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Henri Konan Bédié - 1993-1999

Tension between northern and southern Côte d’Ivoire dates back to the 1960s, when an influx of immigrants from surrounding former French colonies moved to southern Côte d’Ivoire seeking employment in the nation’s booming agricultural sector. During this period, the term ivoirité emerged, referring to those of “pure Ivorian” lineage, as opposed to those of foreign descent. In 1993, parliamentary spokesman Henri Konan Bédié - another Baoulé - was appointed interim president following the death of President Houphouet-Boigny. Bédié outmanouevered Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara to become president of Côte d'Ivoire. Ouattara resigned as prime minister in December 1993 and went on to form a rival party, the Rassemblement des Républicains (RDR).

Houphouet’s anointed successor, Bedie presided over increasing levels of corruption and an economic decline brought on by global commodity price shocks and financial mismanagement. As his political support began to wane, Bedie popularized the concept of Ivoirite, or a ‘‘true’’ Ivoirian identity. Bedie’s xenophobic rhetoric resonated with many in the South who were seeing their fortunes decline and began to blame foreigners for taking jobs away. Burkinabe were the principal scape-goats, but northerners more generally came to be lumped in as well. A competition for power between Bédié and former prime minister Alassane Ouattara evolved and continued up to the 1995 presidential elections, which Bédié eventually won. During the 1995 campaign, Bédié coined the term ‘Ivoirité' to denote genuine belonging to Côte d'Ivoire and consciously cast doubt on the citizenship of many northerners who descended from parents of neighboring countries, or - increasingly - whose names simply sounded ‘foreign' even if their families had been in Côte d'Ivoire for generations. In practice this often came to mean anyone from the predominantly Muslim ethnic Mandé or Senoufo groups. In short, the xenophobic concept of ‘Ivoirité' dangerously polarized the country along north-south, Muslim-Christian, and interethnic lines.

Bédié fueled the ivoirité debate in an attempt to discredit and prevent Ouattara, accused of being from Burkina Faso, from taking power, and questioned whether people of northern Ivorian ethnic origins were sufficiently Ivorian. Additionally, each of the three main political parties professed the superiority of either northern or southern ethnic groups and accused each other of working on behalf of ethnic interests rather than in the interests of the nation.

Bédié resisted pressure for democratic reforms and his regime gained a reputation for widespread corruption, but he retained the political backing of France. He won a fraudulent election in 1995, after pushing legislation through the National Assembly that led the disqualification of any candidate whose parents were not born in the country, and who had not lived in Côte d'Ivoire for the preceding five years. This conveniently removed chief rival Alassane Ouattara from the race, despite having served as Prime Minister under Houphouet. Excluded from successive elections because of questions about his parentage and nationality, Ouattara became a rallying point for northern grievances and feelings of exclusion. Government corruption and mismanagement led to steep reductions in foreign aid in 1998 and 1999, and eventually to the country's first coup on December 24, 1999.

Bedie's weak leadership skills, authoritarian style and refusal to bow graciously from the spotlight contributes to the PDCI's slow unraveling. By 2006 Bedie, who was ousted in a coup in 1999, had little strategy for negotiating an end to the political crisis in Cote d'Ivoire beyond demanding that the international community asssume responsibility for security and for organizing new elections. Bedie's attitude is not significantly different from that of most political actors in Cote d'Ivoire, including President Gbagbo, in that they all hope that the international community will intervene decisively in a way that will favor their own position, thus obviating the need for negotiations and painful compromise. Bedie argued that his PDCI party headed the united opposition; other parties had to follow the PDCI lead. As the leadership of almost all the opposition parties were at one time associated with the PDCI during its one-party rule, Bedie looks upon other parties largely as illegitimate children, a patronizing view that was hardly appreciated by other parties. In 2010 Bedie was eliminated as a presidential candidate due to the constitutional age restriction of 75.





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Page last modified: 06-10-2016 19:50:22 ZULU