Social Organization and Social Change
For centuries Côte d'Ivoire has been the scene of social and economic change brought about by cross-cultural contact, trans-Saharan and coastal trade, and innovation by local inhabitants. Established patterns of change were dramatically altered by the imposition of colonial rule and the transition to independence, and by the 1980s patterns of social and cultural change reflected responses to these disruptions and to the processes and policies of government.
The colonial imposition of plantation agriculture allowed the emergence of the first nontraditional African elite, when those who could claim rights to land began to employ farm laborers to produce cash crops for the colonial regime. This group of planters, as they came to be known, formed the core of the earliest Ivoirian political machine, which continued to influence the course of change in the 1980s. Alongside the rural elite, a fledgling civil servant middle class also appeared in response to the needs of the bureaucracy, as new levels of political awareness and activism surfaced throughout the region.
The African Agricultural Union (Syndicat Agricole Africain- -SAA), formed in 1944 as a union of planters, led the opposition to colonial agricultural policies. Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a Baoulé elder and French-trained medical doctor, became head of the SAA and of the preindependence movement, the Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (Parti Démocratique de la Côte d'Ivoire--PDCI), which emerged to lead the struggle. The PDCI emphasized participation through traditional ethnic group leaders and ethnic committees (comités ethniques). Ethnic committees helped channel grass-roots participation in the political process, but in 1985 they were replaced by local committees (comités de base).
From the French perspective, those who had gained wealth and prestige by exploiting new opportunities in the changing environment were considered most qualified for political decision making on behalf of the colony. Houphouët-Boigny gained a multiethnic constituency as leader of the PDCI by acting as a broker between colonial officials and emerging African elites, and especially by opposing colonial forced-labor policies. During the 1950s, the PDCI gradually adopted a strategy of collaboration with colonial officials, a strategy Houphouët-Boigny pursued successfully enough to become the nation's first president at independence in 1960.
Even as an early leader in the preindependence PDCI, Houphouët-Boigny had defined interest groups and grievances for the nation. In 1974, after a decade of moderate discontent and dissidence, he convened a series of dialogues that served the dual purpose of airing cross-ethnic grievances and maintaining the president's image as a traditional-style leader, using the analogy of the African "palaver" (palabre). Teachers, students, former students, parents of students, tenants, union members, union leaders, transporters, the military, and the party youth wing, the Movement of Ivoirian Primary and Secondary School Students (Mouvement des Etudiants et Elèves de Cô d'Ivoire--MEECI), were invited. Excluded were representatives of the growing number of unemployed and of ethnic groups, with the notable exception of the Lebanese community.
Economic modernization paralleled political and social change in the shift from colonial to African power arrangements. Spurred by the opening of the Vridi Canal to the Gulf of Guinea in 1950 and the concentration of government functions in the southeastern port of Abidjan, population migration toward the south increased, and secondary towns developed along routes to Abidjan. Modernization essentially became the process of urbanization, and the distinction between urban and rural came to symbolize the widening rift between rich and poor.
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