The Felix Houphouët-Boigny Foundation for Peace Research

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Housed in an architectural gem in Yamoussoukro, the foundation, named after Côte d’Ivoire’s first president, perpetuates his legacy. Walk in the furrow of his labour for peace. 

“Peace is not a word, it is a behaviour”. This powerful statement by Félix Houphouët-Boigny still stands the test of time. It sums up the philosophy of the first president of the Ivorian Republic. The eponymous foundation encapsulates this legacy. It is the Houphouët-Boigny Foundation for Peace Research. Jean-Noël Loucou is its General Secretary. For him, “the Foundation stands like a watchtower on the horizon of the city of peace of Yamoussoukro”, the birthplace of Félix Houphouët-Boigny. In essence, he said: “Peace was the leitmotiv of the political action of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who championed dialogue for the triumph of peace”.

“Peace is not a word, it’s a way of behaving”, said Félix Houphouët-Boigny

Looking in the rearview mirror, it is noted that already in November 1960, the father of the independence of Côte d’Ivoire wanted to be a messenger of peace. His manifest will attests to this: “Today, for the first time, I will ask you to help me to honour a title for the greater good of our young State: the one so envied and so exhausting at the same time as a messenger of peace. This is now the goal of my life. The path to happiness and fraternity necessarily passes through peace. Shout with me and contribute with all your soul to achieve peace.”

Passing the baton to young people 

It all began on 10 November 1973 in Abidjan. On this day, Félix Houphouët-Boigny wanted a foundation to shed light on his actions within the African Democratic Rally (RDA). It was the pan-African political movement that spearheaded its political struggles for the independence of its country and many others in the sub-region. And who speaks of political commitments cannot forget the “Houphouët-Boigny Law” of April 1946 abolishing forced labour that terrorised peoples under the yoke of colonisation. Duty of memory for young people to claim ownership of it.

So, his wish was to pass the relay of this action to the new generations, “to link the past of the African to his present and his future, to train new men, to offer the rising generations of Africa the means to know each other better in order to better take charge of themselves and fully assume their own destiny”. Several political, cultural and other personalities were associated with it.

From research into the work of the Rassemblement démocratique africain and Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the Foundation sought to broaden its horizons. From 1985 onwards, the Foundation spread its wings in the area of peace. At the press conference, the man behind the project was ambitious. “I reserve the Foundation that bears my name. I want you to give it a dimension, not Ivorian, but commensurate with my person. Be more ambitious, and give it an international dimension. Ask all the researchers, even the Nobel Peace Prize winners, to come and meet here. God will help you win the battle for peace that he has promised to men of goodwill, to all men”, declared Felix Houphouët-Boigny.

For Jean-Noël Loucou, the Secretary, “The Foundation stands like a watchtower on the horizon of the city of peace in Yamoussoukro”.

In the process, the president offers a modern architectural jewel to the foundation, as headquarters. It extends over 48 hectares, with the main building that overlooks it from the top of 30 meters. It was commissioned in 1989 on the occasion of the International Congress on “Peace in the Minds of Men” in the presence of international leaders.

Félix Houphouët-Boigny Award  

The Félix Houphouët-Boigny Foundation is recognised as a public utility. It is a private foundation with an international vocation. One of its flagship actions is the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Prize, awarded annually under the auspices of UNESCO and launched in 1989. In 2022, Angela Merkel, the former German Chancellor, was the winner. The jury chaired by Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize 2018, motivated his choice. “The entire Jury was touched by its courageous decision in 2015 to welcome more than 1.2 million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea. It is a lesson to history,” he said. On the material level, the recipient or co-recipients receive an amount of 122,000 euros that they share, a medal and a diploma. 

Training, promotion and research activities are carried out within the Foundation. In 1995 and 1996, the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Foundation provided a framework for peace negotiations to bring the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone to an end. In Côte d’Ivoire itself, during the internal crisis from 2000 to 2011, Professor Jean-Noël Loucou points out that “the Foundation was involved in all UNOCI’s peace outreach programmes, in all departments, and was also associated with the negotiations between the parties involved”.

At the end of the mandate of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI), the radio of this mission passed the baton to the Foundation. Since March 2017, it has become “Radio de la Paix”. It opens its airwaves, ensuring impartial programming and equal access for all. “Its editorial line is the promotion of peace and the development of democratic life in Côte d’Ivoire”, notes Jean-Noël Loucou.

In terms of training, civic life, democratic vitality and the culture of peace are the main themes addressed. Pupils, students, professional organisations, political players and civil society are trained and benefit from the Foundation’s expertise. 

In 2022, Angela Merkel, the former German Chancellor, was awarded the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Prize because “the entire Jury was moved by her courageous decision, taken in 2015, to welcome more than 1.2 million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea. It is a lesson that she is leaving to history”.

The Foundation has also made a significant contribution to the creation of the Network of Foundations and Research Institutes for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace in Africa. The permanent secretariat of this structure is entrusted to the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Foundation. The Network’s mission is to bring together research, ideas and actions to promote a culture of peace.

Who wants peace tomorrow, dialogue today

True to the spirit of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the Foundation does not expect to rest on its laurels. In particular, it plans to renovate its facilities to make them more efficient. It also aims to launch a peace museum in the basement of its building, to “present facts and events relating to the history of Africa and the world, and that of the peacemakers”. A project to create a Pan-African Peace School is also underway, under the auspices of the Foundation, with the support of the Ivorian government, the African Union and UNESCO.

Despite this resplendent picture, the Foundation is still hampered by certain weaknesses. It wishes to weave other threads in the promotion of the culture of peace but remains financially limited. In this vein of obstacles to its mission, the Foundation sometimes feels that it has no impact on the culture of peace, given certain realities. As its General Secretary can attest: “People whose parents have been in prison for years and students who are angry about the increase in fees or who are forced to sleep in lecture theatres” do not find themselves in this active fraternity of peace.

Moreover, Jean-Noël Loucou believes that the limits also lie with the authorities. “If the political context is not calm, we cannot achieve results”. Political decisions that carry the seeds of future crisis render the Foundation’s actions powerless. This is why dialogue must be consolidated. “In the search for peace, true peace, just and lasting peace, we must not hesitate for a single moment to have recourse, with obstinacy, to dialogue”, to draw on the wisdom of Félix Houphouët-Boigny.

The founding fathers of UNESCO could not agree more. “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”. In addition to awareness-raising campaigns, it would also be interesting for the Foundation to be involved in the public policy process, in order to influence upstream decisions that appear to be “crisis-inducing”. And that makes sense. Félix Houphouët-Boigny would agree that peace is more than just a word, it is also the work of keeping watch. If you want peace tomorrow, you must dialogue today.

Alain Metodjo

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