Interest Groups and National Politics

Interest Groups and National Politics

The party-government in the mid-1980s most closely resembled an old-fashioned political machine. Although it called itself a one-party democracy, Côte d'Ivoire was not a political democracy in the Western sense. There was no institutionalized opposition, although by the 1980s National Assembly elections were being contested. As under the French, civil liberties remained limited. Although Côte d'Ivoire appeared to be a country of laws, those laws were tailored to suit a set of rulers who could easily alter the laws at their discretion.

By the end of the 1980s, the Ivoirian political system was facing serious problems. Because the structure, form, tone, and policies of the government were the personal creations of the president, who was said to be in his late eighties, the succession question had substantial implications. Moreover, no candidate enjoyed the charisma or stature of Houphouët-Boigny. In 1988 rivals seeking to succeed Houphouët-Boigny barely maintained any pretense of unity. No plausible candidate--with the possible exception of Yacé--had the experience or preparation necessary to assume the office.

By the late 1980s, two decades of rapid economic growth followed by serious economic setbacks had transformed social mores and altered civil society. Students and teachers were protesting the continuing control of government by a small number of party leaders for the benefit of a privileged class of landowners and bureaucrats. Corruption in the business community was becoming embarrassingly obvious, particularly among textile importers. Uncontrolled urbanization had weakened family ties and had prompted sharp increases in unemployment, underemployment, drug use, and violent crime. On a different plane, economic austerity had abruptly curtailed the rising expectations of the middle class and pitted ethnic groups against one another in the competition for scarce resources.

Economic austerity also exacerbated tensions between Ivoirians and resident foreign nationals. Students and members of the political elite expressed resentment over the continuing presence of French nationals in important government positions. Ivoirian wage laborers resented competition from immigrants from Côte d'Ivoire's poorer neighbors. Dramatic increases in violent crime were attributed to Ghanaians and business corruption to the Lebanese.

Perhaps more important, the governing institutions created by Houphouët-Boigny to mediate conflict were weak and unresponsive. That was especially true of the state-owned media, which carefully managed information by releasing only what it deemed harmless. Consequently, rumors often passed for news on the streets of Abidjan.

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