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Felix Houphouet-Boigny
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World Leader
    (October 18, 1905-December 7, 1993)
    Born in Yamoussoukro, Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
    Birth name was Dia Houphouet
    Represented Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in the French National Assembly (1945-60)
    Founder of the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire (1946)
    First President of Cote d’Ivoire (1960-93)
    Different accounts of his life have birth years ranging from 1901 to 1908.
    Early in his political career, he allied with the French Communists (mostly because they were they only anti-colonial party), but quickly broke with them when they became a political liability.
    Despite his professed anti-colonialism, while in the National Assembly he never spoke out against the French wars in Indochina and Algeria.
    He established a one-party state in which he ran unopposed for President and personally selected the candidates for the legislature.
    He fathered a daughter out of wedlock with his mistress (1961).
    He held a series of over 100 secret trials to eliminate any politicians who might pose a threat to his power (1963).
    He backed attempts to overthrow the governments of Guinea, Ghana, Zaire, Burkina Faso, and Benin.
    He focused his economic policies almost entirely on agriculture, resulting in the economy nearly collapsing when coffee and cacao prices underwent a sharp downturn in the late 1970s.
    As the economy collapsed, he spent $300 million of state funds to build the world’s largest church in his hometown (1983).
    He used his position as President to enrich himself, amassing a fortune estimated to be between $7 and $11 billion at his death.
    He graduated first in his class from the French West Africa School of Medicine (1925).
    His wedding to Kady Sow (1930) was believed to be the first interfaith marriage in Cote d’Ivoire. (He was a Roman Catholic, she was a Muslim.)
    He organized plantation workers into the African Agricultural Union to demand higher wages and better working conditions (1944).
    He got the National Assembly to pass a bill abolishing forced labor in French colonies (1946).
    During the early part of his reign, the country’s gross domestic product increased more than tenfold (from 145 billion CFA francs in 1960 to 1.75 trillion CFA francs in 1978), a boom dubbed ‘the Ivorian miracle.’
    Although authoritarian, his regime was less brutal than most other ones in Africa at the time, as his preferred method of dealing with critics was coopting them by offering them a position in the government rather than jailing them.
    Once securely in power, he had the nation’s political prisoners released (1967).
    In response to the protests that broke out after the economy tanked, he legalized opposition parties (1990).

Credit: C. Fishel


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