Felix Houphouet-Boigny was one of the most important anticolonial revolutionary figures in the world. He was also the first president of Cote d’Ivoire. Furthermore, he worked as a medical aide, union leader, and planter before being elected to the French Parliament. He served many positions in French Parliament before leading Cote d’Ivoire to independence in 1960. All through his life, he played an important role in decolonizing Africa.
Houphouet-Boigny was born on 18 October 1905, in Yamoussoukro to a family of hereditary chief of the “Baoule” people. Later on, the French colonial administration recognize him as future chief, so they plan him to go to school at the military post in Bonzi. For that reason, Houphouet-Boigny was converted to Christianity. He was the first in his class; he later obtained teaching degree and qualified as a medical assistant. Then, he married Kady Racine Snow and had five children. In October 1945, he was elected to represent in the French Parliament.
Unlike other African leaders who demanded independence immediately, Felix Houphouet-Boigny wanted careful transition because he thought that political independence without economic independence was worthless. On 28 September 1958 Charles de Gaulle proposed a constitutional referendum to the Franco-African community: the territories were given the choice of either supporting the constitution or proclaiming their independence and being cut off from France. Houphouet-Boigny chose Cote d’Ivoire to join Franco-African community, even though there was much opposition to his decision. Other than that, he also worked to end the dominance of Senegal in West Africa and a political confrontation ensued between Ivorian and Senegalese leaders. Houphouet-Boigny refused to participate in the Inter-African conference in Dakar on 31 December 1958, which was intended to lay down the foundation for the Federation of Francophone African States. Although that federation was never realized, Senegal and Mali (known at the time as French Sudan) formed their own political union, the Mali Federation. After de Gaulle allowed the Mali Federation independence in 1959, Houphouet-Boigny tried to sabotage the federation’s efforts to wield political control; in cooperation with France, he managed to convince Upper Volta, Dahomey, and Niger to withdraw from the Mali Federation, before it collapsed in August 1960. Two months after the 1958 referendum, seven member states of French West Africa, including Côte d’Ivoire, became autonomous republics within the French Community. Houphouet-Boigny had won his first victory against those supporting federalism.
Houphouet-Boigny became the first president of Cote d’Ivoire and began drafting a new constitution for Cote d’Ivoire after it gained independence from France on 7 August 1960. He was also reelected from 1965 to 1985. Other than being the leader of his country, he was also the leader Africa, and he created Conseil de l’Entente to allow shared management of certain public services, provide solidarity fund accessible to member countries, and provide funding for various development projects through low interest loans to member states.
On 7 December 1993, Houphouet-Boigny passes away. At the time of his death, Houphouet-Boigny was the longest-serving leader in Africa and the third in the world, after Fidel Castro of Cuba and Kim Il Sung of North Korea. To establish his legacy as a man of peace, Houphouet-Boigny created an award in 1989, sponsored by UNESCO and funded entirely by extra-budgetary resources provided by the Felix-Houphouet-Boigny Foundation, to honor those who search for peace.