Henri Konan Bédié, Ivory Coast President Deposed in a Coup, Dies at 89

Henri Konan Bédié, who served as president of Ivory Coast from 1993 until being deposed in a coup in 1999, but who remained a power broker among its often violently competitive political and ethnic factions, died on Tuesday in Abidjan, the country’s largest city. He was 89.

His death, at a hospital, was announced by his party, the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast-African Democratic Rally. It did not provide a cause.

A man whose quiet confidence and back-room influence earned him the nickname “the Sphinx of Daoukro,” after his hometown, Mr. Bédié played a dominant role in Ivorian politics over six decades, since the country won independence from France in 1960.

Fresh from law school at Poitiers University, in France, he was working as a counselor at the French embassy in Washington when the first Ivorian president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, named him the country’s first ambassador to the United States and Canada.

Mr. Bédié presented his credentials to President Dwight D. Eisenhower on Jan. 18, 1961, making him one of the last foreign diplomats to meet with the outgoing president — and, at 26, one of the youngest ambassadors ever to serve in Washington.

He returned home in 1965 to take over Ivory Coast’s economic and financial affairs ministry and later serve as president of the National Assembly. Over the next three decades, he established himself as the heir apparent to Mr. Houphouët-Boigny and one of the rising stars of Sub-Saharan African politics.

In large part thanks to his economic policies, Ivory Coast became the region’s leading agricultural exporter and an island of political stability. Per capita annual income grew to $610 in 1988 from $70 in 1960.

Mr. Houphouët-Boigny died in office in 1993, and as president of the National Assembly Mr. Bédié took his place as interim president.

With elections looming in 1995, he set about solidifying his hold on power. He pushed his closest rival, Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, out of office, then passed a law stating that only candidates with two Ivorian parents could run for president — a restriction said to be aimed at Mr. Ouattara, whose parents were rumored to have been born in neighboring Burkina Faso.

Another law, also said to be aimed at Mr. Ouattara, restricted the presidency to people who had lived in Ivory Coast for the previous five years — once more excluding Mr. Ouattara, who had recently spent time in Washington working at the World Bank.

Both these laws were rooted in Mr. Bédié’s notion of “ivoirité,” a form of nationalism that he claimed was meant to promote unity but which his critics said was intended to foment division and to marginalize people from the country’s Muslim-majority north, who tended to move across national borders in search of work.

“To achieve peacefully the formidable leap between an ethnic consciousness and a national consciousness, the reference mark of identity must be strong, and that fixed point is called ivoirité,” Mr. Bédié wrote in the French magazine Jeune Afrique in 1999.

After winning the 1995 election with 96 percent of the vote, Mr. Bédié cracked down further, jailing journalists and leaders of opposition parties, especially after rumors arose that his mother had been born in Ghana, making him ineligible for the presidency under his own law.

Mr. Houphouët-Boigny had exhibited his own authoritarian streak, but he was gregarious and widely admired, and he had been in power during an economic boom. Mr. Bédié was forced to govern through an extended downturn in the mid-1990s followed by an extensive corruption scandal. Public frustration stewed, and in December 1999 the military toppled him in a coup.

Mr. Bédié fled by French military helicopter to nearby Togo, then to Paris. But he returned in 2002 and took up the mantle of opposition against his military-appointed successor, Gen. Robert Guéï.

Thanks in part to Mr. Bédié’s divisive rhetoric, Ivory Coast suffered through a long civil war, during which General Guéï was killed and power teetered between Mr. Ouattara and another rival, Laurent Gbagbo.

The two men, plus Mr. Bédié, ran for the presidency in 2010, with Mr. Bédié coming in third. In the runoff, Mr. Bédié supported Mr. Ouattara, his old rival. Mr. Ouattara’s victory over Mr. Gbagbo set off a second civil war.

It also established Mr. Bédié as a kingmaker in Ivorian politics, if not a viable political candidate. He ran again for the presidency in 2020, winning less than 2 percent of the vote. Mr. Ouattara, who had won re-election in 2015, was once more the victor, and remains the country’s president.

At his death, Mr. Bédié was said to be considering another run for the presidency, in 2025.

Aimé Henri Konan Bédié was born on May 5, 1934, in Dadiékro, about 150 miles north of coastal Abidjan in what was then called French West Africa. His parents were cocoa farmers.

His family was far from wealthy, but he excelled in school and was one of 100 students granted a scholarship to study in France. He received his law degree from Poitiers in 1958 and a doctorate in economics from the same institution in 1969.

After earning his law degree, Mr. Bédié returned to Ivory Coast to help the country prepare for independence; he was assigned to the office designing the national social security system. He joined the French diplomatic service in 1959 and moved to Washington.

He married Henriette Koizan Bomo in 1957. They had four children. Further information on survivors was not immediately available.