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Opinions of Saturday, 23 May 2015

Columnist: Tiemoko Coulibaly

Kwame Nkrumah: Nkrumahism And Francophone Africa 6

We reproduce Tiemoko Coulibaly’s article “CULT OF A DEAD DICTATOR: IVORY COAST DEMOCRAY DEFERRED” here:

“The figure of Félix Houphouët-Boigny still dominates the political landscape in Ivory Coast. The cult of the former president is universal. Even his old opponent, Laurent Gbagbo, claims that his differences with the man he once called a dictator were not really that serious and are now best forgotten. The pilgrimage to his tomb in Yamoussoukro has become a sacred rite of passage for any rising politician, reminiscent of the annual procession of the faithful to the tomb of General de Gaulle at Colombey-les-deux-Eglises.

Yet Houphouët-Boigny’s legacy is a major tragedy for Ivory Coast. The triumphant resurgence of Houphouët worship, accompanied by the rise of Ivorian power, signals the failure of a system that always relied on tribalism, xenophobia, corruption and prevarication. Another tragedy is the blind and vociferous celebration of that poisoned legacy by mediocre politicians devoid of critical spirit and incapable of comprehending that the roots of the present disaster surrounding Ivorian dominance lie in their own past. If the country does not examine its past and cast a cold eye on the legacy left by Houphouët-Boigny, it risks endless strife and a serious identity crisis.

Houphouët-Boigny was in fact a proponent of tribalism, though he never admitted it. While he was loudly rejecting independence during the referendum instigated by General de Gaulle in 1958, he was engaged in an ultra-nationalist campaign against plans for a federal union of former colonies. His argument was that the Ivory Coast, as it then was, had no wish to be a milch cow for French West Africa. The lofty sentiment that the colony’s wealth might be exploited by foreigners to the detriment of Ivorians was to fuel violent attacks against Dahomeyans that year, orchestrated by Pepe Paul, a henchman of Houphouët-Boigny and now leader of a far-right party. The pretext was that Dahomeyans held the best teaching posts.

These vicious, xenophobic attacks caused a mass exodus, with survivors mercilessly stripped of their possessions. Their flight is reminiscent of the 12,000 Burkinabè driven out of Ivory Coast in November 1999 after a series of massacres. They, too, were victims of a xenophobic campaign conducted under the banner of Ivorian identity and national preference, this time by the government of Henri Konan Bédié.

Many Ivorians living in the north regularly complain that they cannot obtain identity papers and are refused entry on the electoral register because their names sound foreign. This is a constant bone of contention between north and south, and it sharpens the northerners’ painful sense of exclusion. Their frustration is another poisoned legacy of Houphouët-Boigny and his discrimination against different religions: the Muslim majority felt frustrated by the preferential treatment given to Christians by the Father of the Nation. Nowadays Muslim leaders openly accuse the authorities of harassment and don’t hesitate to join in the political debate, which would have been unthinkable in Houphouët-Boigny’s time.

In 1990 the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) was founded, led by Laurent Gbagbo, a Bété by birth. It was seen as the political expression of the frustrations of the Bété, who had long suffered under a government dominated by the Akan, the ethnic group to which Presidents Houphouët-Boigny and Konan Bédié both belonged. The new party was immediately branded a militant Bété party and leading members were intermittently accused of conspiracy and subversion.

Houphouët-Boigny had ruled the country on the basis of an anti-west alliance between the Akan and the northerners, but in the early 1990s the northerners began to express their increasingly ill-contained frustration. They felt they were not receiving a fair return for their political support and their region was given short shrift in terms of economic development and political appointments. They had endless trouble in obtaining national identity cards because the authorities, still full of ancient prejudices, were too quick to treat them as foreigners just like Malians or Burkinabè. Their answer was the Rassemblement des Républicains (RDR), founded in September 1994 only a few months after the death of Houphouët-Boigny. This new party, based mainly in the north, was born of a split in the majority party, the Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), which was now forced to fall back on its Akan support, spelling the end of the old alliance between Houphouët-Boigny and the northerners.

Konan Bédié, a lacklustre figure, received unstinting support from Houphouët-Boigny throughout his political career, to the point that he was long thought to be the president’s natural son. Houphouët-Boigny assiduously smoothed his protégé’s path despite the scandals surrounding him and even amended the constitution more than once to that end.

Once he became president, Konan Bédié, in an appeal to the people’s basest instincts, ruled that his opponent was not a genuine Ivorian but a Burkinabè, and as such was not qualified to run for the presidency. In 1994, regardless of history and geography, an Ivorian nationality clause was added to the constitution to the effect that any candidate for the presidency in 1995 must be Ivorian by birth and born of parents who were themselves Ivorian by birth. This clause was both ridiculous and impossible to apply since civil status was virtually unknown before 1960, and the amendment precipitated a confrontation between Houphouët-Boigny’s two heirs, Konan Bédié and Alassane Ouattara.

On 24 December 1999 Brigadier-General Robert Gueï seized power and immediately suspended the constitution on the grounds that it was directed against a single individual, Ouattara. A referendum was held on 23 July and a new, even harsher constitution was voted in. Thanks to the accommodating attitude shown by a handpicked constitutional court, this new constitution allowed Gueï to avoid being disqualified himself and to eliminate at a stroke any candidates who might stand in his way (1). The opposition parties had all called on the people to vote for it, probably because they secretly hoped the eligibility criteria would rule out their rivals.

For the first time in the country’s history, organisations have been set up as they were in South Africa to defend the rights of half-castes. The aim is to protest against their exclusion from the presidency and denounce the racist campaign run by Gueï with the support of the PDCI and the FPI. In a solemn declaration, one organisation, Sang pour Sang, denounced a new apartheid and an attempt to create a pure race, while Tous Ivoiriens spoke of “laws reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa, slavery in America and Hitler’s Germany” (2).

The constitution was adopted by referendum, with over 86% support across all parties, including that of Ouattara, the main target of xenophobic attacks, who backed it on the ground that it represented some progress in electoral transparency and introduced votes at 18.

These short-sighted politicians were to be the first victims of their own stupid and disgraceful conduct. History plays funny tricks. Now we have a presidential election without the principal candidates, and the credit for this doubtless goes to the Ivorian politicians. The national press, arguing that Gbagbo, Ouattara, Konan Bédié, Francis Wodié and Gueï are none of them eligible, would have been a subject for laughter rather than tears had the country’s fate not been at stake. Politicians of all parties are now in a lather about a controversial clause they themselves agreed, defying all common sense, eliminating candidates who claimed any other nationality, a clause which has now translated into a Supreme Court decision in favor of General Gueï.

The country is braced for challenge after the presidential election. There is little republican spirit in the army, which is riddled with tribalism and corruption, and this could lead to the establishment of an authoritarian military regime. Such a regime would retain its hold by distributing largesse to politicians to keep them quiet, and to the army to secure its position. If Gueï were to lose control of the armed forces as a result of a counter-coup and frenzied plotting provoked by a climate of uncertainty, the country might be in for a long period of instability, punctuated by sporadic conflicts between uncontrollable military groups. For the armed forces are as mediocre as the politicians, witness the looting that accompanied the coup last December and the mutinies on 4 and 5 July.

But the future may not be so bleak for all Ivorians. On 10 August at Yamoussoukro, Houphouët-Boigny’s birthplace, under the aegis of President Gnassingbe Eyadéma of Togo and President Mathieu Kérékou of Benin, Ivorian politicians agreed in advance on a particularly ingenious pact. The victor in the forthcoming election, whoever he was, would form a government with his unsuccessful opponents. So the advent of democracy is adjourned sine die.”

SOURCE: Le Monde Diplomatique. www./

Note (Francis Kwarteng): Original article was translated from French into English by Barbara Wilson.


1) Coussey Committee, "Report On Constitutional Reforms." Accra: Government Printer, 1949.

2) Ghana, "Report Of The Commission Appointed To Enquiry Into The Affairs Of The Kumasi State Council And The Asanteman Council." (By Justice Sarkodee-Addo). Accra: Government Printer, 1958a.

3) Ghana, "Report Of The Commission Of Enquiry Into The Akim Abuakwa State Affairs" (By Mr. Justice J. Jackson). Accra: Government Printer, 1958b.

4) Ghana, "Report Of The Commission Of Enquiry Into The Matters Disclosed At The Trial Of Benjamin Awhaitey Before A Court-Martial And The Surrounding Circumstances." Accra: Government Printer, 1959.

5) Ghana, "Ghana National Chamber Of Commerce. Second Annual Report." 1965.

6) Ghana, "Report Of The Commission Of Enquiry Into The Workers Brigade." Accra: Government Printer, 1969.

7) Gold Coast, "Government Of Gold Coast Departmental Report 12." Accra: Government Printer, 1913.

8) Gold Coast: "Summary Statement Of The Value Of Important Into The Colony Of The Gold Coast." "Government Of The Gold Coast, Department Report." Accra: Government Printer.

9) Gold Coast, "Regional Administration" (Report By The Sole Commissioner, Sir Sydney Phillipson), 1951.

10) Jibowu Commission, "Gold Coast Commission Of Enquiry Into The Affairs Of The Cocoa Purchasing Company." Accra: State Publishing Corporation, 1956.

11) Lewis, W.A. "Report On Industrialization In The Gold Coast." Accra: Government Printer, 1953.

12) Ollenu Commission, "Summary Of The Report Of The Commission Of Enquiry Into Alleged Malpractices In The Issue Of Impact Licenses." Accra: Ministry Of Information, 1967.

13) Watson Commission Report, "Commission Of Enquiry Into Disturbances In The Gold Coast." Accra: Government Printer, 1948.

Other Sources (Courtesy of Kwame Arhin's "The Life And Work Of Kwame Nkrumah"):

1) Acts Of The First Republic.

2) Annual Volumes Of Laws Of Ghana.

3) Bills Of The First Republic Of Ghana.

4) "Cultural Policy in Ghana," UNESCO, 1975.

5) "Daily Graphic" various issues.

6) "Evening News" various issues.

7) "Ghana Economic Surveys" (1954, 1963, 1965 issues). Published by the Central Bureau of Statistics

8) Ghana Parliamentary Debates, various issues.

9) Ghana's Seven-Year Development Plan 1963/641-1969/1970.

10) "The Ghanaian Woman," a Journal of the National Council on Women.

11) The Gold Coast Legislative Council Debates, various issues.

12) The Government Proposals for Constitutional Reforms, 1953.

13) "The Party," a Journal published by the CPP's Bureau of Information and Publicity.

OTHER PUBLICATIONS (courtesy of Dr. Ama Biney):

The Ghana Young Pioneers. Publication No. 437. Winneba: Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute, n.d. George Padmore Research Library Collection, Accra.

We shall return…