Mwangi S. Kimenyi, Director, Africa Growth Initiative
John Mukum Mbaku , Nonresident Senior Fellow, Africa Growth Initiative
The Brookings Institution
The genesis of authoritarianism
In 1956, France implemented a series of institutional reforms that effectively allowed its African colonies to opt for integration with France instead of pursuing autonomous existence as independent states. Just two years later, France, under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle, offered the colonies, under the auspices of the Constitution of the French Fifth Republic, free association as autonomous republics within the Communauté française (French Community). Guinea was the only territory in France's so-called Afrique noire to vote "Non" to de Gaulle's proposal. Ivory Coast voted "Oui" as its elites saw Guinea's total rejection of de Gaulle's offer as not very pragmatic. Of course, within the new community, France would retain senior status and the former colonies would come in as junior partners.
Nevertheless, leaders of the Francophone African colonies soon realized that they could opt for independence and still retain close and productive ties with France. Thus, following the lead of the former UN Trust Territory of Cameroons under French administration, which gained independence on January 1, 1960, Ivory Coast withdrew from the French Community and on August 7, 1960, declared its independence. However, it was not until October 31, 1960 that the National Assembly adopted a constitutional draft.
The new constitution, like those of virtually all former French colonies in Africa, was remarkably similar to the 1958 Constitution of the French Fifth Republic. The new Ivorian constitution rejected parliamentarianism and created institutions that had a remarkable resemblance to those of France. Most important is the fact that the new constitution established a Guallist system of government with an imperial presidency that lacked effective checks on the power of the executive. Although the constitution created a Supreme Court, the latter had no power of judicial review, executive control and domination of the court was assured mainly because the President of the Republic was also the appointing authority of the head of the Supreme Court. In essence, the constitution subordinated the judiciary system to the imperial president, the same person who was supposed to guarantee the court's independence. The imperial presidency, with extremely "vague affirmative statements of rights," as well as strong and repressive institutions, produced, in Ivory Coast, as was the case in other Francophone African countries, an authoritarian system of governance (Alexander 1963).