Ethnic Animosity: Cote d'Ivoire's Precarious Peace

By Wong, Jenny | Harvard International Review, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Animosity: Cote d'Ivoire's Precarious Peace


Wong, Jenny, Harvard International Review


Looking at the case of Iraq, some have argued that a country that is so religiously and ethnically divided cannot preserve a functional democracy. One example that may justify this reasoning is that of Cote d'Ivoire. Cote d'Ivoire is now embroiled in a two-year civil war, and the solutions proposed by South African President Thabo Mbeki, the mediator for the conflict, call for measures to increase democratic representation and transparency in the government. However, the peace and stability that once characterized Cote d'Ivoire were due, in large part, to the policies of its benign dictator, Felix Houphouet-Boigny. Bitterly ethnically divided, Cote d'Ivoire is wracked with problems that arise from the fundamental schisms in its population.

Since its independence from France in 1960, Cote d'Ivoire has been one of Africa's wealthiest countries. Its first leader, President Houphouet-Boigny, consolidated the country and brought prosperity with his thoughtful economic planning. With a one-party system focused on foreign investment, Houphouet-Boigny built the world's largest cocoa trade out of Abidjan, the economic capital of the country. Because the cocoa beans grow mainly in the south, the region saw itself become much wealthier than its northern counterpart. Concurrently, Houphouet-Boigny encouraged foreigners to migrate to Cote d'Ivoire from neighboring Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Burkina Faso to perform much of the low-level labor in the country. Many of these migrants settled in the north and strengthened a majority Muslim population set to oppose the wealthy and politically powerful Christian population in the south.

Moreover, Cote d'Ivoire's reliance on natural resources renders it extremely sensitive to fluctuations in world prices. From 1999 to 2000, falling prices resulted in severe political problems. On December 25, 1999, General Robert Guei led the nation's first coup to overthrow President Henri Konan Bedie, who held power after the death of Houphouet-Boigny. In October 2000, violence escalated after the exclusion of popular opposition candidate Alassane Quattara, accused of being a foreigner, from presidential elections. With the economic downturn came the idea of "Ivoirite" or "Ivorianness," a sense of exclusive nationalism that has since divided the population.

Although Guei resigned shortly after the coup and President Laurent Gbagbo stepped in to end 10 months of military rule, civil unrest has only increased since 2000. …

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