The Society

The Society

CULTURAL DIVERSITY is impressive in Côte d'Ivoire. Urban and agricultural workers, herders, traders, and fishermen; matrilineal and patrilineal organizations; villages and chiefdoms; and progressive and conservative political tendencies contribute to this national mosaic. Added to this indigenous variety, French, Lebanese, and African immigrants and visitors live and work throughout the country. This complex nation is changing, however, and attitudes toward change vary among and within these groups. During the 1980s, the pace of change was affected by the numerous oppositions that characterized Ivoirian society--rich-poor, urban-rural, modern-traditional, and south-north. Côte d'Ivoire was developing its own balance of these tensions, with a result far more complex than a simple combination of indigenous cultures and colonial legacies.

Religious systems have changed in ways that reflect other social trends. In this nation of "miraculous" economic development, as it is so often dubbed, with its clearly privileged elite, people have on the whole retained traditional African religious beliefs. Usually combined with Christian or Muslim precepts, or both, local religions nonetheless permeate views regarding the nature of cause and effect. The syncretisms emerging from these strains of continuity and change are, like the nation itself, unique, despite similarities with other African states.

Political systems, like religions, reflect elements of modern and indigenous values in their development, and in Côte d'Ivoire these influences were especially evident in the practice of justifying authority in personal terms. The patrimonial style of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny indelibly marked political development through the early decades of independence. He crafted, although not single-handedly, a nation that exemplified moderation in some respects, resisting political trends and social extremes. Social development was generally steady and gradual rather than abrupt or catastrophic. The resulting society was marked by a general optimism regarding the possibility of benefiting from the system. The lure of affluence fostered an individualism that was absent in traditional cultures, as materialism "caught on" but did not obliterate traditional beliefs about the nature of the universe. Alienation was moderated by the hope of participation in the nation's material growth.

Efforts to improve educational opportunities were important in this changing social environment, both for individual advancement and for social control. The government placed a high priority on schools, adapting the system inherited from France to advance local interests--but still relying heavily on French assistance. In health care service delivery as well, Côte d'Ivoire made substantial improvements in the system it inherited from colonial times, raising material standards of living, at least for some. Like many benefits of development both before and after independence, however, these advantages were most readily available to those who were already able to exploit the changing social system to their own advantage.

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