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Ivory Coast - French Relations

Cote d’Ivoire has not generally been a top-tier issue in US policy toward Africa, as it has traditionally been seen as more firmly within the French sphere of influence and engagement.

In September 1958, France presented a referendum to the French Community. Each member could accept the Constitution and consequent membership in the community or reject it and immediately sever all ties with France. Cote d'Ivoire voted almost unanimously in favor of the Constitution, further confirming the almost mystical feeling of brotherhood with France that more than fifty years of cultural assimilation had instilled, particularly among the economic and political elite. The elite prudently recognized that although Cote d'Ivoire was the wealthiest French African territory, it lacked the financial resources and the trained work force to develop as rapidly as it could as a member of the community. Also, because Africanization of high-level posts within the government had barely begun in 1957, too few trained Ivoirians were available to staff the administration. A continued association with France was seen as the pragmatic course. In March 1959, Cote d'Ivoire adopted its first constitution as a self-governing republic.

Time and again, President Houphouet-Boigny reminded fellow Ivoirians that their closest and best friend was France and that France made daily sacrifices for Cote d'Ivoire by offering protected markets and military assistance. He insisted that France maintained troops near Abidjan as a favor to ensure Cote d'Ivoire 's security without impinging on its larger development plans.

A treaty of cooperation (the Franco-Ivoirian Technical Military Assistance Accord—Accord d'Assistance Militaire Technique) signed on April 24, 1961, outlined the salient aspects of Franco- Ivoirian ties. It provided for the exchange of ambassadors between the two countries, named the French ambassador to Abidjan the dean of the diplomatic corps, and reserved a "privileged position" among diplomats in Paris for the Ivoirian ambassador. The treaty also called for regular consultations between the two countries on foreign policy matters. France agreed to protect and represent Ivoirian interests in any country or international organization where there was no Ivoirian representation. Additional cooperation agreements signed at the same time covered economic matters, education, civil aviation, judicial affairs, telecommunications, and technical and military assistance.

The French government agreed to continue providing aid to Cote d'Ivoire for a period of five years, with a provision for five-year extensions. By encouraging such long-range commitments, the agreement enhanced French economic influence in Cote d'Ivoire. Concomitantly, Houphouet-Boigny began implementing policies that diverged albeit in several minor respects from French policy. In 1972 he had Cote d'Ivoire vote against admitting China to the United Nations, and until 1985, in contradistinction to France, he labeled China and the Soviet Union as threats to Africa. In the Middle East, Cote d'Ivoire had been a staunch supporter of Israel since 1967, although during much of this time France regularly took positions more favorable to the Arabs.

Houphouet-Boigny' s reliance on French private investment and government loans, coupled with his devotion to French culture, determined his stand on virtually every foreign policy issue. In the early 1960s, for example, he urged negotiations to resolve the Algerian Revolution and, unlike many of his African counterparts, refused to condemn France as the responsible party and refused to provide Algeria with any material assistance. Meanwhile, Houphouet-Boigny also supported French nuclear testing in the Sahara. Houphouet-Boigny also defended French military intervention in Africa.

France has been the dominant foreign influence on Ivoirian security concerns. France maintained its position through several institutional and informal arrangements. The most important was the mutual defense pact of the Entente Agreement of 1959. By this agreement, French forces guaranteed internal and external security of the Council of the Entente members. This relationship was strengthened by the supplementary quadripartite military accords of April 24, 1961, among France, Cote d'lvoire, Niger, and Dahomey (present-day Benin). In addition, the Franco-Ivoirian Technical Military Assistance Accord of 1961 reaffirmed France's position as the chief supplier of military aid, training, and equipment.

These agreements secured for France a virtual monopoly of external military assistance to Council of the Entente countries, legitimized the continued presence of French armed forces on their soil, and served as justification for occasional direct military interventions. Thus, the national military forces of francophone Africa, together with the French forces stationed among them and France's rapid deployment forces (forces d'intervention), formed a transcontinental defense network that served both local security needs and French global interests. Although the level of French military assistance to Africa (and to Cote d'lvoire in particular) declined in the 1980s, France's paramount position was not challenged by other foreign powers or by Ivoirian demands for autonomy. Indeed, since the 1970s France had consolidated its position as the leading Western arms supplier to Africa, where it was second only to the Soviet Union.

The Franco-Ivoirian Technical Military Assistance Accord of 1961 encompassed four categories of assistance. Three categories involved French contributions to Ivoirian defense, and the fourth dealt with joint military operations. First, France provided technical assistance personnel (cooperants) to headquarters and field commands. The agreement for the continued provision of these cooperants (who served as administrators, advisers, and in operational capacities) was reviewed and renewed every two years. In 1985 about 1,000 French military officers and NCOs provided technical military assistance to twenty African countries; 78 were assigned to Cote d'Ivoire, a decrease from a peak of 110 in 1981.

Second, France provided military equipment and training for the Ivoirian armed forces under renewable three-year agreements. Equipment and materiel were either donated or sold on favorable terms, and military training was furnished as grant aid. In 1985 France provided about US$2. 1 million in direct military aid to Cote d'Ivoire. French military detachments sometimes undertook special projects in the country; for example, for eight months in 1984 and 1985 a vehicle and equipment repair team serviced Ivoirian equipment in Bouake. In the early 1980s, France also subsidized approximately 200 Ivoirian officers and NCOs annually attending French military academies.

Third, a joint agreement allowed France to station troops in the country. These forces, represented in 1988 by the 400-man Fortythird Marine Infantry Battalion situated near Abidjan, served as tangible evidence of France's security commitment to respond to any major crisis occurring in Cote d'Ivoire or in France's mutual security partners. This battalion could intervene upon request or direction, either alone or in conjunction with similar units stationed in Senegal, Niger, and Gabon, with rapid reinforcements by French rapid deployment forces. The two countries participated in joint military exercises held each year and large-scale maneuvers held every two or three years. In the 1980s, these exercises became increasingly sophisticated and politically significant. At the operational level, they strengthened cooperation and coordination between French and Ivoirian forces. At the political level, they were a cogent symbol of the special relationship the two countries shared.

Apart from these formal accords, France also sought to bolster its influence with its former African colonies through visits, exchanges, conferences, and other meetings that promoted a continuing "defense dialogue." For example, the French Ministry of Defense conducted the biennial meetings of the Institute of Higher Studies for National Defense (Institut des Hautes Etudes de Defense Nationale—IHEDN) in Paris for key military and civilian leaders from francophone African countries. The conferences emphasized defense ties and military cooperation, the strategic significance of Africa in the global defense environment, and the importance of Franco-African solidarity. Participants also visited major French military and National Gendarmerie installations for briefings and demonstrations of French rapid deployment forces and the latest equipment.

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Page last modified: 05-10-2016 20:33:33 ZULU