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Thursday, 5 October, 2000, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Oasis of calm no more
Abidjan skyline
Economic strength has accompanied decades of peace
When gunshots were first heard on 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.

But since the military coup on Christmas Eve, and subsequent unrest and troop mutinies, gunshots in this West African state just aren't quite so unusual any more.

Attempts to restore civilian rule are focused on elections scheduled for October, but increasing unrest suggests that a peaceful democracy is still a long way off.

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.

General Guei
General Guei: Changed the face of Ivory Coast for ever
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 has caused serious economic difficulties recently, and cocoa farmers have protested about the hardships they have been experiencing.

Soldiers have also become more strident since General Robert Guei took power, and have mutinied demanding more money.

The first revolt took place in March, 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

The general's intention to stand in the civilian elections has also attracted strong criticism from France and the United States, as well as from Ivorian politicians.

Alassanne Ouattara:
Alassanne Ouattara: Will he be excluded from running for president
Added to that is a nationality dispute that has run like a fault line through Ivory Coast politics in recent years.

The elections were initially scheduled for September but have been postponed till October, overshadowed by the row.

General Guei is seeking to disqualify his former ally and main opponent in the election, ex-Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, on the grounds that his parents are not Ivorian.

Mr Ouattara has consistently maintained that they are, but his supporters have been tense, ahead of a ruling on which candidates will be able to stand in the elections.

Ivory Coast economy
Exports cocoa, coffee, palm oil
GDP per capita $1,680
31% of GDP from agriculture
Growth rate 6%
Indeed, Ivory Coast's first violent change of government since gaining independence from France in 1960, followed months of tension between deposed President Henri Konan Bedie and would-be challenger Allassane Ouattara over the same issue.

Feelings are running high ahead of the elections, and even if they pass off peacefully, and a civilian president takes over from the military, 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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See also:

05 Jul 00 | Africa
Ivory Coast's 'Le Boss'
01 Jul 99 | Africa
Africa threatens chocolate fight
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