– « What sets us apart from our brothers in developed countries who can read and write, is that your memory is less sharp than ours since you entrust everything to paper … you cannot do without writing. You have to refer to it in order even to remember things that you have written yourselves, and forgotten. You are obliged to have recourse to paper but we who have no knowledge of writing, commit everything to memory … »
« … One day, on my arrival in Paris, a President said to me:
-« You are expected at the Sorbonne »
-« What for? »
– « For a title, an honorary doctorate in honor of your culture
Although Houphouet Boigny carefully avoided writing everything down, yet still after his death in 1993, we lost ourselves in our attempts to read his intentions in the written Constitution.
Agrarian man as he was, Felix Houphouet-Boigny did not entrust his intentions to paper, but impressed them into human memory through actions taken in the social reality as does a stage director. With this in mind, we can consider afresh Houphouet Boigny’s last public speech, to wit the presentation ceremony of New Year’s greetings of the Diplomatic Corps in 1993.
In organizing this well-wishing ceremony with the International Community, Houphouet Boigny was well aware that he was writing his Political Testament.The proof of this, he wanted to give the ceremony an exceptional importance by refusing to make the mandatory speech for the 32nd anniversary of Independence of the Cote d`Ivoire on December 7.
He made only a brief appearance on national television to urge people to focus on the presentation ceremony of greetings by the diplomatic corps to be held a few weeks later.
This well-wishing ceremony from the diplomatic corps, still fresh in my mind, was recorded in its entirety by National Television Services (RTI) and video copies can be obtained everywhere in the Ivory Coast, from street vendors and in « sidewalk bookshops ».
At the end of the Diplomatic Corps’ speech, read by the Apostolic Nonce, the image of Houphouet appears, seated in a red velvet chair, surrounded by all his « children » Members of Government and Presidents of Institutions, the National Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, Grand Chancellor ‘s Office… all harmoniously surrounding the « Old Man » like a bouquet of flowers. To the immediate right of Houphouet Boigny sat Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, the man who in reality held the executive power.
– « I would especially request that you inform His Holiness Pope John Paul II, that I asked you to convey my feelings of filial affection and tell him how pleased and proud we are of his multiple, constant, courageous and relevant pronouncements in favor of peace, peace which is inseparable from human happiness … »
– « … I want you all to remember this of the Ivorian reality: We have a government that is meeting the expectations of the people despite the worst difficulties and you know it, we are the only government in Africa, who refuses to reduce the salaries of our civil servants and this is little appreciated. This government has met the expectations of the people with dignity. It has our trust. And so too does the National Assembly for its competence, energy and seriousness. We can depend on our civil servants for their hard work. The private sector, and I am pleased to tell you this, that despite all the difficulties that we are all faced with, the Ivorian private sector, the private sector working in Côte d’Ivoire also has faith in us … We have assets that enable us to look to the future with hope..
« … As long as we live on this earth, there will always be disputes among men. I’d like to exhort all my Ivorian brothers and sisters, regardless of their political affiliation, to avoid all political disputes, by patiently and obstinately seeking peace through dialogue and negotiations, excluding any use of force … Our goal, then, is to attain peace. Peace with justice! Peace with tolerance! Peace with active solidarity! Peace with fraternity! Peace with love! With a little more effort and conviction, God! (As he said this, President Houphouet Boigny raises his arms like a bird flying into the sky) » Long live Cote d`Ivoire! «
It was a moving and unforgettable end to the ceremony.
Looking back at recent events in Côte d’Ivoire, the observers that we are, are led to the following conclusion:
In terms of the Political succession, the coming to power of Bédié was a mistake and those of Robert Guei and Gbagbo accidents. Reference to paper i.e. the Constitution disrupted this beautiful harmony bequeathed to us by Houphouet Boigny. The candidate brought to power by « the White Man’s paper » dedicated himself to the division of the family and the dismantling of the « bouquet of flowers », going as far as to attack the image of Houphouet Boigny that he wanted to remove from all public places.
Bédié’s « self-proclamation » as President in 1993, was the first « coup d’état » carried out in Ivory Coast in that it brought an end to harmony and to the government formed by Felix Houphouet Boigny.
It was a « self-proclamation » in the name of a written constitution that anyone hardly ever referred to under Houphouet Boigny.
The application of the Constitution to the letter was a betrayal of the late Houphouet Boigny’s spirit and philosophy.
It would also be a monumental lie to claim that the (written) Constitution is the expression of a population that is 80% illiterate.
Excellency, the President of the Republic, the fact that you have now included President Bédié in your political universe has convinced us beyond any doubt that you are a worthy successor of the late President Felix Houphouet Boigny.