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.

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.

But life in the city strains traditional ways. Many preschool children in Abidjan who have heard only French cannot communicate with grandparents who speak indigenous languages.

Abidjan maintains the typically French two-hour dinner break in the middle of the workday, creating rush-hour traffic four times a day.

At least some of the solutions to Ivory Coast's problems lie with balancing the old and new as carefully as the loads Ivorians routinely carry on their heads.

Although Abidjan is cited as one of the world's most expensive cities in which to live, surveys on this subject are skewed because high-priced imported goods are often figured into the nation's expense tallies, while locally produced goods often are left out.

As in so many countries, the growing popularity of television has much of the country discussing favorite TV characters. Earlier this year the discussion was ''Who shot J.R.?'' on the imported American television program ''Dallas.'' The show, dubbed in French, is a hit in this country, where extended families and family rivalries are familiar ground.

In a village, one sees color TV outside in the evenings, with row upon row of fans watching a season premier. Eighty percent of the country is within range of a television signal, but there are only 58 sets per 1,000 people.

Fraternite-Matin, Ivory Coast's only daily newspaper, is affiliated with the country's only political party, the ruling Democratic Party of Ivory Coast. The paper's most popular feature, after soccer coverage, is ''Flagrant delit'' (caught in the act), which reports sensational crimes. The paper always carries a ''thought for the day'' from the President, and recently ran an ''interview'' with E.T. speculating on the welcome the extraterrestrial might receive if his next visit were to black Africa. Another recent article dealt with custody of children born outside of marriage.

Not only is Ivory Coast's social landscape changing, but the country itself is turning from forest into savanna. In areas of Ivory Coast that were virgin forest in the late 1950s, 200- and 300-year-old tropical hardwood trees are being felled for export and there is negligible replanting. Slash-and-burn farming speeds up the change.

Although it is considered self-sufficient in food, Ivory Coast imports rice from Taiwan and wheat from France to satisfy tastes acquired under colonial rule. A new government campaign urges Ivorians to develop a liking for the chocolate and coffee they produce.

Convincing farmers to produce beyond their family's needs, and thereby boost export crops, is not easy in a country where work in the fields may mean a 11/2 -hour walk from home. Earlier this year crickets attacked crops. Locusts, which have developed a resistance to the most commonly used pesticide, are expected this year. Like much of the third world, Ivory Coast must export raw materials at falling prices while it purchases processed, finished products at rising prices.

The country's most significant foreign ties are still with France, the former colonial power here. But relations with the US and Ivory Coast's neighbors are growing. At the state's top agricultural school roughly half the agronomists have studied in France and half in the US. But Ivory Coast's continued links with France in all areas of the economy prompt critics to call it a neocolonialist relationship. The currency of much of Francophone West Africa, including Ivory Coast, is the CFA, which is pegged to the French franc.

It has been reported that in 1980, profits and salaries repatriated to France from Ivory Coast were greater than official French aid. France maintains 450 troops in Ivory Coast, including Marine infantry.

But it is American companies that are involved in Ivory Coast's plans to develop its offshore oil. With gas selling here for about $4 a gallon, favorable speculation earlier this year about the amount of oil offshore prompted the government to consider increasing its share in the arrangement. But caution set in with the falling price of crude.

Ivory Coast's plans for energy independence now rest with the only development project to survive the austerity budget - the Soubre dam. The hydroelectric project involves the first major Arab investment in Ivory Coast.

While Ivory Coast faces la conjoncture, its resilient people seem determined to show that their country is not like the kapok tree here, which appears towering but, being hollow and of shallow root, topples easily in a strong wind.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.