Ivory Coast Table of Contents
Given the top priority it has assigned to socioeconomic development, the government has regarded the armed forces as an instrument of nation building as well as national defense. In fact, in the 1960s it entertained the somewhat naive hope that the armed forces would become self-sufficient rather than a drain on the economy, and for that reason the National Service enjoyed strong presidential backing. Until 1983 the Ministry of Defense was known as the Ministry of Defense and National Service, signifying its dual role of protector and nation builder. Initially, the National Service drafted its recruits, but recruitment soon became voluntary to make it more attractive.
The National Service program sought to train soldiers as farmers, halt migration to cities, teach useful skills, and provide a general education along with military training. (Within a short time, however, the military training was abandoned, although the National Service remained under the Ministry of Defense, was funded within the army's budget, and practiced military discipline.) National Service trainees, under the supervision of Israeli military and agricultural technicians, established the National Service Center at Bouaké in 1964. The National Service Center, which coordinated programs in the Bouaké area, also processed agricultural produce and provided materials, seeds, and machinery to regional centers. Various regional centers experimented with mechanized agriculture and poultry, egg, and livestock production. Plans called for transplanting National Service volunteers to villages where they were to serve as agents of change. The government, through the National Service program, created "Progressive Villages" as demonstration projects, which, upon attaining economic independence, were to be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture. The government also transformed some existing villages into "Villages under Supervision," which cultivated certain experimental crops like tobacco, rice, and cotton.
By the mid-1960s, the National Service had expanded into other areas. The Company of Pioneers, also supported by Israeli technical assistance and led by officers and NCOs detailed from the army, undertook national construction and other projects. A Women's Corps was set up, with Israeli women officers as advisers.
In 1964 the National Service Center at Bouaké opened with 330 fifteen- to eighteen-year-old women trainees. Regular recruits attended a one-year course of instruction, and instructors attended for two years. The curriculum included French-language training, home economics, hygiene and nutrition, child care, animal husbandry, and poultry raising. After completing their service, the trainees, with government help, were expected to settle in villages and assist local women; however, only about two-thirds of the trainees completed the program, and the impact they had in villages was probably negligible.
The National Service program was as misconceived as it was ambitious. Two years were insufficient to turn raw recruits into proficient soldiers and farmers, and the government made no provisions to keep trainees on the farm once they had finished their course. Consequently, in 1983 the government transferred the National Service from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of Rural Development. This transfer recognized that the primary mission of the National Service was development rather than defense and permitted the Ministry of Defense to concentrate on its more conventional military responsibilities.
Veterans were not prominent in Côte d'Ivoire's independence movement and have not been a major force in the country's social and political life. The relatively small size of the armed forces and the correspondingly small career service corps, coupled with the limited role of the military in public affairs, has contributed to their quiescence. Veterans of the colonial armed forces have received generous pensions, as have military personnel who have retired from the national armed forces. The National Veterans Administration Office has been subsidized by the Ministry of Defense and Maritime Affairs.
Data as of November 1988
Ivory Coast Table of Contents