Monday, July 31, 2017

My Stamp Collection : IVORY COAST

Historical Background

Located on the coast of West Africa, the region that would become known as the Ivory Coast was, like most modern African nations, a mosaic of different ethnic communities in the era before European colonization. The southern coast was mainly composed of mangrove swamps, dominated by local peoples today called "Lagunieres" (people of the lagoons) while the northern regions were dry savannah lands more integrated with trade routes leading northward to the Niger Valley, exporting kola nuts and some gold in exchange for salt from the Sahara.

In the eighteenth century two major political transformations would occur.  In the north, a group of Muslim Mande traders would carve out a trade emporium at Kong that would grow to dominate the region between the tropical forest and the Niger valley, culminating in an attempt to seize control of access to the upper Niger River valley. The effort failed, and the Kong Emirate would eventually fracture by the early nineteenth century.   Further to the south, a mass migration of Akan-speaking peoples would migrate westward from what is now Ghana to escape domination by the rapidly expanding Asante Empire at Kumasi, leading to the rise of numerous small-scale states dominated by peoples who would become known as the Baule, today the largest single ethnic community in the Ivory Coast.

European interest in the coast of West Africa developed in the wake of Portuguese exploration starting in the late fifteenth century. However, a lack of good harbors and abundant gold deposits would restrict European interest in the region, which would come to be known as the Ivory Coast as ivory was the dominant trade good with Europeans. By the mid-eighteenth century the French would establish a small tradepost at Assinie, but compared to the wealth of the trading centers further to the east and lacking good harbors for sailing ships, European interest would remain minimal in the region, and by the mid-nineteenth century the French had abandoned Assinie.

With the growth of French interest in West Africa in wake of their expansion in Senegal, the French would return to the Ivory Coast, more with a view to approaching the percived riches of the Niger Valley (and blocking interest from other European powers) from a new direction than for any real economic interest in the Ivory Coast itself.  By the 1890s the French would establish a series of posts along the coast, and negotiations with the British and Liberians would fix the borders of France's zone of influence.  However, compared to Senegal the Ivory Coast would remain a backwater of France's West African empire, with very little French control over the interior.

All that would change in 1908 under to governorship of Gabriel Angoulvant, who believed that the colony could become economically self sufficient provided the French implemented more direct control over the native population.  The result would be a series of violent "pacifications" against the various native states of the interior that would secure French domination.  The indigeant legal code was introduced, heavy taxes were levied, and any signs of resistance were crushed.  By the end of his governorship in 1916 French control was secured at the price of a great deal of bloodshed and native resentment at French rule.

It would only be in the 1920s however that the Ivory Coast would find the commodity that would create the kind of economic growth the French desired. In cacao the French found salvation for their administration.  Working with native leaders willing to cooperate with the French administration, cacao plantations would rapidly expand in the southern two thirds of the colony. The use of tariffs, forced planting and low prices paid to producers by the French colonial monopoly ensured a healthy profit for the colonial regime, and by the late 1930s the Ivory Coast was rivalling Senegal as the "jewel" in the crown of French West Afica.  Expansion was further stimulated by encouraging labor migration from neighboring French colonies to work the cacao plantations, culminating in the decision to partition the colony of Upper Volta and ceding to the Ivory Coast the most populous parts of the formal colony in 1933, creating a labor pattern that would persist into the present day.

With the trauma of World War II, a new generation of colonial leaders, some educated in French schools with the goal of becoming lower level functionaries of the French administration, some becoming leaders of the workers in various areas of the export economy, would begin to demand political reform, including the right to vote, an end to the hated indigeant laws, and greater investment by France to develop the colony. Leadership would soon emerge under the son of a Baule chief who had done well in the cacao economy, Felix Houphouet-Boigny.  At first following the more radical socialist politics of Senegal's Leopold Senghor, by the early 1950s Houphouet would come to favor a less radical, more cooperative political stance with the French that would protect the interests of the elite of native cacao producers.  Houphouet would soon break with Senghor over the question of creating an independent French West African federation, fearing Senegalese domination and the loss of the Ivory Coast's wealth to prop up poorer regions of the proposed federation.  At first hoping to maintain the link with France in a "French Community," in 1960 Houphouet-Boigny would lead the Ivory Coast to independence from France.

While political independence would be gained in 1960, Houphouet-Boigny would ensure that his links with France and the West in general were close and cordial, to the point that the French were allowed to maintain military bases in the Ivory Coast.  French and other Western capital was encouraged to invest in the new nation, and enjoying a boom in the price of cacao and other exports, the Ivorian economy would grow rapidly, with some commentators praising the "Ivorian Miracle" that maintaining close ties with the West seemed to bring. Infrastructure was improved, especially in the southern two-thirds of the country, while French and other Western imports filled the shops of cities such as the capital, Abidjan. Plans were made to construct a new capital at Yamoussoukro (coincidentally Houphouet-Boigny's home town) complete with a Catholic basilica larger than St Peter's in Rome. Tourism, as in Senegal, was heavily encouraged, as an alternative source of Western currency.  Houphouet-Boigny however did not encourage economic development outside the export sector, believing that the country's population was too small to make industrial development a success. Thus the Ivory Coast would remain a classic case of "monoculture" export economic development, which tended to favor those with control over export production, at the expense of other areas of the economy.

So long as the price of its exports remained vibrant, the Ivorian Miracle would continue. However by the mid-1970s economic shocks caused by oil embargoes and overproduction of cacao in the global market would lead to severe economic problems.  These economic problems would focus attention on the political shortcomings of Houphouet-Boigny.  Having been raised in a chiefly family, the president did not brook any challenges to his authority.  An attempted coup in 1963 would be crushed with French help, and the Ivory Coast would become a one party state under the guiding light of the president, who was portrayed as the "father of the Ivory Coast." Corruption was also a growing problem, and by the mid-1980s it was estimated that the president had a personal fortune in the billions, with homes in France as well as the grand construction of the new capital at Yamoussoukro. In 1982 growing frustration with the faltering economy and the perception of corruption would erupt into anti-government protests, which Houphouet-Boigny would crush.  From then until his death in 1993, Houphouet-Boigny would maintain his dominant position in Ivorian life, and while small political concessions would be made after 1990, real power lay with the President.

The death of Houphouet-Boigny in 1993 would mark the end of political and economic stability in the Ivory Coast.  In 1994 the currency lost half its value, sparking severe economic hardship.  Politically, tensions between those communities who had done well during the Ivorian Miracle (mainly peoples in the southern, Christian half of the nation) and those who saw little improvement (mainly peoples in the Northern, Muslim half of the nation and migrant laborers, again mainly Muslim, from neighboring nations) would lead to a great deal of conflict, culminating in civil wars in 2002 and 2010 between the peoples of the North and the South.  This only served to further weaken the economy, and today the Ivory Coast is much poorer, per capita, than it was during the economic heyday of the late 1960s and early 1970s, though there has been some recovery in the past few years. Since 2012 the political situation has stabilized to a degree under the leadership of Alassane Ouattara, but reports of human rights violations, political repression and outbreaks of communal conflict continue to haunt the nation.

The Philatelic Legacy Of History

The philatelic history of the Ivory Coast mirrors that of many former French colonies in Africa.  Post offices using French colonial stamps were opened in the late 1880s at Assinie, and in 1892 the Ivory Coast would have its first custom stamps using the Commerce & Navigation keyplate types.  The growth of the export economy would lead to the overprinting of French colonial postage due stamps of the Duval type for use as Parcel Post stamps, creating some of the rarest issues of the French colonial era. The formation of the French West Africa federation in 1905 would result in the release of a new set of stamps based on the Faidherbe-Oil Palm-Ballay keyplates common for all the colonies of the federation. In 1913 the Ivory Coast would get its own pictorial definitives depicting the Lagoon at Ebrie, which would serve as the main design for Ivory Coast stamps until 1935, undegoing various color changes and new values, as well as many surcharges to reflect changes in postal tariffs, especially in the 1920s.

In the 1930s the Ivory Coast would partake in several of the French Colonial omnibus issues, starting with the 1931 Colonial Exposition.  In 1936 a gorgeous new engraved pictorial definitive series was released, the low values depicting a woman of the Baule nation, the middle values depicting the mosque at Bobo-Dioulasso (today in Burkina Faso but after the partition of Upper Volta in 1933 part of the Ivory Coast) and a coastal lagoon scene, with the top value depicting women gathering water at the rapids on the Comoe River. Airmail stamps would be produced in 1940 based on the common West African type.  World War II would be reflected by the surcharges for national aid in 1941 and the issuance of charity issues by the Vichy regime.  The decision by the Free French to further consolidate French West Africa into a single coherent economic and political unit would result in the general issues of French West Africa replacing Ivory Coast stamps in 1945.

The Ivory Coast would resume its philatelic history in 1959 with the granting of first Autonomy and then independence from France.  During the 1960s the Ivory Coast followed a very conservative stamp issuing policy, averaging around twenty to twenty-five stamps until the mid-1970s.  Many issues feature Houphouet-Boigny, and the natural beauty of the Ivory Coast.  Only after the beginnings of economic instability in the mid-1970s would the Ivory Coast begin to pursue a more prolific stamp production, and by the early 1980s the country was producing around fifty stamps a year, many of them featuring topicals of international interest. Compared to many of its neighbors, however, the Ivory Coast remained relatively conservative, and since the mid-1980s the country's philatelic output has been reduced and more reflective of Ivorian themes or themes of international interest, averaging twenty to thirty stamps per year.

Unfortunately for collectors, in 2014 the Ivory Coast would "fall off the philatelic wagon" and become a client of Stamperija, a philatelic agent based in Lithuania which issues stamps purportedly in the names of client states but which never seem to be used in those nations.  The Ivory Coast also produces stamps with more local interest and not connected to Stamperija, but these are being lost in the flood of wallpaper being released in the nation's name. I do not plan to collect the Stamperija issues, but issues that do seem to be "legitimate" I will collect, a policy I generally follow for most nations whose stamp production comes under Philatelic Agents at different periods.

My Stamp Collection

The structure of my Ivory Coast collection is roughly similar to that of Senegal, in that it will be split into three parts

I. The Era of the French Colony 1892-1944
II. The Heyday of the Ivorian Miracle 1959-1982
III. The Post-Miracle Readjustment and Its Tribulations since 1982.

Parts I and II will be in the first volume of my collection, while the second volume will focus on post-1982 issues.  At this point, however, my collection is mainly focused on the French colonial era and only has a few post-independence issues.

And now - the collection. Enjoy!

 Volume I Part I - Ivory Coast in the Colonial Era (1892-1944)  

Page 1 : No Stamps (1892 Navigation and Commerce series)

Page 2 : No Stamps (1903-1905 Parcel Posts)

Page 3 : 1906 French West Africa common keyplate definitives.

Page 4 : 1906 Postage Dues, 1912 Surcharges, Chalky Paper Varieties of 1913 Ebrie Lagoon Defins

Page 5 : 1913 Ebrie Lagoon Pictorial Definitives, 1915 Cross of Agades Postage Dues

Page 6 : 1915 Red Cross Surcharge, 1917-1925 Additions to the Ebrie Lagoon Series, 1922-1924 Surcharges for Increased Postal Tariffs

Page 7 : 1926-1930 Additions to Ebrie Lagoon Series, 1931 Colonial Exhibition

Page 8 : 1933 Overprints on Upper Volta Pictorial Issue for use in Ivory Coast, 1933-1935 Ebrie Lagoon additional values and surcharges

Page 9 : 1936 Pictorial Issue, 1938 Commemorative honoring General Binger, 
first governor of the Ivory Coast Colony

Page 10 : 1937 Paris Expo issue, 1938-1939 additions to the 1936 Pictorial Definitives, 1939 omnibus issues for Rene Caillie and New York World's Fair.

Page 11 : 1939 Omnibus Issue for the French Revolution Centennial, 1940 additions to the 1936 Pictorial Issue (part I)

Page 12 : 1940 Additions to 1936 Pictorial Issues (Part II), National Aid surcharges, Vichy
Charity Issue for Native Child Care and the Imperial Fortnight

 Volume I Part II - Independent Ivory Coast during the Ivorian Miracle Era

Page 1 : 1959 Autonomy issues and new Airmail Pictorials, 1960 Mask Definitive and Postage
Due Series

 Page 2 : Issues of 1961-1962 including Independence Annversaries, Construction of Dam at Ayame, Membership in the UN, Stamp Day

Page 3 : Issues of 1962-1963 including International Fair at Bouake, UN Freedom From Hunger Campaign, Bingerville Art School Postage Due Series

Page 4 : Issues of 1963-1965 including UNESCO campaign to preserve Nubia monuments and honoring the Ivorian Red Cross.

And that concludes my collection of Ivory Coast for now. Plenty of work to still do on it!

Questions, comments, please feel free to post!!