For 30 years following independence in 1960, Côte d'Ivoire enjoyed relative stability and economic prosperity under the leadership of President Felix Houphouët-Boigny, an ethnic Baoulé and Roman Catholic from the geographic center of the country. The pillars of Houphouët-Boigny's post-independence political and economic policy included a focus on export-driven agriculture as a development strategy, an open-door immigration policy, and extremely close ties with the former colonial ruler, France, which assured the government's security. During these years, Côte d'Ivoire become a key economic power in West Africa, a global leader in cocoa and coffee production, and a magnet for migrant workers who would eventually come to make up an estimated 26 percent of its population.
While Côte d'Ivoire may have been the economic motor of the sub-region, it was not a model for governance and accountability. Houphouët-Boigny's Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (Parti Démocratique de la Côte d'Ivoire, PDCI) monopolized political activity in an autocratic, single-party state. While his PDCI governments nominally reflected the ethnic and religious make-up of the country, maintenance of power was based on an "ethnic coalition" strategy involving groups from Côte d'Ivoire's north and center.Many southern and western groups felt excluded and politically frustrated under Houphouët-Boigny's reign.
In the late 1980s, the "Ivorian miracle" began to flounder on the rocks of plummeting cocoa prices and rising foreign debt, leading to a serious economic recession. The foundations of Houphouetism began to crumble. Combined with the impact of structural adjustment measures imposed by international financial institutions and donors, the recession affected not only the cocoa and coffee sector, but also general employment opportunities. As a result, an increasing number of educated urban youth could not find work. As joblessness and frustration rose, so too did pressure from opposition parties and civil society (including trade unions and student groups) to reform and democratize Côte d'Ivoire's one-party state.
Battle for Succession
The death of Houphouët-Boigny in 1993 marked the formal beginning of an overt battle for political succession that would bring Côte d'Ivoire to the brink of disaster. As candidates representing the principal ethnic and geographic blocs began vying for the presidency in the run-up to the 1995 elections, questions of ethnicity and nationality came to the fore. In order to exclude rivals, politicians began to employ the rhetoric of "Ivoirité" (or "Ivorianness")-an ultranationalist and exclusionary political discourse focusing on Ivorian identity and the role of immigrants in Ivorian society that marginalized perceived outsiders.
The opposition party, Rally of Republicans (Rassemblement des Républicains, RDR), which since its formation has been dominated by Ivorians from the largely Muslim north, boycotted the 1995 election after the candidacy of former prime minister Alassane Dramane Ouattara was effectively barred. Voicing concerns about transparency, the Popular Ivorian Front opposition party (Front Populaire Ivoirien, FPI) led by current president Laurent Gbagbo also boycotted the election, and Henri Konan Bédié of the PDCI won with 96 percent of the vote.
During Bédié's six-year rule, allegations of corruption and mismanagement multiplied, and he increasingly relied on ethnic favoritism to garner support in an unfavorable economic climate. Political opposition groups, including the RDR and FPI, formed an alliance to combat this "misrule" called the Republican Front. This coalition later disintegrated due to internal friction.
The 1999 Coup and 2000 Elections
In December 1999, General Robert Gueï, a Yacouba from the west and former army chief of staff, took power in a coup following a mutiny by non-commissioned officers. Nicknamed "Santa Claus in camouflage," Gueï was initially applauded by most opposition groups as a welcome change from the longstanding PDCI rule and Bédié's corrupt regime. However, Gueï's pledges to eliminate corruption and introduce an inclusive Ivorian government were soon overshadowed by his personal political ambitions, the repressive measures he used against both real and suspected opposition, and near-total impunity for human rights abuses by military personnel.
Throughout 2000, Ivorian politics became increasingly divided along ethnic and religious lines. Elections in this inauspicious climate would prove to be, in the words of President Gbagbo, the winner of those elections, "calamitous."
Several weeks before the October presidential election, the government deemed the majority of candidates ineligible, including both Alassane Ouattara of the RDR and former president Bédié of the PDCI, resulting in an electoral contest between Laurent Gbagbo's FPI party and General Gueï.When it became clear that Gbagbo had the upper hand on election day, Gueï attempted to disregard entirely the election results and seize power, leading to massive popular protests and the loss of military support. General Gueï fled the country on October 25, 2000 and Laurent Gbagbo was installed as president a day later.
Soon after Gueï's flight, RDR supporters-calling for new elections "with no exclusion"-clashed with FPI supporters and were targeted by government security forces, resulting in many deaths. The killings, the most violent episode of political violence in Côte d'Ivoire's post-independence history, shocked Ivorians and members of the international community alike, grimly highlighting the danger of manipulating ethnic loyalties and latent prejudice for political gain.
Efforts by President Gbagbo to include members of opposition parties in his government were seen as largely symbolic, and throughout 2001-2002 political tensions remained high.
The 2002 War
On September 19, 2002, rebels from the Patriotic Movement of Côte d'Ivoire (Mouvement Patriotique de Côte d'Ivoire, MPCI), whose members are drawn largely from the predominantly Muslim north of the country, attacked Abidjan, the commercial and de facto capital of Côte d'Ivoire, and the northern towns of Bouaké and Korhogo.olitical exclusion and discrimination against northern Ivorians, and the removal of President Gbagbo, whose presidency they perceived as illegitimate due to flaws in the 2000 elections. Although they did not succeed in taking Abidjan, the rebels encountered minimal resistance and quickly managed to occupy and control half of the country. Rapidly joined by two other western rebel factions, they formed a political-military alliance called the New Forces (Forces Nouvelles, FN).
The armed conflict between the government and the New Forces ended in May 2003 with the signature of a total ceasefire agreement. Since 2003, the country has effectively been split in two with the New Forces based in Bouaké, controlling the land-locked north, and the government holding the south, where the majority of the country's estimated 20 million inhabitants live.
Since the end of hostilities in 2003, France, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, and the United Nations have all spearheaded initiatives to end the political-military stalemate in Côte d'Ivoire. These efforts resulted in a string of unfulfilled peace agreements, a peak of over 11,000 foreign peacekeeping troops on the ground to prevent all-out war and to protect civilians, and the imposition of a UN arms embargo in addition to travel and economic sanctions.
In March 2007 President Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro signed a peace accord negotiated with the help of Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré ("The Ouagadougou Agreement"), and later endorsed by the African Union and the United Nations Security Council. Presidential elections are currently scheduled in late November, some three years beyond the expiry of President Gbagbo's constitutional mandate. The Ouagadougou Agreement is the first to have been directly negotiated by the country's main belligerents on their own initiative and resulted in the appointment of Guillaume Soro as prime minister in a unity government. Implementation efforts following signature have resulted in important milestones in the peace process, even if accomplishment of major prerequisites to elections, including voter registration and disarmament, has thus far been lacking.
The Human Rights Fallout from the Crisis
The human rights fallout from the crisis for civilians living on both sides of the political-military divide has been and continues to be devastating.Political unrest and the impasse following the 2002-2003 armed conflict between the government and northern-based rebels have been punctuated by atrocities and serious human rights abuses attributable to both sides including extrajudicial killings, massacres, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and numerous incidents of torture. These abuses have been continued in large measure due to a prevailing culture of impunity.
Rebels in Côte d'Ivoire carried out widespread abuses against civilians in some areas under their control. These included extrajudicial executions, massacres, torture, cannibalism, mutilation, the recruitment and use of child soldiers and sexual violence including rape, gang rape, egregious sexual assault, forced incest, and sexual slavery. Liberian combatants fighting alongside Ivorian rebel groups were responsible for some of the worst crimes. However, even after their departure, various forms of violence have continued.
In response to the rebellion, government forces and government-recruited Liberian mercenaries frequently attacked, detained, and executed perceived supporters of the rebel forces based on ethnic, national, religious, and political affiliation. Even after the end of active hostilities, state security forces assisted by pro-government groups such as the Jeunes Patriotes ("Young Patriots" or JP) regularly harassed and intimidated the populace, particularly those believed to be sympathetic to the New Forces rebels or the political opposition. Security forces in government-controlled areas regularly extorted and physically abused Muslims, northerners, and West African immigrants, often under the guise of routine security checks at roadblocks.
On both sides of the political and military divide, the most horrific human rights abuses peaked from roughly 2002 to 2004, and have declined in recent years. However, more chronic human rights abuses persist and go unaddressed; most notably, government security forces and New Forces rebels who continue to engage in widespread extortion at checkpoints and, on a more limited scale, sexual violence against girls and women.
A nation divided, Côte d'Ivoire is only beginning to emerge from the most serious political and military crisis in its post-independence history. Widespread criminality in the university context involving student groups has taken place and continues to occur against this backdrop of instability, violence, and impunity.