Independence and the One-Party System

Independence and the One-Party System

In 1959 several West African members of the French Community formed the Mali Federation. Although the federation initially included Senegal, French Sudan, Upper Volta, and Dahomey, all but Senegal and French Sudan withdrew quickly under pressure from Houphouët-Boigny, who regarded the federation's desire for independence from France as a threat to the economic development of the former French colonies. Nonetheless, the federation gained independence in June 1960 and split into the two independent nations of Senegal and Mali.

Meanwhile, to counterbalance the Mali Federation, HouphouëtBoigny in 1959 successfully convinced several other West African leaders to form the Council of the Entente (Conseil de l'Entente-- Entente)--a loose grouping that included Niger, Dahomey (presentday Benin), Upper Volta (present-day Burkina Faso), and Côte d'Ivoire--to pool their resources for economic development.

Houphouët-Boigny's argument against independence quickly lost its appeal among other members of the French Community following the independence of Senegal and Mali. In addition, in early 1960 the French government sponsored an amendment to the 1958 constitution that permitted community members to gain complete independence but remain within the community. Houphouët-Boigny was opposed to this reconstituted community, which he considered a new federation, and in August 1960 Côte d'Ivoire withdrew from the community and became independent. Houphouët-Boigny was the first head of state.

On October 31, 1960, the National Assembly of Côte d'Ivoire adopted a constitution establishing an independent republic. Those involved in the drafting of the Constitution, including HouphouëtBoigny and other PDCI members, wanted to establish a strong and stable government based on democratic principles. They also wanted a presidential system based on the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government and an independent judiciary. In practice, however, a gap developed between the democratic principles written into the Constitution and political practice. The PDCI leadership equated national unity with unanimous support for the PDCI and believed that competition among political parties would waste resources and destroy unity. Therefore, election provisions made it almost impossible for another party to win seats in the National Assembly. As the sole political party, the PDCI came to exercise political control over all branches of government.

By the late 1960s, power was concentrated in the hands of Houphouët-Boigny, who, in addition to his position as president, was also titular president of the PDCI. Loyal colleagues received positions of authority within the police and armed forces, as well as in the government and PDCI. Philippe Yacé, who held the positions of secretary general of the PDCI and president of the National Assembly, was the second most powerful figure in Côte d'Ivoire. The president appointed the administrative heads of the 6 departments (départements), 24 prefectures (préfectures), and 107 subprefectures (souspréfectures ), which constituted the administration of Côte d'Ivoire. Houphouët-Boigny also selected the thirty-five members of the Economic and Social Council (Conseil Economique et Social), a government body, and, with the Political Bureau, chose the members of the National Assembly.

Houphouët-Boigny further consolidated his power by circumscribing the prerogatives of the National Assembly. Presidential and PDCI control of assembly membership precluded an independent or opposition role by the assembly in the decision-making process. At the same time, the existence of an assembly with responsibility for approving proposed laws legitimized the government's democratic pretensions. Moreover, the PDCI used the assembly as a means of co-opting potential government opponents and securing their loyalty by providing deputies with a variety of privileges and amenities. Finally, the government channeled its major decisions through the assembly to the ethnic and interest groups that its members supposedly represented, thereby again giving the appearance of legitimate government.

Houphouët-Boigny also took steps to ensure the new regime's security. Although Côte d'Ivoire had no military until more than a year after independence, one was finally organized and strengthened with French assistance. Ivoirian members of the French colonial marine infantry who had been born in Côte d'Ivoire were transferred to Abidjan in October 1961 and formed the core of the first battalion. By late 1962, the military comprised about 5,300 soldiers organized into four battalions.

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