RDR) party boycotted the polls; Ouattara subsequently went into exile until Dec., 2001. The new parliament was dominated by the southern-based FPI and the PDCI. Ethnic division in the country was at its worst since independence, and there was growing international criticism of President Gbagbo, who survived an abortive coup in January, 2001. A national reconciliation forum in late 2001 attempted to address issues dividing the nation; among its recommendations were the recognition of Ouattara's Ivoirian citizenship.

A mutiny by several hundred soldiers who were about to demobilized because they were believed disloyal erupted in Sept., 2002; they seized control of Bouaké, Korhogo, and other northern towns, but were routed in Abidjan. The government first accused Gueï, who was killed, of attempting a coup, and then accused Ouattara, who escaped an attempt on his life. French troops intervened to protect and evacuate foreign civilians, but also acted to slow the rebel advance. In early October West African mediators negotiated a cease-fire, but the government rejected the agreement and fighting continued.

By the end of 2002 three rebel groups had emerged. The main rebel force largely controlled the northern half of the country, while the two other groups controlled smaller western areas. Most of the lucrative cacao-growing areas, however, remained in government hands. A truce was signed in Jan., 2003, and after sometimes difficult negotiations a power-sharing government that included rebel representatives was formed in April, with Seydou Diarra, a politician from the north, as prime minister. A comprehensive cease-fire was not established, however, until May, and tensions over the makeup and powers of the new government and attacks on rebel officials threatened the peace, despite the declaration (in July) of the war's end. In September the rebels withdrew from the government, but they resumed participating in Jan., 2004. In March the PDCI withdrew, charging Gbagbo with destabilizing the peace process, and after unarmed antigovernment demonstrators were fired on in Abidjan later the same month the rebels, the RDR, and other opposition parties also withdrew.

In Apr., 2004, a UN peacekeeping force was established to help implement the peace accord, and in August rebels and opposition parties returned to the government after negotiations. The peace process remained uncertain, however, especially after the government failed to enact the required political reforms and the rebels then refused (Oct., 2004) to begin disarming. The civil war reignited (Nov., 2004) when the Gbagbo government broke the cease-fire by launching air attacks on the rebel-held north. When nine French peacekeepers were killed, France retaliated by destroying most of the small Ivorian air force, anti-French riots broke out in Abidjan, and Western civilians were evacuated. Later that month the UN responded by imposing sanctions on Côte d'Ivoire.

In Dec., 2004, after negotiations spearheaded by South Africa's President Mbeki, the constitution was amended to permit citizens with one Ivoirian parent to run for president, but President Gbagbo insisted that the amendment be approved by a referendum, a move the northern rebels rejected. Relations between the government and the rebels further deteriorated during early 2005, but in April Mbeki negotiated a new cease-fire agreement that included a renewed commitment to disarming and elections later in 2005, and the rebels agreed to rejoin the government.

The process of disarmament, however, several times failed to begin as scheduled, as the rebels continued to object to changes enacted by the government, and the elections scheduled for Oct., 2005, were postponed. The African Union, with the agreement of the UN Security Council, proposed that Gbagbo remain in office for an additional year while an election was arranged, but that his powers be limited and a prime minister with executive powers be appointed. In Dec., 2005, Charles Konan Banny was named prime minister, and the rebels subsquently agreed to support his government.

A recommendation in Jan., 2006, by UN-backed mediators that the national assembly, the terms of whose members had expired, be disbanded provoked several days of violent anti-UN riots by Gbagbo supporters. In Mar., 2006, after multiparty talks in February that also included Gbagbo, Bédie, and Ouattara, the rebels leader, Guillaume Soro, finally rejoined the government. A June accord on disarmament, however, failed to produce results, and a national identification program designed to clarify who among the nation's 3.5 million unregistered inhabitants were Ivoirian citizens and qualified to vote was halted by Gbagbo.

In Aug., 2006, Gbagbo announced he would not step down as president if new elections were not, as seemed inevitable, held in October. The African Union proposed extending his term for one more year only, while also transferring more powers to the prime minister; the UN Security Council adopted this position in a November resolution despite protests against an extension for Gbagbo from the opposition and rebels and objections from the Gbagbo camp over any limitations on his presidency. Meanwhile, the nation was shocked by an industrial waste scandal that caused 40,000 Ivoirians to seek treatment; the waste, from foreign sources, should have been incinerated but had been dumped in Aug., 2006, at several sites around the capital.

A new peace agreement was signed in Mar., 2007. Negotiated by Burkina Faso President Blaise Campaoré and supported by the African Union, it set a timetable for disarmament and elections, called for removal of the buffer zone between the north and south and the withdrawal of UN and French peacekeepers, and made Guillaume Soro prime minister of a revamped power-sharing government. Despite the official dismantling of the buffer zone, however, government and rebel forces maintained their checkpoints, and integration of the armed forces and voter identification programs did not proceed on schedule. In June a rocket was fired at a plane carrying the prime minister; he was not injured.

Disarmament was officially inaugurated in Dec., 2007, and subsequent progress was slow; the first significant disarming of rebel forces occurred in May, 2008. Delays and other problems affecting voter identification led to the postponement of the presidential election beyond the planned date of Nov. 30, 2008. In Dec., 2008, it was agreed that elections would be scheduled after voter identification and disarmament was completed. The following May officials rescheduled the vote for Nov. 29, 2009; that same month rebel forces handed over control of 10 northern zones to civilian administrators appointed by the government. In Nov., 2009, the presidential election was once again postponed.

In Jan., 2010, the president accused the election commission of including more than 450,000 “foreigners” among the voters on its roles, sparking a crisis that led in the following month to his dismissal of the government and the election commission. Many in the opposition denounced the move as an attempt to remain in power and remove northern Ivoirians from the voting lists, and ethnic violence threatened. A new government was formed after Campaoré again intervened, and a new election commission was appointed later in February, but the presidential election was further delayed once again.

In Sept., 2010, after a voter list was at last finalized, the election was rescheduled for the end of October. No candidate won the October vote, which forced a runoff between Gbagbo and Ouattara. Bédie placed third, and his party demanded a recount, but the constitutional council dismissed the electoral challenges and most international observers regarded the election as largely credible. In the November runoff, Ouattara defeated Gbagbo according the results released in December by the election commission, but Gbagbo had the constitutional court invalidate results from seven northern districts and declare him the winner.

West African nations, followed by the United Nations and African Union, recognized Ouattara as the country's president, and a number of international organizations imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his government, which had the army's support and refused to concede. The standoff continued into 2011. There were outbreaks of deadly violence between Gbagbo's supporters (including government forces) and Ouattara's supporters, and also between the former and UN peacekeepers (who also protected Ouattara himself).

In February civil war broke out again, resuming first in W Cóte d'Ivoire. The northern forces supporting Ouattara gradually gained the upper hand, and in April, having benefited at times from UN-French support, they captured Gbagbo in Abidjan and placed the former president under arrest. Both sides were accused of committing atrocities during the fighting, and an estimated 1 million people were displaced as a result of the conflict. In November, Gbagbo was transferred to the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity; he was acquitted in 2019.

In May, meanwhile, Ouattara was sworn in as president; Soro remained prime minister when a new cabinet was formed in June. The parliamentary elections in Dec., 2011, were boycotted by Gbagbo's party, and Ouattara's RDR and the allied PDCI won a majority. Soro resigned as prime minister in Mar., 2012. Justice Minister Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio, a PDCI member and Bédié ally, was named to succeed Soro, but in November Daniel Kablan Duncan, the foreign minister and a PDCI member, replaced him.

In 2012–13 a number of prominent Gbagbo supporters were arrested and charged with war crimes; the first prominent accused Ouattara supporter was arrested in mid-2013. In Aug., 2013, the parliament passed legislation designed to make it easier for foreign-born spouses of Ivoirian citizens and long-time residents of foreign birth or descent to become Ivoirian citizens. Pro-Gbagbo militias, in some cases based in Liberia or Ghana, have mounted sporadic attacks against targets in Côte d'Ivoire since mid-2012. In 2015, 68 people, including Gbagbo's wife and son and the former heads of the Republic Guard and the Ivoirian navy, were convicted in an Ivoirian court on charges arising from the conflict that followed the 2010 presidential election. (His wife was granted amnesty in 2018.)

Ouattara was reelected in Oct., 2015, again with the support of the PDCI, but several candidates withdrew from the contest, claiming the election was not free and fair. Ouattara subsequently reappointed Duncan prime minister. In Oct., 2016, voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that eased nationality restrictions on the president and established a vice presidency and senate, but turnout was only 42%. The parliamentary elections in December resulted in a majority for the governing coalition, but turnout (34%) was even lower than in October.

In Jan., 2017, the government faced a series of uprisings by military and police forces over pay that began with an army mutiny in Bouaké. The uprisings subsequently prompted strikes by civil servants over pay and pensions. Also in January, the government was re-formed, with Amadou Gon Coulibaly as prime minister. A second major security forces uprising, also over pay, occurred in May. In July, 2018, the government was again re-formed; Coulibaly remained prime minister. The PDCI subsequently left the governing coalition when RDR refused to agree to the PDCI's picking a joint presidential candidate for 2020.

In Dec., 2019, an arrest warrant was issued for former prime minister Soro, who had been abroad but was planning to return; Soro, who did not return to the country, was accused of plotting a coup. In Apr., 2020, Soro was convicted in absentia of embezzlement. Coulibaly died in office in July, 2020; Hamed Bakayoko succeeded him in August. After Ouattara replaced Coulibaly as the RDR's presidential candidate, the main opposition candidates called for a boycott of the October election, and Ouattara received more than 90% of the vote. The result sparked opposition protests.

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