Africa Notes: Côte d'Ivoire at 27 - April 1987
April 28, 1987
Since the transformation of sub-Saharan colonial territories into independent nations began in the 1950s, maps of the continent have required many revisions as the names of scores of cities, rivers, lakes, and countries were changed in pursuit of greater African "authenticity." The Gold Coast became Ghana, Northern Rhodesia became Zambia, Southern Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, Upper Volta is now Burkina Faso, and the list goes on and on. When the Ivory Coast finally got around to updating its segment of the continent's western coast in 1986, the procedure used was a formal communication to the United Nations expressing a wish that the country henceforth be cited as Côte d'Ivoire, without English translation, and that its citizenry be referred to as lvoiriens, without the French distinction between the male and female forms of the adjective. This minor adjustment in nomenclature underscores the fact that President Félix Houphouët-Boigny feels no need to apologize for the mutually beneficial cultural, economic, and political relationship his country has maintained with France since independence (and his accession to the presidency) 27 years ago.
The remarkable development of this small nation (125,000 square miles) since independence in 1960 hinges on two major factors - the political skills and organizational acumen of a president and a continuing close relationship to the former colonial power. President Houphouët-Boigny has been the predominant guiding force in the country's economic growth and his political skills have made the regime one of the most stable in the continent. Opposition has arisen from time to time - on some occasions from students, teachers, and trade unionists resentful of the continuing French presence in the country, and periodically from northern ethnic groups resentful of southern dominance of the government. Houphouët, a master of "political dialogue," has in each instance been able to restore calm without the use of force. Individual opponents have been allowed a brief place in the sun, and then have been summarily punished by exile or disgrace, only to be rehabilitated after a suitable period so as to limit the buildup of smoldering resentment.