Guéï Coup in Ivory Coast Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

General Robert Guéï’s seizure of the government in Ivory Coast, a nation once considered the economic “miracle” of Africa, marked the beginning of an extended period of political instability, violence, and economic decline.

Summary of Event

Ivory Coast gained its independence from France in 1960 and enjoyed an era of relative stability and economic prosperity until a period of turbulence began with a military coup in 1999. General Robert Guéï, with a group of disgruntled soldiers, overthrew the government of President Henri Konan Bédié on December 24, 1999. The country’s reputation as a “beacon of stability” degenerated as the country fell into violence and chaos, its economy plummeting with the increase in public debt and heavy borrowing. Revolutions and coups;Ivory Coast Ivory Coast, government [kw]Guéï Coup in Ivory Coast (Dec. 24, 1999) [kw]Coup in Ivory Coast, Guéï (Dec. 24, 1999) [kw]Ivory Coast, Guéï Coup in (Dec. 24, 1999) Revolutions and coups;Ivory Coast Ivory Coast, government [g]Africa;Dec. 24, 1999: Guéï Coup in Ivory Coast[10560] [g]Côte d’Ivoire;Dec. 24, 1999: Guéï Coup in Ivory Coast[10560] [c]Government and politics;Dec. 24, 1999: Guéï Coup in Ivory Coast[10560] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Dec. 24, 1999: Guéï Coup in Ivory Coast[10560] Guéï, Robert Bédié, Henri Konan Ouattara, Alassane Gbagbo, Laurent Houphouët-Boigny, Félix

Under the leadership of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of Ivory Coast after its independence, the country’s economy had become the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the world’s largest producers of cocoa and coffee, Ivory Coast enjoyed close economic ties with France and other Western nations, and its diamonds and offshore petroleum and natural gas reserves promised to help it achieve almost continuous growth during Houphouët-Boigny’s tenure. When the president died in 1993, he was succeeded by Henri Konan Bédié, a protégé of the president. Bédié, however, made changes to the country’s liberal open-door policy that rankled many of the citizens.

General Robert Guéï salutes politicians at his headquarters in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on December 27, 1999, days after he seized power in the Christmas Eve coup.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

The country’s long-standing success in maintaining a peaceful, prosperous environment had attracted immigrants from neighboring, poorer countries. The descendants of these immigrants had always enjoyed many of the same rights and privileges as the native-born Ivorians. However, Bédié’s move to limit the civil rights of those with foreign-born parents was rightly seen as the his attempt to prevent a political opponent, with a foreign-born parent, from running against him in a coming presidential election. In addition to this, the people were affected by growing public debt and heavy borrowing, which led to rising inflation. The steadily increasing population was causing increased unemployment.

By 1999, tensions among the citizens of Ivory Coast ran high. President Bédié, in a move to consolidate and retain his power, had the constitution changed to extend presidential terms from five years to seven years and to give the president the authority to postpone elections if the country was facing political instability. Even though he had managed by this time to turn the economy around to some extent and to accomplish a reconciliation with neighboring rival Ghana, there was still mounting unrest. Citizens in the northern part of the country, who were mostly Muslim and sons and daughters of immigrants, were regularly denied national identity cards and passports, which restricted their participation in the country’s politics; political opponents were jailed on trumped-up charges and held for long periods of time. Rank members of the national army threatened mutiny, ostensibly because of unpaid salaries.

Among the military with a grudge against the government was General Robert Guéï. He was a French-trained career officer who had been Ivory Coast’s military leader until Bédié dismissed him on suspicion of being involved in planning a 1995 coup. Some of the younger, disgruntled soldiers went to Guéï for leadership when they seized power on December 24, 1999. He was in accord with the mutinous soldiers because he believed Bédié’s government needed a “house cleaning.” The jailing of political prisoners, the fomenting of ethnic intolerance, and the corruption and mismanagement of finances and budget were issues that Guéï said the coup would address and resolve. With the soldiers in power, Guéï became the first and only leader of a successful coup d’état in Ivory Coast history.

As head of state, Guéï immediately imposed overnight curfews from 6:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. to quell the general unrest. With the protest more or less under control, he then quickly moved to dissolve parliament, the supreme court, and the constitutional council. To assist him in administering the business of the country, he announced the establishment of a transitional group he called the Committee of Public Salvation. He told his supporters that he had no interest in remaining as head of state beyond the transition period. He assured the country that new elections would be held as quickly as possible.

During the months before the elections, political life deteriorated, and violence, both physical and psychological, increased all over the country. Animosity between the Christian Bete tribe of the southern portion of the country and the Muslim Dioulas of the north intensified, largely because the minority Christians continued to exclude Muslims from participation in governing the country. Rebel groups formed, some evolving from the soldiers involved in the coup who were still dissatisfied and resentful of the outcome. Soldiers were once more mutinous over unpaid salaries and promised bonuses. Resentment intensified when some of them were paid off while others were not.

When elections were finally held a year after the coup, Guéï, who had initially claimed to be uninterested in power or authority, chose to run as a civilian candidate. This decision lost him the support of some of the mutinous soldiers. Many of the civilians lost faith in him when he prevented a popular Muslim candidate, Alassane Ouattara, from entering the election by evoking the claim that Ouattara was not qualified because his mother was not an Ivorian. Despite these moves, without a political party supporting his candidacy and with his loss of popularity, Guéï was likely to lose the election to Laurent Gbagbo. In a final move, Guéï stopped the ballot counting and declared himself winner of the election. Protesters and the soldiers who had turned against him began fighting so fiercely that Guéï had to flee the city by helicopter. With his withdrawal, Gbagbo was declared winner of the election. In response, Guéï encouraged the soldiers still loyal to him to go on a rampage that ultimately killed several hundred people.

Guéï’s popularity had declined to such an extent that, in 2000, his home was attacked by civilian-dressed men firing small arms and grenades. One person was killed and four were wounded, but Guéï escaped uninjured. He continued to lead rebel soldiers in other coup attempts into 2002.

After ten months as military leader of Ivory Coast, from December, 1999, to October, 2000, and after nearly two more years of helping to foment unrest, Guéï was killed during fighting by loyalist forces suppressing an uprising among discontented soldiers in the country’s largest city, Abidjan. Reports said that he and his wife were captured by security forces while eating lunch and were executed. National television showed his body with a single gunshot wound to the right side of the head.


The civil unrest resulting from the 1999 coup caused near-disastrous consequences for Ivory Coast. The economy suffered not only because of the ongoing violence and instability but also because many of the foreign workers who labored in the cocoa plantations raising the country’s most important crop were driven out of the country, their homes deliberately burned down. Even though French troops were deployed to Ivory Coast to protect the French nationals still living and working there, they were only minimally able to maintain peace in the streets and the countryside. A rebel group, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MCPI), was formed by disenchanted army officers involved in the 1999 coup; they gained support in the Muslim north because of their resistance to the dominant minority Christian authorities. The coup had given soldiers a taste for power and had politicized them, making them believe that they could forcibly change the government. Civilian politicians became merciless in their dealings with opponents. Ivory Coast, once called a “beacon of stability,” had become destabilized, with the country split in two. Revolutions and coups;Ivory Coast Ivory Coast, government

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">French, Howard W. “The World: Why Things Fall Apart—A Slow, Preventable March into Crisis.” The New York Times, October 25, 2000, p. IV-1. Discusses the flawed 2000 election in Ivory Coast and its potential to lead to the same kind of chaos afflicting other African nations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Ivory Coast President Henri Bédié Ousted in Military Coup, Flees Country.” Jet, January 17, 2000. Brief article details Bédié’s actions during and after the coup, and how Guéï, as coup leader, handled the aftermath.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Onishi, Norimitsu. “Ivory Coast Ruler Declares Himself Winner.” The New York Times, October 25, 2000, p. A6. Describes the methods General Guéï used to usurp the 2000 presidential election, and the reactions of his opponents.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Popular Uprising Ends Junta’s Rule over Ivory Coast.” The New York Times, October 26, 2000, p. A2. Explains the development of Guéï’s coup and offers insight into why he was overthrown.

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Categories: History