Henri Konan Bédié, Ivory Coast president deposed in coup, dies at 89

Henri Konan Bédié, a former president of Ivory Coast who led the West African nation for six years, stoking xenophobia and ethnic tensions earlier than being deposed in a navy coup in 1999, died Aug. 1 at a hospital in Abidjan, the nation’s largest metropolis. He was 89.

The present president, Mr. Bédié’s longtime rival Alassane Ouattara, introduced 10 days of nationwide mourning for Mr. Bédié, who had continued to affect Ivorian politics for the previous 20 years as head of the Democratic Celebration of Ivory Coast-African Democratic Rally. The get together introduced his dying in a press release however didn’t cite a trigger.

When Mr. Bédié assumed the presidency in 1993, Ivory Coast was probably the most secure and affluent nations in West Africa, led for 33 years by Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Affectionately nicknamed “the Outdated Man” by his folks, Houphouët-Boigny had helped shepherd the nation via independence from France in 1960 and maintained shut ties with the West, whilst he outlawed opposition events for many of his rule.

Though the nation’s structure supplied for Mr. Bédié, the pinnacle of parliament, to take workplace after Houphouët-Boigny’s dying, his passing opened an influence vacuum. Mr. Bédié battled for a number of days to outmaneuver Ouattara, who was then prime minister, and was fast to say himself, delivering a quick televised handle after his predecessor’s dying at 88.

“The structure confers on me on this tragic second obligations of whose weight I’m conscious, the obligations of a head of state,” he stated. “I’m assuming them from now.”

The place Houphouët-Boigny was a charismatic statesman, extensively liked by his folks earlier than falling commodity costs triggered an financial downturn and unrest within the late Nineteen Eighties, Mr. Bédié was thought to be extra enigmatic and aloof. He was nicknamed the “Sphinx of Daoukro” for his hometown and was able to the occasional rhetorical flourish, as when he boasted that he would flip Ivory Coast into the “elephant of Africa,” an financial powerhouse that might function a mannequin for the continent.

His administration fell wanting that purpose, with corruption rising so rampant that the European Union and Worldwide Financial Fund suspended help. The federal government was additionally criticized for selling the idea of “Ivoirité,” or Ivorianness, which Mr. Bédié used to confer with the nation’s supposed nationwide id, at a value to immigrants and different newcomers who made up an estimated one-third of Ivory Coast’s 16 million folks.

Beneath Mr. Bédié, a Christian from the identical Baoulé ethnic group as Houphouët-Boigny, Ivorian id grew to become a political weapon. The idea was used towards immigrants who labored on cocoa plantations in addition to political rivals reminiscent of Ouattara, a Muslim from the north, who was disqualified from working for president in 1995 after Mr. Bédié handed legal guidelines mandating that candidates will need to have two mother and father of Ivorian start and will need to have lived within the nation for the previous 5 years. Ouattara had lived in Washington as an official with the IMF, and his father was reported to be from neighboring Burkina Faso.

The controversy over Ivoirité “broke the nationwide unity,” stated Joachim Beugré, a journalist with the impartial newspaper Le Jour. “This idea made folks imagine that anybody who got here from the north was a foreigner,” he informed The Washington Publish in 2000, “whereas in Ivory Coast folks got here from everywhere.”

Throughout the lead-up to the 1995 presidential election, Mr. Bédié’s first since taking workplace, the president claimed to champion “peaceable democracy” whereas cracking down on journalists and dissidents. Protesters have been bludgeoned, avenue demonstrations have been banned, and a newspaper editor and two reporters have been sentenced to 2 years in jail after publishing a headline that instructed Mr. Bédié’s presence introduced dangerous luck to Ivory Coast at a soccer match.

Mr. Bédié was elected to a full five-year time period with a reported 96 p.c of the vote, though the primary opposition events had boycotted the election, protesting the brand new guidelines on who was eligible to run.

Over the subsequent few years, he sought to solidify his grip on energy by extending his time period to seven years and giving himself the suitable to nominate senators and postpone elections. In 1999, authorities issued an arrest warrant charging Ouattara with falsifying his id papers.

Critics known as Mr. Bédié a tyrant and urged him to launch political prisoners, however the president remained defiant, delivering an offended speech to parliament. The subsequent day, Christmas Eve, he was ousted in a coup, the primary navy rebellion within the nation’s fashionable historical past.

Troops fired weapons within the air, looted retailers and raced via Abidjan in stolen luxurious vehicles, saying they have been owed again pay and have been uninterested in dwelling in squalid circumstances. The troopers handed energy over to Gen. Robert Guéï, a former navy chief who had been compelled into retirement by Mr. Bédié. The ousted president discovered refuge at a French navy base close to the Abidjan airport and fled to Togo and on to Paris, whereas dismissing Guéï as a “nitwit.”

The rebellion was met with jubilation by many Ivorians, with residents in Abidjan taking to the streets, chanting “No extra Bédié,” whereas the impartial newspaper Notre Voie described him in print as “our tropical Adolf Hitler.”

France and america joined different nations in condemning the coup, though the revolt was welcomed privately by some diplomats whose governments had denounced the violent switch of energy. “If it’s a coup, it’s a superb coup,” one African envoy informed The Publish weeks later.

These remarks have been echoed by Ouattara, the present president. “After all we condemn any coup, as a result of a coup isn’t a democratic solution to come to energy,” he stated on the time. “But when it’s eradicating a dictator from energy, is {that a} good factor or a nasty factor?”

Three years later, in September 2002, Guéï was killed in preventing on the onset of the primary Ivorian civil struggle. The battle lasted half a decade and emerged out of the rancorous debate over Ivorian citizenship and id that started underneath Mr. Bédié, with insurgent troops opposing the federal government of Guéï’s successor, nationalist president Laurent Gbagbo.

Henri Konan Bédié was born right into a household of cocoa planters within the village of Dadiékro, close to Daoukro, on Might 5, 1934. As president he funneled public cash to his hometown, ensuing within the growth of latest roads, a mosque, a nightclub and a resort, pricey initiatives that set the group aside from different small cities in central Ivory Coast.

After graduating from highschool in 1954, he continued his training on the College of Poitiers in France, receiving a legislation diploma and a doctorate in economics, based on an official biography from his political get together. He married Henriette Koizan Bomo in 1957. That they had 4 youngsters, though info on survivors was not instantly obtainable.

Mr. Bédié labored within the civil service earlier than being named Ivory Coast’s first ambassador to america and Canada. He later served 11 years as finance minister and was additionally an adviser to the World Financial institution, selling personal funding in Africa.

In 1980, he was elected president of Ivory Coast’s Nationwide Meeting.

The coup despatched Mr. Bédié into exile for a number of years, though he remained energetic within the nation’s politics and ran for president in 2010, when Ouattara defeated Gbagbo, the incumbent, who triggered a short-lived second civil struggle when he refused to step down. Mr. Bédié got here in a distant third and completed with the identical lead to 2020, after calling for civil disobedience when Ouattara, the eventual victor, defied constitutional time period limits and introduced he was working for a 3rd time period.

On the time of his dying, Mr. Bédié had not dominated out working within the nation’s subsequent election, in 2025.

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