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Cote d'Ivoire

Atlas Cote d'Ivoire

Country (long form)
Republic of Cote d'Ivoire
Yamoussoukro note: although Yamoussoukro has been the capital since 1983, Abidjan remains the administrative center; the US, like other countries, maintains its Embassy in Abidjan
Total Area
124,502.50 sq mi
322,460.00 sq km
15,980,950 (July 2000 est.) note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS
Estimated Population in 2050
French (official), 60 native dialects with Dioula the most widely spoken
48.5% total, 57.0% male, 40.0% female
Muslim 60%, Christian 22%, indigenous 18%
Life Expectancy
43.72 male, 46.63 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
1 Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (CFAF) = 100 centimes
GDP (per capita)
$1,600 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
foodstuffs, beverages; wood products, oil refining, automobile assembly, textiles, fertilizer, construction materials, electricity
coffee, cocoa beans, bananas, palm kernels, corn, rice, manioc (tapioca), sweet potatoes, sugar, cotton, rubber; timber
Arable Land
cocoa 37%, coffee, tropical woods, petroleum, cotton, bananas, pineapples, palm oil, cotton, fish
food, consumer goods; capital goods, fuel, transport equipment
Natural Resources
petroleum, diamonds, manganese, iron ore, cobalt, bauxite, copper, hydropower
Current Environmental Issues
deforestation (most of the country's forests - once the largest in West Africa - have been cleared by the timber industry); water pollution from sewage and industrial and agricultural effluents
Telephones (main lines in use)
182,000 (1998)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
60,000 (December 1998)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Not much is known about Côte d'Ivoire prior to the arrival of European ships in the 1460s. The major ethnic groups came relatively recently from neighbouring areas: the Kru people migrated from Liberia around 1600; the Senoufo and Lubi moved southward from Burkina Faso and Mali. It wasn't until the 18th and 19th centuries that the Akan people, including the Baoulé, migrated from Ghana into the eastern area of the country and the Malinké migrated from Guinea into the northwest.

Compared to neighbouring Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire suffered little from the slave trade. European slaving and merchant ships preferred other areas along the coast with better harbours. France took an interest in the 1840s, enticing local chiefs to grant French commercial traders a monopoly along the coast. Thereafter, the French built naval bases to keep out non-French traders and began a systematic conquest of the interior. They accomplished this only after a long war in the 1890s against Mandinka forces, mostly from Gambia. Guerrilla warfare by the Baoulé and other eastern groups continued until 1917.

The French had one overriding goal: to stimulate the production of exports. Coffee, cocoa and palm oil crops were soon planted along the coast. Côte d'Ivoire stood out as the only West African country with a sizeable population of 'settlers'; elsewhere in West and Central Africa, the French and English were largely bureaucrats. As a result, a third of the cocoa, coffee and banana plantations were in the hands of French citizens and a hated forced-labour system became the backbone of the economy.

The son of a Baoulé chief, Félix Houphouët-Boigny was to become Côte d'Ivoire's father of independence. In 1944 he formed the country's first agricultural trade union for African cocoa farmers like himself. Annoyed that colonial policy favoured French plantation owners, they united to recruit migrant workers for their own farms. Houphouët-Boigny soon rose to prominence and within a year was elected to the French Parliament in Paris. A year later the French abolished forced labour. As Houphouët-Boigny grew fonder of money and power, and more ingratiated with the French, he gradually dropped the more radical stance of his youth. France reciprocated by making him the first African to become a minister in a European government.

At the time of Côte d'Ivoire's independence in 1960, the country was easily French West Africa's most prosperous, contributing over 40% of the region's total exports. When Houphouët-Boigny became the country's first president, his government gave farmers good prices to further stimulate production. Coffee production increased significantly, catapulting Côte d'Ivoire into third place in total output behind Brazil and Colombia. Cocoa did the same; by 1979 the country was the world's leading producer. It also became Africa's leading exporter of pineapples and palm oil. Behind the scenes, it was French technicians who had masterminded the programme, which was often referred to as the 'Ivoirian miracle'. In the rest of Africa, Europeans were driven out following independence; in Côte d'Ivoire, they poured in. The French community grew from 10,000 to 50,000, most of them teachers and advisors. For 20 years, the economy maintained an annual growth rate of nearly 10% - the highest of Africa's non-oil exporting countries.

Politically, Houphouët-Boigny ruled with an iron hand. The press wasn't free, and only one political party was tolerated. Houphouët-Boigny was also Africa's number one producer of 'show' projects. So many millions of dollars were spent transforming his village, Yamoussoukro, into the new capital that it became the butt of jokes. No one was laughing by the early 1980s though, when the world recession and a local drought sent shockwaves through the Ivoirian economy. Thanks also to the overcutting of timber and collapsing sugar prices, the country's external debt increased threefold. Rising crime in Abidjan made news in Europe. The miracle was over.

In 1990, hundreds of civil servants went on strike, joined by students whose violent street protests blamed the economic crisis on the corruption and extravagant lifestyles of government officials. The unrest was unprecedented in its scale and intensity, shattering Houphouët-Boigny's carefully managed personality cult and forcing the government to support multiparty democracy. The 1990 presidential elections were opened to other parties for the first time, and as a result Houphouët-Boigny received only 85% of the vote instead of his typical 99.9%. But Houphouët-Boigny became increasingly feeble and died in 1993. His hand-picked successor was Henri Konan-Bédié, a Baoulé and the speaker of the National Assembly.

In October 1995, Bédié overwhelmingly won re-election against a fragmented and disorganised opposition. He tightened his hold over political life, sending several hundred opposition supporters to jail. In contrast, the economic outlook improved, at least superficially, with decreasing inflation and an attempt to remove foreign debt.

The unpredictability and volatility of Africa, however, resurfaced in late 1999. A group of dissatisfied generals staged a military coup and President Bédié fled into exile in France. These generals, led by Général Robert Guéi, established COSUR (the Committee of Surveillance for the Organisation of the Referendum). The coup had the effect of reducing crime and corruption, and the generals pressed for austerity and openly campaigned in the streets for a less wasteful society.

An election was held in October 2000 in which Laurent Gbagbo vied with Robert Guéi for the presidency, but it was neither peaceful nor democratic. The lead up to the elections was marked by army mutinies, reports of assassination and coup attempts, demonstrations against foreigners, increased crime and numerous abuses of human rights. Guéi's attempt to rig the election in his favour led to a public uprising, resulting in around 180 deaths and his swift replacement by the elections' likely winner, Gbagbo. A Muslim opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, was banned from participating in the election by the country's Supreme Court, which said he was a Burkina Faso national and therefore ineligible to run. Ouattara was also banned from participating in legislative elections on 12 December, sparking more violent protests in which his supporters, mainly from the country's Muslim north, battled riot police in the capital, Yamoussoukro. The bloody pre and post-election violence made it clear that ethnic and political tensions in Côte d'Ivoire will not be easily solved.

On September 19 2002, another mutiny attempt quickly escalated into a full-scale rebellion, with troops from the north gaining control of much of the country. Former president Guéi was killed early in the fighting and his death has never been investigated. Initially the government agreed to a cease-fire with the rebels, now known as the MPCI (Patriotic Movement of Côte d’Ivoire), who had the full backing of the mostly Muslim northern populace. But this truce was short-lived, and fighting over the prime cocoa-growing areas resumed. France sent in troops to maintain the cease-fire boundaries, and militias took advantage of the crisis to seize parts of the west. These militias included warlords and fighters from Liberia and Sierra Leone, veterans of some of the most savage and indiscriminate warfare in recent African history, who began full-scale looting and pillaging of the western border region.

In January 2003, President Gbagbo and leaders of the rebel factions met in Paris and signed accords creating a ‘government of national unity’, with representatives of the rebels taking up places in a new cabinet. This was slowly but peacefully implemented, curfews were lifted and French troops cleaned up the lawless western border of the country. But the central problems remained, and neither side achieved its goals (the government wants to regain control of the north; the MPCI, now called the ‘new forces’, want new elections with their candidates eligible to run).

At the time of research, the rebels had pulled out of the new government amid allegations of fresh coup plottings, harsh words were exchanged and a return to conflict seemed likely. Sadly the country remains divided and deadlocked.