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Félix Houphouët-Boigny

Biography of the First President of Côte d'Ivoire


Nationalist, doctor, and first president of Côte d'Ivoire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny and his one party state created Africa's strongest and prosperous nation in the 1960s and 70s. At his death in 1993 he was the longest serving president of Africa and the third longest in the world.

Date of Birth: c. 18 October 1905, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire, French West Africa
Date of Death: 7 December 1993, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire.

Early Life
Félix Houphouët was the son of a wealthy Baoulé (Baule) family, his mother, reportedly, being the niece of Queen Yamousso. His father died when he was a child, but his mother remarried, and his step father is said to have acted as regent. He attended secondary school in Bingerville, and converted to Catholicism, adopting the Christian name Félix.

Félix Houphouët was successful at school and went on to attend the prestigious École de Médecine (Jules Carde) de l'Afrique Occidentale Française (the Jules Carde School of Medicine of French West Africa) in Dakar, Senegal, between 1921 and 25. He qualified as a medical assistant, rather than completing his degree, and took a job as a 'Médecine Africain' -- a poorly paid rural doctor in the south east of Côte d'Ivoire. He worked as a rural doctor for 15 years and apparently gained a reputation as a healer.

Entry into Politics
When his step-father died he deferred the post of chief to his younger brother Augustin. But he inherited a large tract of land and began operating as a planter. Félix Houphouët became aware of the colonial prejudices against indigenous farmers, and in 1933 organized the first African planters association in Côte d'Ivoire.

In 1939 his brother Augustin died, and Félix Houphouët took on the mantel of Baoulé chief. Under the 'direct rule' of the colonial French administration, he acted as chef de canton for Akouè, effectively the local tax collector. He was now too busy with local politics to continue working as a rural doctor.

The family plantation was one of the largest in Côte d'Ivoire and Félix Houphouët was soon very wealthy. He continued to act as an advocate for African landowners with the French administration, and in 1944 formed the Syndicat Agricole Africain (SAA, African Agricultural Syndicate) -- at its peak the SAA had over 20,000 members and became one of the first anti-colonial movements in Côte d'Ivoire.

In 1945 Félix Houphouët entered mainstream politics -- France had given its sub-Saharan colonies seats in the Assemblée Constituante, the French National Assembly. Two seats were to be shared between Côte d'Ivoire and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). One of the seats was to represent French nationals in the colonies, the other for indigenous peoples. After a hard fought contest, which went to a second round, Félix Houphouët won the 'indigenous' seat, mainly through the backing and promotion of the SAA. In celebration he added Boigny (a Baoulé word meaning 'irresistible power') to the end of his name

Félix Houphouët-Boigny was appointed to the Commission des Territoires d'Outre-Mer (Commission of Overseas Territories) and worked towards ending the hated corvée forced-labor system in French colonies. In 1946, with the help of the French Communist party, he formed the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI, Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire) -- Côte d'Ivoire's first political party.

Creating the PDCI and RDA
The PDCI allied themselves with the French Communist Party and formed part of the larger political force, the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA, African Democratic Rally), to counteract against perceived French prejudice against African liberalism. The RDA was an inter-territorial party representing the whole of French West African and the PDCI effectively became its Côte d'Ivoire branch.

Unfortunately for Félix Houphouët-Boigny and the RDA the Cold War was making associations with any Communist Party politically damaging. When the French Communists initiated a series of strikes in 1950, the French government retaliated, arresting several key officials, including Félix Houphouët-Boigny -- he was only saved from going to prison by parliamentary immunity. The RDA, accordingly, broke away from the Communists, and Félix Houphouët-Boigny became known as a 'moderate' in the National Assembly. In 1956 the RDA were successful in elections, Félix Houphouët was given various committee memberships and a ministerial appointment. He also made the acquaintance of Charles de Gualle.

Houphouët-Boigny and the Loi Cadre
Félix Houphouët-Boigny was heavily involved in the drafting and ultimate adoption of the Loi Cadre, a law passed in 1956 by the French National Assembly which provided for universal adult suffrage for all African subjects in French colonies. The law also prepared for the internal autonomy of French colonies in Africa.

Following the implementation of the Loi Cadre, a territorial election was held in Côte d'Ivoire. The PDCI won easily. Félix Houphouët-Boigny was now a member of the French National Assembly and a minister in the cabinet, the President of the Territorial Assembly, effectively president of the Côte d'Ivoire Assembly, and mayor of Abidjan -- he held offices in local, provincial, national, regional and metropolitan French government.

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