Coup, Calm, Collected

The pre-Christmas coup in the West African state of Côte d’Ivoire may have been roundly (and predictably) condemned by African countries, but the toppling of President Henri Bédié may eventually lead to a more democratic regime.

The new man in charge, General Robert Guéï, pledged to institute “pluralism” on the basis of “democratic principles.” In late January, he announced thatgeneral elections would be held by the end of October.

Bédié’s ouster marked the end of four decades of one-party rule. While sharing former President Félix Hou- phouët-Boigny’s love of money and autocracy, Bédié lacked his predecessor’s charisma. Most Ivorians shed only crocodile tears when the army took control.

“Bédié’s regime...was ‘civilian’ only in name,” wrote veteran commentator Cameron Duodu in the liberal Mail & Guardian of Johannesburg (Jan. 7). “In the 40 years of...Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) rule, the pillars that define democratic media, free trade unions,...fair elections, could not be found.”

This might explain why the country’s press across the political spectrum celebrated the removal of Bédié, described by the left-wing Notre Voie, as “our tropical Adolf Hitler.”
During the first days of the new regime, the state-owned Fraternité-Matin, previously pro-Bédié, published a flattering profile of the new leader. In the independent Le Jour (Jan. 5), Y. Gbané quoted the president of the National Islamic Council, Idriss Kondouss Koné, as declaring that “the fall of Bédié did not happen by chance. It was, rather, God’s will.”

According to Souleymane T. Senn, writing in the opposition Le Patriote, the country’s best-selling daily (Jan. 12), the coup “opens a new era for Côte d’Ivoire. A government of transition is being formed.…At the end of the and democratic elections will be organized.…Only military force seems to open the route to a democratic alternative in Africa.”

Touré Moussa, writing in Le Patriote (Jan. 3-4), said, “General Robert Guéï says, ‘Power does not interest me.’ A man of honor, he has promised to return power to civilians. We bet that he will.”