6 votes

Notes on the Ivory Coast


  1. [2]
    (edited )
    From the blog post: … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … And there’s more, but I’ll stop quoting here.

    From the blog post:

    In 1822, Portuguese merchants brought cocoa to Sao Tome, an island off the coast of central Africa. The cocoa grew extremely well. As covered in a lengthy chapter in Paul Kenyon’s Dictatorland, the men who controlled these plantations became some of the richest people in the entire Portuguese Empire (including Brazil). 50 years later, cocoa was brought to Ghana, and soon after it spread to the Ivory Coast.

    […] while most crops can be put in rows in a big field and they’ll grow with the right amount of sunlight and water and soil nutrients, cocoa trees can usually only be grown in natural habitats. Thus, cocoa “plantations” typically consist of wild jungles with cocoa trees sporadically spaced out among natural flora and maybe some coffee or banana trees.

    Much like cotton in the American South, the peculiarities of cocoa harvesting had massive social and political implications for West Africa. Cocoa trees were sporadically spread throughout jungle, so there was no easy way to mechanize production. Thus, efficient cocoa harvesting meant having lots of people running around big jungles manually cutting cocoa pods off trees and depositing them in sacks. This meant cocoa farms needed lots of labor, and unfortunately, West Africa’s labor acquisition process was quite similar to Southern America’s labor acquisition process.

    Cocoa arrived in the Ivory Coast in 1870. Native planters like FHB’s father received subsidies and land to expand operations while French planters also came to establish their own plantations. Coffee farming and timber production emerged as the two biggest sources of economic growth, but cocoa was a close third, and it was more labor-intensive than the other two. Cocoa production was based primarily in the south of the colony, and there simply weren’t enough local Ivorians to do all the work. So the plantations began importing lots of immigrant labor from the far northern part of the colony, an entirely Muslim region that would eventually break away from the Ivory Coast to become the Upper Volta, which would eventually be renamed Burkina Faso.

    But even that wasn’t enough labor, so both native Ivorian and French planters turned to slavery. Of course, they didn’t call it that; slavery had been outlawed in the most remote of French colonies by 1905. But this “forced labor” was clearly slavery. Gangs would kidnap Ivorians or Upper Voltans and press them into work outfits to be rented out to the cocoa plantations, or the plantations would buy labor from chiefs who enslaved and sold their own people. Children in particular were popular slaves because they were easy to control, cheap to maintain, and cocoa farming didn’t require much strength. Numbers are understandably hard to come by, but slave labor undoubtedly constituted a significant portion of cocoa farming labor in the Ivory Coast by the 1930s.

    [During World War II] All of France’s colonies were put under Vichy’s control.

    What this meant for the Ivory Coast was that there was about a three year period ending in 1943 when the colony was controlled by a fascist government in league with Nazi Germany. All the liberalizing policies of the Popular Front were terminated, and a new set of laws were enacted that were far more repressive than the pre-Popular Front days. The entire colony was given quotas of crops to produce, native farmers were legally prohibited from hiring any labor so it could all be preserved for white farmers, and the informal slavery system was formalized in law.

    These were tough times for FHB [Felix Houphouët-Boigny] and other native farmers, and in response, serious solidarity and political consciousness developed in the Ivory Coast for the first time. Until that point, the Ivory Coast was quite a passive, even contented colony in the French Empire. Then three years of Vichy rule hardened a core of relatively well-off native farmers who began to make big plans for their colony. And at the head of this core was FHB, who through entrepreneurial gusto, wise management, and strong political connections, had muscled his way into becoming probably the single-largest cocoa farmer in the Ivory Coast by the mid-1940s.

    The Ivory Coast was seized by Free France in 1943 and a provisional colonial administration was put in place. The following year, FHB and seven other wealthy farmers capitalized on the chaos to form the Syndicat Agricole Africaine (SAA), the colony’s first real political organization and high-level economic cooperative. Its stated goals were not radical, but just to advocate for reforms in the administration for the benefit of native farmers – eliminate the discriminatory labor policies, cut out the European middlemen between native farmers and European buyers, and if possible, end the forced agricultural labor. Naturally, as its wealthiest member, FHB became the SAA’s first leader.

    De Gaulle had set up the Fourth Republic, but it was unclear if it could survive without him, especially with the communist-dominated government lacking legitimacy. The communists and socialists desperately tried to salvage the situation with a flurry of reforms and new laws even though nobody knew if the government would survive another month.

    In the midst of this chaos, FHB proposed his own law, which was literally called the Houphouët-Boigny Law – a complete prohibition on forced labor in the French colonies, including the closure of all existing loopholes. The communists and socialists had always been sympathetic to the colonial cause, so with no debate nor voting, the Houphouët-Boigny Law was passed and ended slavery throughout the French Empire.

    FHB was catapulted to international hero overnight throughout French Africa. Some people saw him as a Moses or Abraham Lincoln, others saw him as a political genius. Not only was he one of the first-ever Africans to serve in a European legislature, but he had ended slavery. And he did it [in] three months!

    He became known as a wheeler-and-dealer, an expert negotiator, and a great seeker of compromise. He always advocated for the Ivory Coast and was principled enough not to sell it out for personal gains, but he took a pragmatic approach to politics. The RDA initially stayed aligned with the communist party until the Cold War turned the national mood against them, so the RDA jumped ship for the moderates and became a mostly loyal supporter of maintaining French colonial policy.

    And in return for this support, the French Empire bestowed great wealth on the Ivory Coast. Partially at FHB’s behest, the French government invested over $100 million into the Ivory Coast from 1948 until the late 1950s. Between 1946 and 1958 alone, the French government was responsible for facilitating 70% of investment into the Ivory Coast and footed the bill for 30% of the colonial administrative costs. The already rapidly growing agricultural export sector entered a new boom phase: in 1944, there were 40,000 cocoa and coffee farmers in the Ivory Coast, by 1956 there were 120,000, and by 1959 there were 200,000.

    FHB’s position on the independence question was clear… vote no! Or at least vote no for the foreseeable future. FHB wanted the Ivory Coast to be a free and independent nation once it was ready, but he (IMO accurately) believed it wouldn’t be ready for decades. Even as the most prosperous French African nation, the Ivory Coast was still very poor, and highly dependent on France economically, militarily, and administratively. This wasn’t idle speculation; FHB loved to get in the weeds on economic matters. He was well-aware that French colonial policy was inflating the prices paid to the Ivory Coast for its agricultural goods by 15-20%. If those prices suddenly crashed to global market rates, the Ivory Coast would suffer a massive economic shock, which would make it all but impossible to pick up the 30% administrative costs France currently paid, let alone continue France’s rate of economic investments.

    On August 7, 1960, the Ivory Coast was officially and unilaterally granted independence from France. FHB and his lieutenants wrote up a constitution with a strong French-style executive branch overseen by a president with five-year terms, and a unicameral parliament. The PDIC was officially written as the sole legal party in the country. In November, the Ivory Coast held its first elections; FHB won with 100% of the vote and the PDIC got 100% of the legislative seats.

    When reading about the Ivory Coast, it’s easy to forget that it was a structurally authoritarian state. The Constitution officially permitted only a single party. FHB ruled as a de facto dictator and official president for 33 years, and didn’t allow anyone to run against him for the first 30 years. The Ivorian legislature had all of its candidates hand-picked by FHB until 1982, and then only permitted elections between party members until 1990.

    behind closed doors, FHB’s foreign policy was a different beast. He seemed to have a maniacal obsession with covertly meddling in other countries. Former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman J. Cohen called FHB “a master manipulator and destabilizer, but so low key as to be virtually invisible,” and wrote about him literally enjoying the process (“he loved it”) of forming conspiracies to back foreign revolutionaries or organize assassinations. FHB supported Angolan rebels against the government and he financed and organized the invasion of Charles Taylor’s rebellion in Liberia that caused a 20 year civil war and included such highlights as cannibalistic faction leaders and the Liberian president being murdered on camera.

    [T]he price paid for cocoa within the Ivory Coast was controlled by the BSPA, which bought all cocoa production and then sold it abroad at a profit. When cocoa prices began to tumble after 1979, the government froze their internal prices to support farmers. Eventually, the international price fell so low that, for the first time ever, the BSPA began to operate at a loss.

    By 1987, even after slashing state investment to the bone, the Ivory Coast was nearing bankruptcy.

    The Plan began in January 1988. FHB announced to the world that the Ivory Coast would not sell its cocoa abroad for less than $2 per kilogram. The global price at the time was about $1.50, so American and European chocolate manufacturers and their middlemen mostly ceased buying from the Ivory Coast.

    Projected Ivorian government cocoa losses for 1988-1989: $520 million.

    In early 1989, the Ivorian government stopped paying interest on its national debt, again, effectively declaring bankruptcy. The state essentially couldn’t afford basic operations anymore. By 1992, even after several rounds of defaults and renegotiations, the Ivorian government’s total debt level reached $20 billion, the highest per capita in all of Africa.

    On July 1, 1989, FHB surrendered. He announced that the internal price of cocoa would be cut by almost 50%, a level still above the norm for farmer prices, but far closer to the global rate.

    It really, really didn’t help FHB’s case when he unveiled the Basilica of Our Lady Peace in 1990. Months after gambling away the last of the Ivory Coast’s fortunes, FHB opened arguably the largest church in the world in his hometown at the cost of possibly up to $600 million. FHB personally attended the ceremony where he gave the church to Pope John Paul II, who, by many accounts, was personally disgusted by the display of affluence in such an impoverished country.

    And there’s more, but I’ll stop quoting here.

    2 votes
    1. cfabbro
      Link Parent
      Fascinating read about a country I knew little about before now. Thanks for sharing this, @skybrian. p.s. Sorry for the tag spam everyone, but it is a truly long read that covers a lot of ground,...

      Fascinating read about a country I knew little about before now. Thanks for sharing this, @skybrian.

      p.s. Sorry for the tag spam everyone, but it is a truly long read that covers a lot of ground, and I was tagging as I read it. :P

      7 votes