Reform and the French Community

Reform and the French Community

The reforms of 1956, or loi cadre, passed by the French Fourth Republic, acknowledged the growing nationalism and a developing political consciousness in the AOF. From its inception, the loi cadre drew on the suggestions of African leaders who were permitted to participate in the decision-making process.

Conceptually, the loi cadre ended the integrationalist phase of French colonial policy and granted considerable internal autonomy to the overseas territories. Universal suffrage and the elimination of the dual college electoral system led to the creation of district and local representative councils and a great enlargement of the powers of the territorial assemblies. Each territory could formulate its own domestic policies, although the territories continued to rely on France for decisions concerning foreign affairs, defense, higher education, and economic aid. As its most important provision, the loi cadre established the Council of Government, which assumed the major executive functions of each territory, until that time carried out by a colonial official appointed in Paris.

After the dissolution of the French Fourth Republic in 1958, General Charles de Gaulle, the first president of the Fifth Republic, had even more extensive reforms written into a new constitution, reflecting not only de Gaulle's own pragmatic and anti-imperialist ideas but also the economic and political changes that had occurred since 1946. The French constitution of 1958, creating the Fifth Republic, provided for the free association of autonomous republics within the newly created French Community, in which France was the senior partner. The community had jurisdiction over foreign policy, defense, currency, common ethnic and financial policy, policy on strategic raw materials, and, unless specifically excluded by agreement, higher education, internal and external communications, and the courts. An elected president, who was also the president of the Fifth Republic, presided over the community's executive, which consisted of an executive council and a senate elected indirectly by each member state in proportion to the population. Each member state was to have its own government and a separate constitution.

In September 1958, France presented a referendum to the community. Each member could accept the constitution and consequent membership in the community or reject it and immediately sever all ties with France. Côte d'Ivoire voted almost unanimously in favor of the constitution, further confirming the almost mystical feeling of brotherhood with France that more than fifty years of cultural assimilation had instilled, particularly among the economic and political elite. The elite prudently recognized that although Côte d'Ivoire was the wealthiest French African territory, it lacked the financial resources and the trained work force to develop as rapidly as it could as a member of the community. Also, because Africanization of high-level posts within the government had barely begun in 1957, too few trained Ivoirians were available to staff the administration. A continued association with France was seen as the pragmatic course.

In March 1959, Côte d'Ivoire adopted its first constitution as a self-governing republic. It provided for a unicameral legislature elected by universal, direct suffrage and an executive headed by a prime minister elected by a majority vote of the legislature and responsible to it. The PDCI won all seats of the newly formed legislature, and Houphouët-Boigny resigned his post in the French government to form the first government of Côte d'Ivoire.

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