Former Ivory Coast President and opposition leader Bedie dies at 89

The career diplomat and politician led the country from 1993 to 1999 until he was removed in a military coup.

Former Ivory Coast President Henri Konan Bedie, part of an old guard of politicians who dominated politics in the West African nation for a generation, has died at the age of 89, according to a close relative and a member of his party.

Handpicked by his predecessor, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Bedie served as Ivory Coast’s second president after independence from France in 1960. He ruled from 1993 until an economic slump and allegations of corruption led to his ouster in a military coup six years later.

Bedie died on Tuesday at the Polyclinique Internationale Sainte Anne-Marie, a hospital in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial capital and largest city, a party source told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

The death of the leader of the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast-African Democratic Rally (PDCI-RDA) was also confirmed to the Reuters news agency by a relative, but the cause was not immediately known.

According to local reports, the former president was airlifted from his hometown of Daoukro, 230km (145 miles) north of Abidjan, after falling ill on Tuesday.

He was long remembered – and in some parts reviled – for his role in promoting the issue of “Ivoirite”, or Ivorian identity, which fuelled tensions between those who considered themselves natives in the south and east and the many foreign workers from neighbouring countries long settled in the northern Ivory Coast.

A career diplomat and politician

The son of a low-income farmer, Bedie was born on May 5, 1934, at Dadiekro, 300km (190 miles) east of Abidjan.

He excelled at school and was among 100 promising students picked in the early 1950s to study in France, where he earned a doctorate in economics at Poitiers University.

In 1959, he joined the French diplomatic service and was posted as a counsellor to the French embassy in Washington. When Ivory Coast won independence in 1960, Bedie was appointed as its ambassador there.

Six years later, a 32-year-old Bedie was put in charge of the economy during a period of rapid growth buoyed by expansion of the coffee and cocoa sectors, which remain the country’s main economic drivers.

Bedie stayed in politics until the end. At 86, he ran on the PDCI-RDA platform against longtime political rival President Alassane Ouattara in elections in 2020, placing third.

The rivalry with Ouattara was consolidated when he served as prime minister to Bedie in the 1990s and the Ivoirite policy was believed to be targeted at Ouattara, who descended from settlers from nearby Burkina Faso but was born and raised in Ivory Coast.