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Cote d'Ivoire - Military History

Cote d'Ivoire does not have a long or distinguished national military history. Even after the country gained independence in 1960, the Ivoirian military continued to rely on French advisers, troops, and military aid. The military structure and the culture of French colonial rule remained virtually intact in the nascent Ivoirian nation, preserved by Houphouet-Boigny' s deliberate reliance on the former colonial power for security guarantees and assistance. Consequently, the Franco-Ivoirian relationship had a profound impact on the organization, mission, materiel, and political behavior of the armed forces.

Whereas at least half of the countries in Africa were under military rule in the mid-1980s, and all but a few had experienced at least one successful military coup d'etat, the Ivoirian army was notably quiescent. The armed forces of Cote d'Ivoire were not actively involved in the independence movement. They had not fought in any foreign wars, executed any coups, or had to defend the country from external aggression. They remained a relatively small, lightly armed, and politically mute force, heavily influenced by French doctrine, equipment, and advisers.

Cote d'lvoire's armed forces developed from the colonial military forces organized by France after the formal establishment of the colony in 1893. Although Cote d'lvoire was a separate colony, France set up a regional military command structure for all of French West Africa (Afrique Occidentale Francaise—AOF; see Glossary). The command headquarters was located at Dakar, Senegal, and Cote d'lvoire was integrated into a regional defense structure. Its African forces were organized into regiments of Senegalese Irregulars (Tirailleurs Senegalais), whose name revealed the centralized character of the colonial administration and the subordinate status of the vast expanses of the AOF beyond the Senegalese hinterland. This externalization and regionalization of Ivoirian defense persisted after independence in the form of the Council of the Entente (Conseil de l'Entente), the security of whose member states continued to be guaranteed by France.

Between 1908 and 1912, when four-year conscription was introduced by the governor general of the AOF, the number of Africans serving in the Tirailleurs Senegalais grew from 13,600 to 22,600. At the outbreak of teh Great War in August 1914, of the nearly 31,000 black troops under French arms, about half were deployed outside of the AOF and French Equatorial Africa (Afrique Equatoriale Francaise—AEF), underpinning French imperialism in Morocco, Algeria, and Madagascar. During the Great War, about 164,000 black soldiers were recruited into the AOF for service in Europe and elsewhere.

In Cote d'Ivoire, pacification and conscription continued even as France was fighting for its survival. Between October 1914 and February 1916, approximately 13,500 Ivoirians were trained for military service. All told, about 20,000 Ivoirian soldiers fought for France during the war. Many others resisted recruitment, which was widely regarded as the heaviest of the colonial exactions. A major wartime revolt had to be put down by force. The colony suffered a sharp decrease in its standard of living because of the various war-related levies. During World War II, France again called upon its colonies to fulfill manpower levies. Before France fell in 1940, over 100,000 men had been recruited from French West Africa alone, including 30,000 from Cote d'Ivoire. After the armistice, the Vichy government increased the size of its peacetime army by recruiting an additional 50,000 Africans, while another 100,000 Africans served under the Free French between 1943 and 1945. Thus, over 200,000 Africans fought on behalf of France during the war. Although the Vichy government further intensified the burdens of colonialism, in the aftermath of the war the colonial regime was gradually dismantied to make way for independent nations. By 1950 the essential defense and internal security apparatus that would be bequeathed to Cote d'lvoire after independence was in place.

Defense was entrusted to a single army battalion with four companies: three were based at Bouake, and the fourth was at Man, with an armored reconnaissance unit at Abidjan. Internal security was the responsibility of the National Security Police (Surete Nationale). This division of the Ministry of Internal Security copied French organization and had a headquarters element, four mobile brigades, a security service, and a central, colonial police force. These units were reinforced by a local constabulary {gardes cercles) organized by the army and a local detachment of the regional gendarmerie. During the 1950s, administrative powers devolved to the colonies of the AOF. Defense and foreign affairs remained the responsibility of the colonial authorities. Even at independence in 1960, no provision was made for an Ivoirian national armed force.

Not until after the April 1961 Franco-Ivoirian Technical Military Assistance Accord (Accord d'Assistance Militaire Technique), more than a year after independence, was a national army formed from indigenous members of the French colonial marines. These troops formed a single, undermanned battalion and used equipment donated by France. By the end of 1962, the armed forces had expanded rapidly to about 5,000 soldiers organized into four battalions. For the new military establishment, independence was more formal than functional: French influence remained paramount, delaying the emergence of an autonomous Ivoirian identity.

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