Giant of Africa

December 11, 1993

The largest church in Christendom is the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Paix, completed four years ago in the remote village of Yamoussoukro, birthplace 88 years ago of Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

The great rival to St. Peter's in Rome was built while the Ivory Coast, the country of which Mr. Houphouet was founder, prophet, president, father and grandfather, a country whose population is only one-tenth Catholic, was going down the tubes.

The unemployment, unrest and fallen cocoa prices of his last years cannot obscure the greatness of Mr. Houphouet-Boigny's achievements as a physician from the 1920s, the crusader who ended forced labor in the 1940s, the politician who brought a capable African presence to the French National Assembly, the prime minister of the colony, president since independence in 1960, upholder of private enterprise in a continent gripped by Marxist experiments.

His death Tuesday during celebrations of the 33rd anniversary of national independence and his presidency removed one of modern Africa's titans and a politician-turned-dictator whose only sin in independent Africa's most-stable -- and now unhappy -- country was that he survived in power twice too long.

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