Côte d'Ivoire (kōt dēvwär') or Ivory Coast, officially Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, W Africa, on the Gulf of Guinea of the Atlantic Ocean, is bordered by Liberia and Guinea on the west, by Mali and Burkina Faso on the north, and by Ghana on the east. The official capital is Yamoussoukro; the largest city, commercial center, and the former capital is Abidjan.
Ancestors of most of the present population of Cote d’Ivoire seem to have moved into the area relatively late (18th to 19th century), mostly from the northeast and east. The Kru, however, came from the west across the Cavally River. Portuguese explorers reached the coast in the 15th century and began trading in slaves and ivory. Strong tribal kingdoms flourished in the northeastern and eastern parts of the country. Europeans did not penetrate inland until the 1830s, when the French signed treaties with coastal rulers.
Côte d'Ivoire was incorporated into the Federation of French West Africa, and several thousand of its troops fought with the French during World War I, but effective French control over the area was not established until after the war. Although Vichy forces held Côte d'Ivoire during World War II, many left to join the Free French forces in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). As the desire for independence mounted, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a planter and founder of the federation-wide Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), formed (1946) the nationalist Parti Démocratique de la Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI). In the French constitutional referendum of 1958, Côte d'Ivoire chose autonomy within the French Community.
In 1960, Côte d'Ivoire withdrew from the French Community and declared itself independent. The new republic joined the Organization of African Unity in 1963. Côte d'Ivoire was one of the few African states to recognize Biafra during the Nigerian civil war (1967–70); this action, as well as Houphouët-Boigny's advocacy of dialogue with white-ruled South Africa, estranged the country somewhat from many other African states. In 1980, high unemployment and a falling standard of living led to an attempted coup. Student and labor unrest continued throughout the 1980s as the government cut wages and increased the privatization of industry. The capital was officially transferred to Yamoussoukro in 1983.
Côte d'Ivoire had been a de facto one-party state since its birth as a republic, but opposition parties were legalized in 1990 after widespread popular protests. Houphouët-Boigny, who had headed the government as well as the PDCI since independence, won a seventh term in 1990, in the country's first truly multiparty elections. After his death in 1993, assembly speaker Henri Konan Bédié succeeded him. Bédié retained the post after a 1995 election that was marred by violence and boycotted by the major opposition groups.
The economy improved in the late 1990s, as Bédié pursued free-market reforms that included wide-scale privatization and encouragement of foreign investment. In 1999, Bédié's government disqualified Ouattara, a northern Muslim, from mounting a candidacy in the 2000 presidential election and subsequently issued a warrant for his arrest, claiming he had forged documents that proved he was an Ivorian citizen. These actions provoked opposition demonstrations, and opposition leaders were arrested.
In Dec., 1999, after unpaid soldiers began looting in Abidjan, Bédié was ousted in a military coup led by General Robert Gueï; it was the first coup in the nation's history. Gueï initially appointed an interim government, but he dismissed it in May and subsequently appeared to be seeking to retain his hold on power. A new constitution approved in July, 2000, limited the presidency to citizens whose parents were both Ivorian citizens; the measure was regarded as an attempt to prevent the candidacy of Ouattara, who had returned to the country after Bédié's ouster.
In the October elections Laurent Gbagbo of the socialist Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) won the presidency amid a low turnout—Ouattara was banned from running and his supporters boycotted the vote—but the army halted the vote count and Gueï claimed victory. Street protests and the desertion of police and military units forced Gueï from power, and Gbagbo took office.
In legislative elections held in December and January, Ouattara was again barred from running, and his Rally of the Republicans (RDR) party boycotted the polls; Ouattara subsequently went into exile until Dec., 2001.
A mutiny by several hundred soldiers who were about to be demobilized because they were believed disloyal erupted in Sept., 2002; they seized control of Bouaké, Korhogo, and other northern towns, but were routed in Abidjan. The government first accused Gueï, who was killed, of attempting a coup, and then accused Ouattara, who escaped an attempt on his life. French troops intervened to protect and evacuate foreign civilians, but also acted to slow the rebel advance. In early October West African mediators negotiated a cease-fire, but the government rejected the agreement and fighting continued.
By the end of 2002 three rebel groups had emerged. The main rebel force largely controlled the northern half of the country, while the two other groups controlled smaller western areas. Most of the lucrative cacao-growing areas, however, remained in government hands. A truce was signed in Jan., 2003, and after some difficult negotiations a power-sharing government that included rebel representatives was formed in April, with Seydou Diarra, a politician from the north, as prime minister. A comprehensive cease-fire was not established, however, until May, and tensions over the makeup and powers of the new government and attacks on rebel officials threatened the peace, despite the declaration (in July) of the war's end.
In September the rebels withdrew from the government, but they resumed participating in Jan., 2004. In March the PDCI withdrew, charging Gbagbo with destabilizing the peace process and after unarmed antigovernment demonstrators were fired on in Abidjan later the same month the rebels, RDR, and other opposition parties also withdrew.
In Apr., 2004, a UN peacekeeping force was established to help implement the peace accord, and in August rebels and opposition parties returned to the government after negotiations. The peace process remained uncertain, however, especially after the government failed to enact the required political reforms and the rebels then refused (Oct., 2004) to begin disarming. The civil war reignited (Nov., 2004) when the Gbagbo government broke the cease-fire by launching air attacks on the rebel-held north. When nine French peacekeepers were killed, France retaliated by destroying most of the small Ivorian air force, anti-French riots broke out in Abidjan, and Western civilians were evacuated. Later that month the UN responded by imposing sanctions on Côte d'Ivoire.
In Dec., 2004, after negotiations spearheaded by South Africa's President Mbeki, the constitution was amended to permit citizens with one Ivoirian parent to run for president, but President Gbagbo insisted that the amendment be approved by a referendum, a move the northern rebels rejected. Relations between the government and the rebels further deteriorated during early 2005, but in April Mbeki negotiated a new cease-fire agreement that included a renewed commitment to disarming and elections later in 2005, and the rebels agreed to rejoin the government. The process of disarmament, however, several times failed to begin as scheduled, as the rebels continued to object to changes enacted by the government, and the elections scheduled for Oct., 2005, were postponed. The African Union, with the agreement of the UN Security Council, proposed that Gbagbo remain in office for an additional year while an election was arranged, but that his powers be limited and a prime minister with executive powers be appointed.
One of the wealthiest members of what was French West Africa, Côte d'Ivoire enjoyed a high economic growth rate from its independence through the 1970s. In the 1980s it faced economic difficulties, including a drop in commodity prices and huge foreign debt payments. Economic productivity and exports subsequently grew with the introduction of a market economy and International Monetary Fund–sponsored reforms, but since the late 1990s ethnic and political unrest have hurt the economy.
Stock Exchange Profile
The Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières (BRVM) is the regional stock exchange market in the French speaking West Africa. It was created in 1998 to replace the old Ivorian Bourse des Valuers d’Abijan. Its trading days are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8.30am to 12.30pm. There are no restrictions on foreign participation, no exchange control and depositories. The tax rates are 10% dividends, 0% interest and 0% capital gains.
Location: West Africa
Independence: August 7, 1960
Capital City: Yamoussoukro
Area: 322, 460 sq. km
Major Exports: Coffee, Cocoa, Banana, Palm Oil, Cotton, Fish, Tropical Wood
Important Cities: Abidjan, Bouake, Korhogo, Gagnoa
Head of State: Gen. Robert Guei
Type of Government: Republic
Religion: Muslim 60%, Christian 22%, African 18%
Official Language: French
Principal Languages: Dioula, Agni, Baule, Kru, Senufo, Mandinka
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
Comment on this article!