A coup in West Africa

Ivory Coast: Democracy is realistic choice and the best antidote to power grabs.

January 10, 2000

IVORY COAST has been one of Africa's success stories for most of the years since independence in 1960. Not today.

Its founding president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, charted a path close to France, preaching liberalism, tolerance and investment.

This made Ivory Coast more stable and prosperous than other new states until shortly before his death in 1993.

His final preoccupation with monument building and his party's monopoly on patronage weighed the economy down.

Under his successor, Henri Konan Bedie, corruption grew until the International Monetary Fund and European Union suspended aid last summer. Facing re-election next October, the president had a popular rival, IMF executive Alassane Dramane Ouattara, declared ineligible.

There matters stood on Christmas Eve, when the army commander, Gen. Robert Guei, took over in a noisy but bloodless coup, letting Mr. Bedie seek exile and Mr. Ouattara return from it.

This could turn out to be a benign coup. The 16 million people seem relieved so far. The idea may be to let the civilian politician who would win a fair election run the government in coalition with others, though the army is retaining true control.

Other governments are reserving judgment and suspending aid, which thanks to Mr. Bedie's misrule, the country needs.

The pressure is correct.

The election can be moved forward to summer. Ivory Coast is capable of democracy now. The general said that he acted to restore it, and should be held to that.

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