More than fifteen years have passed since Ivory Coast gained its independence form France. During?
More than fifteen years have passed since Ivory Coast gained its independence form France. During that time it has enjoyed one of the most stable political systems in the whole of the African continent, under the guidance of one leader, President Felix Houphouet-Boigny.
This week (18 October), President Houphouet-Boigny will celebrate his seventieth birthday. Three days before--on Wednesday (15 October)--he will announce whether or not he is prepared to stand for election as Ivory Coast's leader for yet another term of office.
Born in 1905 the son of a prosperous planter and descended from a long line of traditional tribal chieftains, M. Houphouet-Boigny's entry into the political arena came with the campaign to establish Ivory Coast's first agricultural trades union, dedicated to abolishing the system of forced labour among African workers.
The success of the campaign in 1946 opened the way for the aspiring leader's 13 distinguished years as Ivory Coast's deputy in the French National Assembly. During this time he served for two years in the French government, a great honour for the representative of one of France's overseas territories.
As the movement to end colonial rule in Africa gained momentum, M. Houphoust-Boigny played an increasingly significant role in the legislation giving internal self-government to France's overseas possessions. A strong supporter of General Charles de Gaulle, in 1958 he campaigned vigorously for acceptance of the de Gaulle constitution... and Ivory Coast, like all French African territories apart from Guinea, voted for autonomy within the French community.
But in 1960, together with his associates on the Conseil de entente (Niger, Dahomey and Upper Volta), he decided that the situation had changed radically with the provision of special arrangements then being made for Mali. Ivory Coast and its three Conseil partners demanded full independence before negotiating new co-operation accords with France.
Full independence came on 7 August 1960, when President Felix Houphouet-Boigny took formal possession of the ceremonial key symbolising Ivory Coast's entry into the free community of nations.
His eminence at the ballot box since then has been complete. The Parti Democratique de Cote d'Ivoire is the country's only legal political organisation, and as its head, the President has enjoyed unchallenged an almost 100 per cent "yes" vote in all elections since 1960. The country's governmental stability compares favourably with the turmoil and upheavals in numerous other African states.
In its post-independence years, Ivory Coast has experienced a highly successful period of economic expansion and development. Already a leading member of OCAM (the Francophone Organisation Africaine at Malgache), Ivory Coast joined with 14 other West African nations earlier this year in the formation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ... an organisation linking West Africa regardless of its different colonial traces.
But what has possibly been President Houphouet-Boigny's most significant move over the past year, and longer, has been the opening of talks between Ivory Coast and South Africa. As early as 1971, he stood out openly for dialogue with the white-dominated state, and in September 1974 hosted South African President John Vorster during a secret visit to Abidjan. The visit was returned last month by Ivory Coast Information Minister, Mr. Laurent Dona-Fologo, but the move towards better relations with Pretoria has not pleased many of Ivory Coast's more militant co-members of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), who oppose any sort of dialogue with Mr. Vorster's regime.