After receiving Cote d’Ivoire’s highest civilian honor during a ceremony in Buckhead Oct. 8, Andrew Young reminisced about Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Africa‘s longest-serving head of state who led his country out of colonialism and served as its president from 1960 until his death in 1993.
While Mr. Young said that many of his own peers were influenced by the works of Frantz Fanon, a Martinique-born writer and political radical, and Kwame Nkrumah, who was the first president of Ghana and a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity, he paid particular attention to Mr. Houphouet-Boigny’s pragmatic approach to leadership in the West African country.
“The country had no oil, it had less rainfall than many, hardly any materials, really nothing with which to begin, but he said ‘We’ll try our way. It might not work but it is the best that we know,’” Mr. Young told the numerous attendees at the dinner held at the InterContinental Buckhead Hotel.
A decade after its independence from France in 1960, the Cote d’Ivoire experienced one of the fastest growing economies abiding by Mr. Houphouet-Boigny’s decision to develop its agricultural resources before encouraging industrial development and providing efficient ports, good roads, power and communications.
Its success in coffee and cocoa production along with exports in palm oil and pineapples provided economic progress that enabled him to rule with a calm and steady hand over nearly 60 distinct ethnic groups.
Mr. Young also praised the country’s educational policy of providing free education for everyone until high school and then for those who qualified a free high school education. While illiteracy remains widespread, education is highly regarded.
In addition, he referred to Mr. Houghouet-Boigny’s family fortune, but added his opinion that “he didn’t exploit the land for his family.”
And he praised Cote d’Ivoire’s development throughout the country as opposed to being limited to a few urban areas.
Although the Cote d’Ivoire’s long-time leader held extensive properties in France and elsewhere, Mr. Young mentioned only the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, the largest Catholic cathedral in the world built with Mr. Houghouet-Boigny’s private funds.
Cote d’Ivoire’s prime minister, Daniel Kablan Duncan, presented Mr. Young with the “Commandeur de L’Ordre” at the ceremony that also marked the formal launch of the International University of Grand-Bassam Foundation.
The prime minister commended Mr. Young for his public service in the U.S. including his term as ambassador to the United Nations and his terms as mayor of Atlanta and a U.S. representative, but also for his role in the formation of the university and his assistance in the development of its vision and mission.
The origin of the International University of Grand-Bassam dates back to the mid-1990s when the government of Cote d’Ivoire began to look at ways to reform its higher education system to improve access to and the quality of the country’s higher education system.
As a first step it teamed up with Georgia State University in 1994 to start planning the development of a university where classes would be taught in English and modeled on the American educational system.
Ethnic and religious rivalries breaking out in civil war plagued the country following Mr. Houghuet-Boigny’s death in 1993 and continued sporatically in the early 21st century.
Under the current administration of Alassane Ouattara, a former prime minister under Mr. Houphouet-Boigny and an economist for the International Monetary Fund, the country has regained a measure of political stability.
Cote d’Ivoire’s ambassador to the U.S., Daouda Diabate, traveled to Atlanta in July with a letter from Mr. Ouattara announcing that Mr. Young would receive the nation’s highest civilian honor. Mr. Diabate also attended the formal ceremony last week.