Former Ivory Coast President Henri Bedie, who was part of an old line of politicians that dominated politics in the West African country for a century, died on Tuesday at the age of 89, a close relative told reporters.
After Ivory Coast‘s independence from France in 1960, Bedie became the country’s second president. He reigned from 1993 to 1999, when he was deposed in a military coup following an economic downturn and charges of corruption.
He was long remembered—and in some ways reviled—for his role in promoting the issue of “ivoirite,” or Ivorian identity, which fueled tensions between those who considered themselves natives in the country’s south and east and the many foreign workers from neighbouring countries who had long settled in the country’s north.
Bedie stayed in politics to the very end. In the 2020 elections, he fought a losing fight against longstanding political opponent President Alassane Ouattara.
The reason for Bedie’s death remained unknown at the time. His representative was unavailable for comment.
Bedie, the son of a low-income farmer, was born on May 5, 1934, in Dadiekro, 300 kilometres (190 miles) east of Abidjan’s commercial city.
He excelled in school and was chosen as one of 100 exceptional students to study in France in the early 1950s, where he earned a PhD in economics at Poitiers University.
In 1959, he entered the French diplomatic service and was sent to the French embassy in Washington as a counsellor. Bedie was chosen as Ivory Coast’s ambassador to France when the country gained independence in 1960.
Six years later, at the age of 32, he was appointed to lead the economy amid a period of fast development fueled by the rise of the coffee and cocoa industries, which continue to be the country’s key economic drivers.