The Great Divide

For a country considered as one of the most stable in Sub-Saharan Africa just ten years ago, what happened to Côte d’Ivoire’s seemingly secured inter-ethnic peace? Simply put, much of their decline in stateness is attributed to a consistent divide between the north and south. Differences in government investment, economic and political influence, and cultural identity are just a few components associated with this devastating division.

More recently, Côte d’Ivoire has experienced a steady state of weakness in terms of governance, development, and security. The political stability and economic development originated from its one-party system, the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI). Since gaining its independence from France in 1960, the south became the preferred region. During Houphouët-Boigny’s term, only 25% of income was allocated to the northern departments, while 75% was given to the southern departments (Ištok and Koziak 86). Northerners believed the decreased development of their region was due to ethnic discrimination (82). It was only a matter of time before opposing groups voiced concerns of the disproportionately powerful regime.

One of the most evident distinctions between northern and southern conflict is seen in political representation of its people. While President Bédié’s government included mostly politicians from the southern-central area, representatives of the mostly-Muslim north felt marginalized, demonstrating the beginning of much internal political tension. Serving as the current President of Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Dramane Ouattara was a leader of the Muslim opposition in 1994 but was not allowed to run as a candidate in the 2000 and 2005 elections because many questioned his Ivorian origin (83).

Tensions between the Christian south and Muslim north grew slowly, particularly out of the fact that H.K. Bédié, Robert Guéi and L.K. Gbagbo all belonged to the Christian community (83). In 2000, the government-controlled Christian south and rebel-controlled Muslim north experienced the first notable disputes, which ended in March 2001 as Gbagbo and Ouattara agreed to allow four Muslim politicians obtain government positions. As expected, this was not willingly accepted among the Christian elite. Within the next two years, the country endured two unsuccessful military coups, the second of which lead to a civil war in September 2002. While Muslim rebels claimed they were fighting against a dictatorship, the government was concerned with the idea of a Muslim victory supported by domestic and immigrant Muslim communities, especially from Burkina Faso (83).

Côte d’Ivoire is a particularly important example of how even democratization can generate ethnic, religious, and regional disputes. In 1995, the term ivoirité began as a reference to the cultural identity known as “genuine” Ivorian, which contrasted with immigrants seen as “not genuine” Ivorian. In addition, while the governing party once expressed a desire to create an Ivorian nation, the rule of an opposing party suppressed such notions of nationalism (86). It is now clear how differences between north and south have greatly contributed to the country’s destabilization.


Factors Leading to State Decay

Ranked as number 12 in the 2013 Failed States Index, Côte d’Ivoire has faced a variety of internal conflicts since the 1980s. Changes in the world prices of export commodities, especially of cocoa, caused a crisis in the country’s economy. The decrease in export revenues and the increase in debt caused former President Houphouet-Boigny to react with limited democratizing measures and some economic reform (diversification of agriculture and growth in investments in the previously-neglected north). Despite the president’s response, civil discontent sparked various student protests in 1982 (Istok and Koziak 82).

During the country’s first free presidential elections in November of 1990, the governmental party PDCI (Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire), led by President Houphouet-Boigny, defeated political opponent Laurent Koudou Gbagbo. After the death of former President Houphouet-Boigny in 1993, the country fell into a state of self-destruction as successors used their energy and national resources to fight for political power. Opponents of Henri Konan Bédié, who took over office in 1993, boycotted the election due to the requirement that only a “person of Ivorian parental descent and a five-year uninterrupted residence in the country could run for presidency,” (Istok and Koziak 83). Clashes between the mostly-Muslim (later rebel-held) north and mostly-Christian (later government-controlled) south also began to generate internal political tensions (83). The true origin of Côte d’Ivoire’s “critical” condition lies in the mismanagement of political and economic systems throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, as summarized below:

December 1999: A military coup overthrows President Henri Konan Bédié, an action headed by General Robert Guei (of the National Public Salvation Committee) and some supporters of Alassane Ouattara (current President of Côte d’Ivoire). Encouraged by more than 80% of the population, the military organizes a constitutional public election.

October 2000: A popular uprising replaces General Robert Guei with Laurent Gbagbo (founder of the Ivorian Popular Front; Front Populaire Ivoirien, FPI) as President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. President Gbagbo organizes a national forum in the hopes of ending the country’s political standstill. However, the xenophobia is replaced with increased violence.

September 2002: Leaders of a second military coup become a rebel army and occupy the majority of the country. Those located in the north fall under the control of rebellion leaders supporting Alassane Ouattara, who has wanted to be president since 1993. Thousands are killed in the conflict, leading to a civil war.

March 2007: A prospect for peace arises as President Gbagbo and rebellion leader Guillaume K. Soro sign the Ouagadougou Political Agreement as a power-sharing deal to allow for the development of a unified government, of which Mr. Soro is appointed as Prime Minister. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is created and composed of 31 commissioners from various political forces and armed rebellions. The agreement also requires the disarmament of rebel groups.

October 2010: The latest presidential election leads to further violence as the country is split three-way between President Laurent Gbagbo, Alassane Ouattara and Henri Konan Bédié.