The Party

The Party

The trappings of political power were concentrated in a single party, the PDCI, to which all adult citizens were required to belong. The principal goal of the party was stability, and compared with parties in other sub-Saharan states, it had achieved its objective. By and large, political conflict took place within constitutional bounds. To continue that tradition in the 1980s, the government expanded political participation and discouraged political--and especially ideological--competition. The party embraced what it defined as centrist policies, and although Ivoirian citizens did not enjoy democratic freedoms in the Western tradition, foreign observers considered Ivoirian society among the freest in Africa.

Party membership was synonymous with citizenship. At its inception and during the late stages of colonial rule, the party was a broad coalition, less nationalist than nativist, and calling itself populist, consultative, and representative. At that time, the PDCI enjoyed considerable grass-roots support, especially on issues pertaining to forced labor and the indigénat. After independence, however, the party came under increasingly tight presidential control. Instead of political mobilization, the government demanded of the citizenry what Philippe Yacé called "active acquiescence." The party leaders closest to the president, almost all of whom had been plantation owners, wielded great power in their home (ethnic) constituencies, where they were able to influence the distribution of patronage in the form of public and party offices, contracts, public works, and other benefits. This enabled them to increase their own wealth and further secure their positions in the political system. Over time, patronage supplanted political organization, and many local PDCI committees in rural areas withered.

In the 1980s, with the anticolonialist struggles long over and the era of Houphouët-Boigny and his fellow political militants waning, the party continued to lose its vitality. The party's dated preoccupation with unity deflected attention from the pressing issues in Côte d'Ivoire. Economic development demanded greater technological sophistication and gave rise to conflicts pitting cities against the rural periphery and young against old. Incrementally, technocrats and developmentalists with modern Western values replaced party militants in the government bureaucracy. The new elite did not challenge the militants, who continued to dole out party offices, nor did they insist that the government become more democratic or less authoritarian. The new elite simply had different concerns: government rather than the party and bureaucratic rationality rather than party mobilization.

Without the infusion of competing ideas, the party atrophied as a creative political force. To be sure, the governing elite remained members of the party; however, as the state became more complex and bureaucratized, the distinction between party and state blurred. The government and not the party assumed responsibility for national integration. By the late 1980s, the party served primarily as a sinecure for old party stalwarts, and the PDCI administration became a vehicle for self-advancement and the protection of narrow interests. That situation was not entirely true in the case of party activities at village levels where, reversing an earlier trend, the position of party secretary (the local party representative) became an openly contested electoral office. Increasingly, political neophytes viewed the office as an initial step to higher office, and so they invested resources in campaigns and tried to fulfill their campaign obligations.

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