Abidjan, Ivory Coast
In Ivory Coast, a country fond of proverbs, a hot wind - the hottest in 20 years - has blown no good. Fires, sped by dryness from the harmattan, have largely destroyed coffee and cocoa crops, which traditionally account for 60 percent of the country's exports.Skip to next paragraph
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And the heat is on President Felix Houphouet-Boigny. Faced with a scorched economy, Ivory Coast's President visited the United States in June to entice American investment. Among his chief worries: Ivory Coast's foreign debts are close to $6 billion and last year, for the first time since it gained independence, his country experienced zero industrial growth.
The predicament has forced Ivory Coast, long hailed as a third-world paragon of progress, to implement austerity measures. Some Ivorians are resisting these steps, however. The rising expectations of an increasingly educated and urbanized population may prove as immovable as the termite hills that frustrate the farmer's plow.
For example, when the government recently told teachers it was revoking their housing subsidies in the middle of the school year, the teachers went on strike. The government evicted the strikers, suspending their union and pay, and closed secondary schools. Professors, pharmacists, and physicians vowed to join the protest. It was only when President Houphouet-Boigny threatened to fire and jail the demonstrators that strike efforts were abandoned.
And campus unrest at the national university last February ended in uncommon political tension here. Among the issues was the scheduling, rescheduling, and ultimate cancellation of a debate on ''Can there be democracy in a single-party regime?'' Troops broke up demonstrations, the faculty union was dissolved, the university closed, and dorms shut.
In years past, discontent among students had quieted after the government sent them for a look at life in neighboring countries with much lower standards of living. But now many of Ivory Coast's young people are holding their government to its early promise of a good life. Ivorians are proud of not having a military government, the form of rule in all but one of their neighboring countries. But in this country that boasts a genuine middle class, doing better than the neighbors may no longer be enough.
The tenure of Houphouet-Boigny, a source of security for so long, is now a source of unease to many observers who see no preparation for succession. The President has refused to name a vice-president, who, according to a constitutional change introduced by Houphouet-Boigny himself, would be his successor. Reelected to a fifth five-year term in 1980, Houphouet-Boigny has governed Ivory Coast since independence.
Despite recent strains, Ivory Coast enjoys a level of freedom and tolerance that is unusual in the region. Ivorians freely talk of suspected corruption and run-ins with bureaucracy.
Although France granted Ivory Coast its independence 23 years ago, the former colonial power is still very much represented in the country's daily life. Three times as many French citizens live in Ivory Coast today as at independence. And to many from other West African countries, Ivory Coast's relative prosperity makes it as popular as a pineapple vendor on the beach here. Roughly one-fourth the paid work force in Ivory Coast is foreign.
Even amid growing talk of ''la conjoncture'' (hard times) and an unsettled political future, evidence abounds of the ingenuity and enterprise that can help the country regain its economic footing. Domestically bottled water and tonic are for sale where before all such drinks were imported. At Abidjan intersections, hawkers bound up to cars offering machetes, magazines, and other items for sale. And in villages, children can be seen quietly doing their homework assignments outdoors at night under lights towering over dirt paths.
Recent government noises about moving the capital from Abidjan to Houphouet-Boigny's hometown of Yamoussoukro - both in honor of him and to escape the troubles of an urban area grown too large - were greeted in good humor. As a bush taxi drove through Yamoussoukro (population nearly 100,000) soon after announcement of the move was first floated, passengers corrected each other in identifying grand buildings rising above the traditional courtyards. The presidential palace (Houphouet-Boigny's personal property, not the nation's) has an entrance guarded by larger-than-life gold rams, the animal the President has taken as his symbol.
Abidjan, with a population of 1.5 million, is a city of young adults. Elderly Ivorians tend to stay in their hometowns, and even young professionals in Abidjan say they, too, plan to return to their hometowns one day. Salaries earned in the capital go toward a villa in their towns and villages.