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Ivory Coast Conflict

Introduction

After achieving its independence from France in 1960 the Ivory Coast, or Côte d'Ivoire, became a model of political stability and economic prosperity, avoiding many of the pitfalls that plagued other African nations experiencing the difficulties of sovereignty. The country, which was divided religiously between a predominately Muslim north and predominately Christian south, was united under the strong leadership of Felix Houphouet-Boigny. During his presidency from 1960 to 1993, Houphouet-Boigny cultivated close political ties with West that insulated the Ivory Coast from the turmoil associated with the military uprisings and Marxist experimentations that characterized the region. By maintaining an environment of stability, the Ivory Coast was able to develop its economy, attracting foreign investment and becoming the world's largest producer of cocoa.

In an effort to democratize the country, political opposition parties were legalized in 1990. Houphouet-Boigny won his first contested election, beating out the candidate from the Ivorian Popular Front (IPF), Laurent Gbagbo. Upon Houphouet-Boigny's death in 1993 his successor, Henri Konan Bedie, came to power. Bedie's rule faced a number of difficulties including economic pressure from falling world market prices for cocoa and coffee, internal corruption that steeply reduced foreign aid, and mounting political opposition. When Bedie placed restrictions on opposition party candidates before the 1995 election, those parties boycotted. Despite winning the election, the legitimacy of his administration was damaged. During preparations for the 2000 presidential election Alassane Ouattara, a Muslim who had served as Prime Minister under Houphouet-Boigny announced his intention to run, sharply dividing the nation along religious and ethnic lines.

Before the election could take place, the Ivory Coast experienced its first military coup. On 25 December 1999, General Guei ousted Bedie, who was forced to flee to France. Following the bloodless takeover, Guei formed a new government and promised to hold open elections in late 2000. Tensions increased when the General's handpicked Supreme Court disqualified all of the candidates from the 2 major parties by establishing the criteria that all candidates had to have 2 Ivorian parents and never have held a nationality of another country. This barred Ouattara and his Rally of Republicans party, or Rassemblement des Republicaines (RDR), from running after courts declared that his mother was from Burkina Faso. The RDR called for a boycott, setting the stage for low election turnout in a race between Guei and Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) candidate Laurent Gbagbo. When early polling results showed Gbagbo in the lead, Guei stopped the process, claimed polling fraud, disbanded the election commission, and declared himself the winner.

Within hours Gbagbo supporters took to the streets of Abidjan, the main port of the Ivory Coast. A bloody fight followed as crowds attacked the guards protecting the presidential palace. Many gendarmes and soldiers joined the fight against the junta government, forcing Guei to flee. Gbagbo, who was thought to have been the real winner of the election, was declared President. Having been excluded from the election, Ouattara's supporters, the RDR, took the streets calling for new elections. More violence erupted as forces loyal to the new government joined the FPI youth to attack RDR demonstrators. Hundreds were killed in the few days that followed before Ouattara called for peace and recognized the Gbagbo presidency.

On 7 January 2001, another coup attempt shattered the temporary calm. However in March 2001, Ouattara and Gbagbo met for the first time following the violence between their supporters and agreed to work together towards reconciliation. Local municipal elections later in March 2001 were conducted without violence and with the full participation of all political parties. The RDR, who had boycotted the presidential and legislative elections, won the most of the local seats, followed by the Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI), which was the party of former President Bedie, and the FPI. Some economic aid from the European Union began to return by the summer of 2001, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) re-engaged the government. Questions remained surrounding severe human rights abuses by the government during the presidential and legislative elections of 2000. Once such instance occurred at Yopougon where police allegedly rounded up and executed 57 northerners during an election campaign in 2000. All over the officers involved in the incident were acquitted. In August 2002, President Gbagbo formed a de facto government of national unity that included the RDR party.




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