Area Handbook for Ivory Coast

By T. D. Roberts; Donald M. Bouton et al. | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 2
HISTORICAL SETTING

The people of the Ivory Coast are an amalgam of many different ethnic groups, first brought together by the accidents of colonial conquest and made an entity for administrative convenience. The history of their country, as a political unit, dates only from 1893 when it became a French colony. Before that time, the story is one of disjointed tribal activities and of the haphazard encroachment of European traders along the fringes of the coast. Since then, it is a record of social integration and gradual evolution under the colonizing efforts of the French, culminating in the emergence of an independent nation.

As a European colony the Ivory Coast was a latecomer in West Africa, and even then, penetration from footholds on the coast, through the dense forest and into the interior was a slow process. The French did not fully pacify the country and win effective control until after World War I, and intensive development was not undertaken until after World War II. Throughout this colonial period the country had a measure of autonomy in local matters, but it was enjoyed only in the restrictive framework of the huge French West African federation. In fact, until 1958, the only ways in which the French colonizers treated the Ivory Coast as a distinct political entity were by establishing a territorial assembly to assist and advise in local administration and by requiring the colony to pay its own way in financial matters. As a consequence, the concept of a completely distinct nationality was only a few years old at the time of independence and had something less than full force.

Two other fundamental legacies from the colonial history continue to permeate political life. The nation's leaders, educated in French schools, steeped in French culture, and trained in French political institutions, not only think and act as Frenchmen but apply as a basic principle of government the French theory of étatisme--the concept of the supremacy of the state--and a strongly centralized administration. Moreover, the long period of integration of the Ivory Coast in the French West African federation, whose member territories shared a common civil service, common political and social organizations, and a common market, developed in the leaders similar viewpoints and close working relationships with their counterparts in the other former French West African territories.

Independence came abruptly, but once the course was set the

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