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June 16, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #28 of 54: Libya

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) ---
28. LIBYA
Flag of Libya

Formal Name: Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

Term for Citizens: Libyans.

Capital: Tripoli. Population: 1, 776, 000.

Independence Achieved: January 2, 1952, from Britain.

Major Cities: Benghazi, Tripoli.

Geography:

Libya is in North Africa. It is bordered by Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad and Niger. Libya has an estimated area of 679, 362 square miles. The country consists mainly of desert. The Mediterranean coast tends to be fertile, whereas the rest of the country is arid wasteland. Less than 2% of the country receives sufficient rainfall to practice agriculture. The climate is Mediterranean at the coastal regions and the rest is desert climate. Over 80% of the population lives along the coastal regions.

Society:

Libya’s population is estimated at 5,551,000.

Ethnic Groups: Arabs and Berbers 90%, Tuaregs and Africans make up the rest of the population. Expatriate communities include Greeks, Maltese, Italians, and West Europeans.

Languages: Arabic is the official language.

Education: Free primary education. Literacy rate is estimated at 82.6%.

Religion: Nearly the entire population, 97%, profess adherence to Sunni Islam.

Economy: Oil production is the mainstay of the economy. GDP estimate: $41 billion; Per Capita: $7, 600. Monetary Unit: Dinar (LYD)

History and Government:

Libya has a long history, including been part of ancient Rome. Modern Libya, however, is an Arab-Muslim country. Arabs swept from their Middle East core into North Africa in the seventh century and took over the land. Libya witnessed the rule of many, including Carthage, Vandals, the Ottomans, Italy, France and Britain. Upon independence from the Europeans in 1952, Libya formed an Arab republic. A succession of weak governments followed until a military coupe established Libya’s present government. Libya essentially has one man’s government since Colonel Muammar al Qadhafi took over the government in 1969. Libya is divided into ten military districts, each subdivided into several municipalities and villages.


CONTEMPORARY HISTORY AND POLITICS

The term Libya is derived from a Berber word, Lebu, referring to people living west of Egypt. Berbers lived in Lebu (which the Greeks transformed to Libya) and, eventually, were joined by other groups, including Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Germans, and Ottoman Turks.

During the seventh century, Moslem Arabs joined the mix after conquering Libya; they converted the people to their Moslem religion and gave them the Arab tongue. Present day Libyans are mostly a mix of Arabs, Berbers and Africans.

The Ottoman Turks inherited the Moslem empire and ruled Libya until the Europeans came in the 19th century. In 1911, Italy occupied Libya and ruled it until the Second World War when the British defeated Italy in North Africa and book over the rule of Libya.

With the end of the Second World War, Libya passed to the newly formed United Nations as a trust territory. The UN gave Libya independence in 1951.

Libya was a constitutional monarchy until 1969 when Colonel Muammar Qadhafi overthrew the government of King Idris. Qadhafi is still in power. He has toyed with many brands of governing, including Arab socialism or whatever he wakes up and feels is the best way to govern his fiefdom. Currently, he has made peace with the Americans and seems to be toying with capitalism, until he has another dream that tells him to try something else.

Nominally, Libya has a legislature, a court system and an executive system. Kaddafi does not even have a name within this jumble of governing system yet there is no doubt as to who is in charge of the show.

Libya is divided into 32 municipalities for administrative purposes.

The Libyan economy is based on oil. Libya has lots of oil, which means that she has lots of oil money, which means that Kaddafi has lots of money to gratify his latest whims, especially military weapons.

And so Libya chugs along until there is another 28 year old officer in the military ready to chop off Qadhafi’s throat and take over the government. There is no predicable political behavior apart from Qadhafi’s whims. This means that there is instability. But as long as this Arab-military strong man seems to have everything in control, all seems well, on the surface, at least. But no one knows what the country would wake up to the next day.

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at 08:04 AM | Comments (1)

June 12, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #27 of 54: Liberia

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) ---
27. LIBERIA
Flag of Liberia

Formal Name: Republic of Liberia.

Formal Name: Republic of Liberia.

Term for Citizen: Liberians.

Capital: Monrovia. Population: 491, 000

Independence Achieved: July 26, 1847, from the USA.

Major Cities: Monrovia.

Geography:

Liberia is in West Africa. Sierra, Leone, Ivory Coast, and the Atlantic Ocean border Liberia. Liberia’s size is 43, 000 square miles. The climate is tropical, characterized by year round humid wet and dry seasons. The Rainy season is between April and November, and some coastal regions receive up to 180 inches of rainfall annually. Average daily temperature is 80.F.

Society:

The population of Liberia is estimated at 3,367,000. 66% of the population is largely rural and 34% urban.

Ethnic groups:

The main ethnic groups are: returned Americo-Liberians, Kpelle, Kissi, Gola, Grebo, Kru, Mandingo, Bassa, Belle, Dey, Gbandi, Gio, Krahn, Loma, Mano, Mende, and Vai.

Languages:

Each of the ethnic groups speaks its own language but all of them are variations of the Niger-Congo West African languages. English is the official language.

Religion:

About 50% of the population adheres to indigenous African beliefs, the other half are equally divided between Christians and Muslims.


Education:

Elementary and junior secondary school education (age six to sixteen) is compulsory. Literacy rate is about 57.5%.


Economy:

Agriculture occupies at least 80% of the economy. Mining and light manufacturing is present but not well developed. Trade with the United States is strong. GDP estimate: $3.5 billion; Per Capita GDP: $1, 100. Monetary Unit: Liberian Dollar (LRD).


History and Government:

Liberia is a unique African country. Liberia was begun by returned African Americans. During the struggle to free American slaves, there was movement to return freed slaves to Africa and Liberia was one such experiment. The returned African Americans settled at Monrovia, and eventually incorporated surrounding Africans into an expanded country and ruled them. Tension arose between the African Americans and the local Africans. This tension eventually led to the toppling of the African American government at Monrovia by Sergeant Samuel Doe. Charles Taylor, in turn, overthrew President Doe and a civil war ensured. Liberia is divided into 15 counties and these are further subdivided into districts and chiefdoms. The national president appoints the superintendents for each of the counties. On paper, Liberia has the American model of government but the president is very powerful and the other branches of government are weak. The country is characterized by a central cleavage, the struggle for leadership between the returned Americans and the Africans. Until recently, the returned Americans ruled the country and maintained fragile peace but when President Tolbert was overthrown and replaced by Samuel Doe, the country experienced instability. President Charles Taylor’s rule was characterized by civil war and mayhem. The defeat and removal from office of Mr. Taylor seems to mean a return to political stability?


CONTEMPORARY HISTORY AND POLITICS

Liberia was founded by freed African-American slaves. Those slaves, primarily from the Southern USA, began coming back to Africa in1821. In 1847 they declared their independence.

The returned ex-slaves, although they were fleeing from a society where they were looked down upon, brought the same prejudicial attitude to the Africans they found in their new African home. On the whole, they carried themselves as if they were superior to native Africans and, indeed, considered them inferior. They organized themselves in their little enclave in Monrovia but did not make vigorous efforts to relate to the 95% natives in interior Liberia. Nor did they make efforts to show the supposed inferior natives how superior they were by setting up schools for them. It took missionaries from the slave owning countries to open up interior Liberia and build schools for Africans.

Liberia is composed of the 5% returnees from America and 95% African natives. The natives came from many tribes. The Kpelle constitute the largest ethnic group in Liberia.

In the meantime, the 5% returnees proceeded to rule the natives and shut them out from participating in the governance of the country. They set up their political party, modeled after 19th century American Whig party, and essentially kept the natives out from participating in it and that way the leaders of that Whig party cycled through the president’s office. It was all in the family, that is, the returnees ruled the roost. These people tried to replicate in Africa’s soil the antebellum racist practices in the Southern USA that they were fleeing from! What a creature is man!

Obviously, they set the stage for eventual crisis and violent overthrow of their sham democracy. In 1980, Sergeant Samuel Kenyon Doe, a member of the Krahn tribe, led a bloody vengeance coup that overthrew the returnees ruling class. The last president of the phony democrats, President Tolbert, was killed in his bed.

Doe, unfortunately, was ill prepared for governance and made more mess than he inherited. In 1990, Doe was killed by other coupist, just as he had killed his predecessor. Thereafter, Liberia went into a free fall and until 2003; there was no stability. Attempts were made to bring about an end to the bloodbath between the various factions vying for power: returnee against Africans, Africans against returnees, one tribe against another etc, but they failed and civil war was in full bloom.

In 2003, West African countries, like Nigeria, under the auspices of Africa Union and the United nations eventually managed to broker a peace arrangement and the reigning war lord, Charles Taylor, was granted asylum in Nigeria. A transition government headed by Gyude Bryant took over and in 2005 an election was conducted and Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf was declared the winner. Her opponent, the popular soccer star, George Weah, for a while claimed that the election was rigged but eventually conceded defeat and Johnson-SirLeaf was crowned the first female president of Liberia.

Liberia is divided into 15 American type counties.

The Liberian economy was devastated by the decade long civil war that the country went through. Militias on all sides controlled the exploitation of the country’s minerals (particularly diamond) with which they bought military weapons to fight their wars. With peace, the mining of iron ore and other minerals that could yield substantial revenue for Liberia resumed. American companies like Firestone/Bridgestone, hopefully, will resume work in their massive rubber plantations.

Liberia has a long way to go in rebuilding its shattered economy. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is said to have training in economics and had background in the world of finance; let us therefore hope that she puts those skills to positive use and for the first time lays the foundation for a strong and prosperous economy for her country. She is a native Liberian (although her grandfather is German) and presumably does not have the arrogance of the returned slaves who isolated themselves in the enclave, Monrovia, which they named after a slave holding American President, Monroe. We hope that Johnson-Sirleaf gets down to working to improve the backward economy she inherited. She made Africa proud to be the first female elected president, now let us see if she would also make it proud as the first efficient manager of her country’s public affairs.

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at 03:03 AM | Comments (0)

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #26 of 54: Lesotho

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) ---
26. LESOTHO
Flag of Lesotho

Formal Name: Republic of Lesotho.

Term for Citizens: Basotho.

Capital: Maseru. Population: 271, 000.

Independence Achieved: October 4, 1966, from Britain.

Major Cities: Maseru.

Geography:

Lesotho is estimated to be 11, 720 square miles. Lesotho is in South Africa and is completely surrounded by the Union of South Africa and is landlocked. Lesotho is a country of rolling hills, some 6000-7000 feet high. The Drakensburg Mountain range is at the eastern end of Lesotho. Two main rivers of Southern Africa originate in these mountains, the Orange and the Tugela. Lesotho is mostly grassland, with few trees. Only 10% of the land is suitable for agriculture. The climate of Lesotho is subtropical.

Society:

The population of Lesotho is estimated at 1,802,000.

Ethnic Groups: Lesotho has one ethnic group, the Basotho. However, some Zulu, from neighboring Zululand, live in Lesotho.

Languages: Sesotho. English is the official language.

Religion: Christianity and residual indigenous beliefs.

Education: Primary education is available to all students of school age. Literacy rate is estimated at 84.8%.

Economy: Livestock is a main industry. Maize is the most important cash crop. Some diamond mining. Lesotho heavily depends on South Africa and there is very little paid employment in the country. About half of the men go to South Africa to seek work. GDP estimate: $5.6 billion; Per Capita GDP: $2, 700. The monetary Unit: Loti (LSL).

History and Government:

Lesotho had a history as a monarchy. Moshoeshoe, a minor chief organized the other chiefs into a powerful kingdom called Basotholand in 1821. Zulu raids and Boer encroachment led the Basotho kings to seek British protection and Lesotho became a formal British colony in the 1870s. Basotholand gained independence from Britain in the 1960s and was ruled by one of its minor chiefs, Chief Leabua Jonathan until 1986 when a military coup ousted him from office. The paraphernalia of democracy is all in place but the chiefs ruling the various Sotho clans play a strong role in the governance of Lesotho. The country is divided into10 districts.


CONTEMPORARY HISTORY AND POLITICS

The original people in the area now called Lesotho were the Khoisan or Bushmen. Eventually, the Bantus, spreading from their West African home, reached South Africa and displaced the Bushmen. The Sotho is a Bantu group.

During the 19th century, Britain declared the area a British protectorate, the protectorate of Basutoland (1868).

In 1966 the country was granted independence and Leabua Jonathan became the Prime Minster. Mr. Jonathan clamped down on opposition parties, and the later went underground and formed Lesotho Liberation Army and a civil war began.

In 1986 there was a military coup that finally removed the rule of Jonathan and his Basutoland National Party. The military adventurers initially made the king, King, Moshoeshoe, who was hitherto ceremonial, an executive king. Another wing of the military, apparently, did not like this event and forced the king to abdicate and go into exile and made his son, Letsie, the king. The later engaged in the politics of trying to restore his father to the throne.

This back and fort went on until the 1990s when after the intervention of South Africa a new election was held and Ntsu Mokhenle became the prime minister. The 2002 election saw Mr. Mosisili and his LCD come to governance.

Lesotho has a constitutional monarchy. The country is divided into ten districts.

Considering that over 99% of the people of Lesotho are of Sotho ethnic group, the government ought to be more united and focused in serving its people.

The only thing that seems to be going well for Lesotho is the management of its water resources. Water is in abundance and is sold to water starved South Africa.

Lesotho politicians seem in office to seek their egoistic goals; the improvement of the public seems the last thing in their minds. Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in Africa and the people have to go to South Africa to seek employment.

HIV-AIDS ravages the people and the government’s intervention is anything to be desired. The government is still trying to come up with a “Programme’ to address the AIDS epidemic, twenty five years after the outbreak of that disease that has affected over 30% of Lesotho’s population! Perhaps the government will finally come up with a plan to address the AIDS pandemic when the entire country is a cemetery.

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at 02:52 AM | Comments (1)

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #25 of 54: Kenya

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) ---
25. KENYA
Flag of Kenya

Formal Name: Republic of Kenya.

Term for Citizens: Kenyans.

Capital: Nairobi. Population: 2,343,000.

Independence achieved: December 12, 1963, from Britain.

Major Cities: Nairobi, Mombassa.

Geography:

Kenya is located in East Africa. It is bounded in the Northeast by Ethiopia, in the Northwest by Sudan, in the West by Uganda, in the East by Somalia and the Indian Ocean and in the South by Tanzania. Kenya encompasses 224,962 square miles of land. The Equator bisects Kenya. Its Southeast abuts into the Indian Ocean and its Southwest is washed by Lake Victoria. Mount Kenya is Kenya’s highest point at 5,200 meters. Kenya contains vast forests and savannas, mangrove swamps, many national parks and game preserves teeming with wildlife. Kenya’s north and northeast consists of semiarid and arid plains.

Population:

Kenya’s population is estimated at 31,987,000. Roughly 20% of the population is urban; much of it concentrated in Nairobi and Mombasa areas.

Ethnic groups and languages:

There are more than 30 ethnic groups and languages in Kenya. The major groups are: Kikuyu (22%), Luhya (15%), Luo (14%), Kamba (13%) and Kalenjin (12%). There is substantial population of Asians, Europeans and Non-Kenyan Africans in Kenya. English and Swahili are the two official languages.

Religion:

About 80% of Kenyans’ profess Christianity, about 6% Islam and the rest adherents of indigenous African religions.

Education:

Roughly about 95% of children between the ages of six and twelve attend primary school. The literacy rate of men over age 15 is estimated at 85.1%.

Economy:

Kenya has a private enterprise economy. There is, however, extensive government participation in the economy. Agriculture still plays a dominant role in the economy. GDP estimate: $32 billion; Per Capita GDP: $1, 020. Monetary Unit: Shilling (KES).

History and Government:

Kenya has a long history, including being the possible setting for the earliest human species. However, modern Kenyan history began with the incorporation of the area into British sphere of Influence in the late nineteenth century. Modern Kenya is still heavily influenced by Britain. The Kenyan government consists of a president and his cabinet, an elected unicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. Kenya is divided into seven provinces and the provinces further divided into 40 districts and towns. Elected officers govern each of these administrative units of Kenya. Kenya is one of the most stable African countries; it has smoothly transferred power to succeeding governments, from one party to another, and from President Jomo Kenyatta to President Arap Moi, and Mwai Kibaki, the current President.


CONTEMPORARY HISTORY AND POLITICS

The presence of human beings in East Africa is long. Traces of proto human existence there has been traced to millions of years. However, the modern history of Kenya can be traced to the visit to the area by the Portuguese in 1498. The Portuguese were seeking ways to trade with India and established posts along the east coast of Africa, including along what is now called the Kenyan coast, particularly at Mombasa.

The Portuguese came into conflict with Omani Arabs who, apparently, were already trading on the east coast of Africa, primarily on human slaves. The two civilizations, Christian and Muslim, clashed and at onetime or another, one would push the other out, but by the 18th century, it appeared that the Arabs won and continued their trading in slaves.

By the 19th century Northern Europeans got serious about colonizing Africa, and first, the Germans came calling, and later, the English. By 1888 the British were settled in their new colony of British East Africa.

After the First World War, Britain resettled many of its demobilized soldiers in the Kenyan highlands. The settlers were encouraged to become farmers, farming coffee, tea and cocoa. This meant displacing the native Kikuyu population.

As would be expected, the settlement of over 30, 000 Britons and displacement of Africans led to resentment. The Kikuyu resisted by, among other measures, forming the Mau-Mau movement that tried to use terror to drive out British settlers and farmers.

From 1952 to 1959, the British administration fought with the Mau-Mau movement. Many innocent persons, Africans and Europeans, were killed.

In 1963, Kenya became independent from Britain and in 1964 Jomo Kenyatta was elected the first African President of Kenya. Mr. Kenyatta and his Kenyan African National Union, KANU, ruled Kenya until 1978 when Mr. Kenyatta died. He was replaced by his vice president, Mr. Daniel Arup Moi.

Mr. Moi ruled until 2002. A constitutional amendment prevented Mr. Moi from running for office, again. What he hadn’t accomplished in 24 years, in his youth, was less likely to be accomplished if he had more time, in his old age.

Mr. Mwai Kibaki was elected the president and he promised to write a new constitution and fight corruption. He has done neither; the constitution he finally managed to write, after years of dithering, gave him more power than his predecessors had and it was rejected by the people. As for corruption, it is as high as it was under Arap Moi.

The government of Kibaki is as corrupt as corrupt can be. In the meantime, the economy keeps chugging along, carried along by money from tourism and revenue generated by residual European farmers on the high lands.

Somehow, African leaders seem bereft of managerial skills. What seems obvious seems incomprehensible to them. Fighting corruption seem obvious to any one who wants to attract foreign investors, but, instead, nothing gets done in Kenya unless money exchanges hands.

The Kenyan government is, simply stated, very incompetent and lawless. Mr. Kabuki’s wife, with her body guards, thugs, really, recently went to a newspaper’s office and trashed it because a reporter dared criticize her husband, the president.

Kenya is divided into eight provinces, which are, in turn, divided into districts. The President appoints regional commissioners for the regions.

Kenya’s economy is badly mismanaged. However, because of the presence of a high number of Europeans and Asians who invest in the economy, there seems some life to the economy of Kenya. Nevertheless, unemployment remains very high and the emergent cities are teeming with unemployed youth, some of whom have taken to a life of crime. The government makes noises of working for the people but, in fact, would seem not to care, or if cares, does not have the ability to do anything about it.

Poverty stricken Kenyans find some solace in recreational sex and get infected with HIV-AIDS.

Kenya, along with many African countries, remains a mystery as to why the leaders can’t seem to do anything right to address their problems. Beyond corruption and clamping dissidents into jail, nothing can be pointed out as glorious achievement by Moi and Kibaki. Kenyatta’s achievement was in struggling for Kenya’s independence, but beyond that, no one can accuse the leaders of Kenya for exemplary economic performance. This is sad, very sad, indeed.

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at 02:32 AM | Comments (0)

June 04, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #24 of 54: Ivory Coast

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- 24. IVORY COAST Flag of Ivory Coast

Formal Name: République de Côte d'Ivoire.

Term for Citizens: Ivorians.

Capital: Yamoussoukro. (Official Capital)

Date of Independence: August 7, 1960, from France.

Major Cities: Abidjan 3,956,000, (De facto Capital).

Geography:

Ivory Coast is located in West Africa. It is bounded in the Northeast by Burkina Faso, in the Northwest by Mali; in the Southwest by Liberia, and Guinea; in the East by Ghana and in the South by the Atlantic Ocean. The coastal region is marked by lagoons and mangrove swamps. The Southwest is heavily forested. The North is savanna. Ivory Coast has some mountains in its West but otherwise is mainly flat terrain. The climate is mostly warm, and humid; in the south, it rains heavily between May and October, but the northern part of the country experiences less rain. Ivory Coast encompasses 124, 503 square miles.

Population:

Ivory Coast’s population is estimated at 17,631,000, with average annual growth of 4.1%. Roughly 50% of the population is urban and concentrated around Abidjan and Bouake areas.

Ethnic groups and languages:

Ivory Coast has more than sixty ethnic groups and languages. The major ethnic groups include: Baoule (16%), Senoufo (11%), Bete (7%), Lagoon peoples (6%), Agni (4%), and Mande groups (Juula, Bambara, and Malinke, 17%). Non-Ivorian Africans, Lebanese, Asians and Europeans compose nearly 28% of the population. The official languages are French and Mande-kan.

Religion:

Muslim, 25% of the population, Christian 60% and the rest Syncretic religions.

Education:

Elementary education is mandatory and compulsory. Only about 20% of post elementary students go to secondary schools. Overall literacy rate is 50.9%.

Economy:

Ivory Coast economy is oriented towards private enterprise with extensive government participation in the economy. Foreign presence, particularly French and Lebanese is extensive in the economy. Ivory Coast has begun the process of industrialization, particularly in tertiary industries. 34% of the population is still engaged in subsistence agriculture. Cash cropping on a small scale (cocoa, coffee, palm oil, banana, pineapple, rubber, and sugar) is common. GDP estimate: $24.5 billion; Per Capita GDP: US $770 (World Bank, 2005). Monetary Unit: CFA Franc BCEAO (XOF).

History and Government:

Very little is known about ancient Ivorian history. Most of what is known is from the advent of Europeans in the country. French influence in the Ivory Coast is very pervasive. The government is modeled after that of France: a strong centralized republican government, a president elected every five years, national assembly elected every five years, and an independent judiciary. Ivory Coast, like France, is divided into forty-nine prefectures; the later are further divided into sub-prefectures, and thirty-seven municipalities. There is universal suffrage. Ivory Coast enjoyed a reputation as the most stable West African country. One party, Parti democratique de Cote d’Ivorie, PDCI, ruled the country under President Houphouet- Boigny. However, with the death of the long ruling Boigny, instability now reigns in the Ivory Coast. At present (2006), there is a struggle going on between the Muslim North and the Christian South.



CONTERMPORARY HISTORY AND POLITICS

The people of the Ivory Coast are a mix of Southern persons who share tribal affiliations with persons living in surrounding Countries, such as Ghana and Liberia (such as the Akan and Kru [people) and Northern persons who migrated southwards from the Sahel region of Africa, particularly from Burkina Faso and Mali.

The French laid claim to the area during the European scramble for the control of Africa, 1890. French farmers flocked in mass to Ivory Coast and established cocoa, coffee and palm oil plantations. They forced Africans to work in their plantations and this led to lots of resentment. Nevertheless, Ivory Coast became a leading exporter of Cocoa and coffee and enjoyed a relative thriving economy, as a result. Later, Africans got into the picture and began planting those export crops and some became quite rich from doing so.

Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the son of a Baoule chief, was one of the successful African farmers. In the 1940s, he went into politics and was, in fact, elected as a member of the French Parliament and served as a minister in Paris.

When the Ivory Coast gained independence from France in 1960, Houphouet-Boigny became the President of the country. Having lived in Paris and embraced the good life of Paris, he was pro-France and, indeed, encouraged the French to settle in his country. At one point, there was over 50, 000 French persons living in the Ivory Coast. These French men, some of whom were efficient managers and technicians, behind the scenes made sure that the country’s economy was well managed. Thus, Ivory Coast developed the reputation as the economic miracle of Africa during the rule of Houphouet-Boigny.

Apparently, the French looked the other way as Mr. Houphouet-Boigny exercised dictatorial tendencies. As long as the economy thrived, all seemed well in the country. Mr. Houphouet-Boigny engaged in grandiose buildings, such as moving the capital to his native village, Yamoussoukro, and building a cathedral that allegedly surpassed Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

By the 1980s, world recession in the price of Cocoa and coffee meant economic downturn for the Ivory Coast. People began to agitate for change in government or, at least, in its direction. In 1993 Houphouet-Boigny died and his hand chosen successor, Henri Konan Bedie, took over.

Mr. Bedie continued with the repressive rule of his predecessor, but this time the economy was not cooperating with him and riots broke out at Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital.

The 1990s was an era when the world was pressuring African countries towards more democracy, and in 1995 Mr. Bedie staged an election and won. However, he won by playing the ethnic card, reminding Southern Ivorians that many of the people living in the North came from other countries. Indeed, he tried to disqualify his main opponent, Mr. Alassne Quattara, by pointing out that one of his parents was not Ivorian. Houphouet-Boigny had maintained ethnic peace in the country, but Mr. Bedie had let the cat out of the bottle and thereafter the ethnic problems that devil other African countries became an issue in Ivory Coast.

In 1999, the army took over, and General Robert Guie became the President. He, too, called for an election to become a civilian president and played the ethnic card, also. The 2002 election was surprising won by Laurent Gbagbo. In the meantime, ethnic conflicts ensued in Abidjan and Northern Ivorians were killed. Quattara himself took refuge in the French Embassy and Guei was murdered.

Mr. Gbagbo is the current president of Ivory Coast. During his rule, persons of Northern origin feel discriminated against and formed militias and fought Gbagbo’s Southern Christians. Thus a civil war between South and North Ivory Coast. The French intervened and currently station an army to separate Northern and Southern forces.

Mr. Gbagbo, citing ethnic instability, cancelled the scheduled presidential election of 2005. In the meantime, African Union and United Nations got involved and helped select a prime minister, Charles Konan Banny, who, in their opinion, is acceptable to all parties in the conflict, and would help produce peace in the Ivory Coast. As it stands, the Gbagbo government controls Southern Ivory Coast, while the North is in rebel hands.

The situation in the Ivory Coast is compounded by the presence of millions of foreign workers in the country. During its economic heydays, the country imported many workers from its neighbors to work at its plantations. Over 20% of the country comes from foreign countries, particularly Burkina Faso. These people demand a meaningful role in the governance of the country.

Ivory Coast is divided into 19 regions, which, in turn, are subdivided into 58 departments.

The economy of the Ivory Coast is dependent on commodity prices, which fluctuates in the world market. Nevertheless, Houphouet-Boigny’s attraction of French nationals and the diversification of the economy keep the economy relatively advanced, by African standards.

The future of the Ivory Coast depends on how it deals with the Christian South-Muslim North cleavage. Until this issue is resolved, it is doubtful that there would be lasting peace in the country.

Regarding the tendency of African leaders to resort to undemocratic rule that behavior will probably change with the evolution of African countries into a more middle class economy. As long as the majority of people are illiterate and ignorant, it is easy for dictators to rule them, but a well educated middle class society cannot tolerate dictators. As Ivory Coast and other African countries produce a middle class population, democracy would finally come to that wretched continent.

Ozodi@africainstituteseatttle.org

Posted by Administrator at 11:27 PM | Comments (0)


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