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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 11:53 GMT
Ivory Coast: Descent into violence
Abidjan skyline
Economic strength accompanied decades of peace
When gunshots were first heard on the streets of Abidjan on Christmas Eve in 1999 it sent shockwaves around the world.

The Ivory Coast had been seen for decades as a rare oasis of peace and prosperity in a notoriously unstable region.

Laurent Gbagbo
President Gbagbo: Hoping to unite the country
The coup, led by General Robert Guei, was the country's first violent change of government since gaining independence from France in 1960.

Civilian rule was restored in October 2000, with the election of Laurent Gbagbo as president, but there was much bloodshed in the process.

And things are still unstable, as the attempted coup of 8 January 2001 has shown. Gunshots in this West African state just aren't quite so unusual any more.

Greviances

The country's stability had always been built on one of the stronger economies in the region and led the country to be regarded by Western powers as an important regional ally.

Ivory Coast economy
Exports cocoa, coffee, palm oil
GDP per capita $1,680
31% of GDP from agriculture
Growth rate 6%
Ivory Coast is the world's largest exporter of cocoa beans - the main ingredient in chocolate - and is also a major exporter of palm oil and coffee.

But a slump in the price of cocoa during General Guei's rule, caused serious economic difficulties, and cocoa farmers protested about the hardships they were experiencing.

General Guei
General Guei: Changed the face of Ivory Coast
Soldiers also became more strident and mutinied, demanding more money.

The first revolt was in March 2000, and one soldier was killed as the military put down the uprising. In July, hundreds of soldiers took to the streets for two days in Abidjan and other cities, in what looked like becoming at one point a successful counter-coup.

Then in September, there was a failed attack on General Guei's residence by armed gunmen from the military.

Fault line

Presidential elections to restore democracy in October led to more violence when General Guei tried to steal the vote, leading to a popular uprising that brought Laurent Gbagbo to power.

Alassanne Ouattara:
Alassanne Ouattara: Excluded from running for president
But Mr Gbagbo's victory rapidly disintegrated into political and ethnic fighting between his supporters and those of rival opposition leader, Alassane Dramane Ouattara.

Mr Ouattara, a former prime minister, had been barrred from standing in the election because of a nationality dispute that has run like a fault line through Ivory Coast politics in recent years.

General Guei was able to disqualify his former ally and main electoral opponent on the grounds that his parents are not Ivorian. Mr Ouattara has consistently maintained that they are.

Street violence, sparked by Mr Ouattara's exclusion from parliamentary polls, shook Abidjan again in December 2000, and tensions persist between President Gbagbo's mainly southern, Christian followers and Mr Ouattara's mostly northern, Muslim supporters.

There are also reports of sharp divisions within the military and rumours of an attempted comeback by General Guei.

In the last year, there has been a sea change in Ivorian politics.

The military has now become a major political player and soldiers have become aware that the ballot box is not the only way to change things.

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