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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #23 of 54: Guinea Bissau | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #25 of 54: Kenya »

June 04, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #24 of 54: Ivory Coast

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- 24. IVORY COAST Flag of Ivory Coast

Formal Name: République de Côte d'Ivoire.

Term for Citizens: Ivorians.

Capital: Yamoussoukro. (Official Capital)

Date of Independence: August 7, 1960, from France.

Major Cities: Abidjan 3,956,000, (De facto Capital).


Ivory Coast is located in West Africa. It is bounded in the Northeast by Burkina Faso, in the Northwest by Mali; in the Southwest by Liberia, and Guinea; in the East by Ghana and in the South by the Atlantic Ocean. The coastal region is marked by lagoons and mangrove swamps. The Southwest is heavily forested. The North is savanna. Ivory Coast has some mountains in its West but otherwise is mainly flat terrain. The climate is mostly warm, and humid; in the south, it rains heavily between May and October, but the northern part of the country experiences less rain. Ivory Coast encompasses 124, 503 square miles.


Ivory Coast’s population is estimated at 17,631,000, with average annual growth of 4.1%. Roughly 50% of the population is urban and concentrated around Abidjan and Bouake areas.

Ethnic groups and languages:

Ivory Coast has more than sixty ethnic groups and languages. The major ethnic groups include: Baoule (16%), Senoufo (11%), Bete (7%), Lagoon peoples (6%), Agni (4%), and Mande groups (Juula, Bambara, and Malinke, 17%). Non-Ivorian Africans, Lebanese, Asians and Europeans compose nearly 28% of the population. The official languages are French and Mande-kan.


Muslim, 25% of the population, Christian 60% and the rest Syncretic religions.


Elementary education is mandatory and compulsory. Only about 20% of post elementary students go to secondary schools. Overall literacy rate is 50.9%.


Ivory Coast economy is oriented towards private enterprise with extensive government participation in the economy. Foreign presence, particularly French and Lebanese is extensive in the economy. Ivory Coast has begun the process of industrialization, particularly in tertiary industries. 34% of the population is still engaged in subsistence agriculture. Cash cropping on a small scale (cocoa, coffee, palm oil, banana, pineapple, rubber, and sugar) is common. GDP estimate: $24.5 billion; Per Capita GDP: US $770 (World Bank, 2005). Monetary Unit: CFA Franc BCEAO (XOF).

History and Government:

Very little is known about ancient Ivorian history. Most of what is known is from the advent of Europeans in the country. French influence in the Ivory Coast is very pervasive. The government is modeled after that of France: a strong centralized republican government, a president elected every five years, national assembly elected every five years, and an independent judiciary. Ivory Coast, like France, is divided into forty-nine prefectures; the later are further divided into sub-prefectures, and thirty-seven municipalities. There is universal suffrage. Ivory Coast enjoyed a reputation as the most stable West African country. One party, Parti democratique de Cote d’Ivorie, PDCI, ruled the country under President Houphouet- Boigny. However, with the death of the long ruling Boigny, instability now reigns in the Ivory Coast. At present (2006), there is a struggle going on between the Muslim North and the Christian South.


The people of the Ivory Coast are a mix of Southern persons who share tribal affiliations with persons living in surrounding Countries, such as Ghana and Liberia (such as the Akan and Kru [people) and Northern persons who migrated southwards from the Sahel region of Africa, particularly from Burkina Faso and Mali.

The French laid claim to the area during the European scramble for the control of Africa, 1890. French farmers flocked in mass to Ivory Coast and established cocoa, coffee and palm oil plantations. They forced Africans to work in their plantations and this led to lots of resentment. Nevertheless, Ivory Coast became a leading exporter of Cocoa and coffee and enjoyed a relative thriving economy, as a result. Later, Africans got into the picture and began planting those export crops and some became quite rich from doing so.

Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the son of a Baoule chief, was one of the successful African farmers. In the 1940s, he went into politics and was, in fact, elected as a member of the French Parliament and served as a minister in Paris.

When the Ivory Coast gained independence from France in 1960, Houphouet-Boigny became the President of the country. Having lived in Paris and embraced the good life of Paris, he was pro-France and, indeed, encouraged the French to settle in his country. At one point, there was over 50, 000 French persons living in the Ivory Coast. These French men, some of whom were efficient managers and technicians, behind the scenes made sure that the country’s economy was well managed. Thus, Ivory Coast developed the reputation as the economic miracle of Africa during the rule of Houphouet-Boigny.

Apparently, the French looked the other way as Mr. Houphouet-Boigny exercised dictatorial tendencies. As long as the economy thrived, all seemed well in the country. Mr. Houphouet-Boigny engaged in grandiose buildings, such as moving the capital to his native village, Yamoussoukro, and building a cathedral that allegedly surpassed Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

By the 1980s, world recession in the price of Cocoa and coffee meant economic downturn for the Ivory Coast. People began to agitate for change in government or, at least, in its direction. In 1993 Houphouet-Boigny died and his hand chosen successor, Henri Konan Bedie, took over.

Mr. Bedie continued with the repressive rule of his predecessor, but this time the economy was not cooperating with him and riots broke out at Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital.

The 1990s was an era when the world was pressuring African countries towards more democracy, and in 1995 Mr. Bedie staged an election and won. However, he won by playing the ethnic card, reminding Southern Ivorians that many of the people living in the North came from other countries. Indeed, he tried to disqualify his main opponent, Mr. Alassne Quattara, by pointing out that one of his parents was not Ivorian. Houphouet-Boigny had maintained ethnic peace in the country, but Mr. Bedie had let the cat out of the bottle and thereafter the ethnic problems that devil other African countries became an issue in Ivory Coast.

In 1999, the army took over, and General Robert Guie became the President. He, too, called for an election to become a civilian president and played the ethnic card, also. The 2002 election was surprising won by Laurent Gbagbo. In the meantime, ethnic conflicts ensued in Abidjan and Northern Ivorians were killed. Quattara himself took refuge in the French Embassy and Guei was murdered.

Mr. Gbagbo is the current president of Ivory Coast. During his rule, persons of Northern origin feel discriminated against and formed militias and fought Gbagbo’s Southern Christians. Thus a civil war between South and North Ivory Coast. The French intervened and currently station an army to separate Northern and Southern forces.

Mr. Gbagbo, citing ethnic instability, cancelled the scheduled presidential election of 2005. In the meantime, African Union and United Nations got involved and helped select a prime minister, Charles Konan Banny, who, in their opinion, is acceptable to all parties in the conflict, and would help produce peace in the Ivory Coast. As it stands, the Gbagbo government controls Southern Ivory Coast, while the North is in rebel hands.

The situation in the Ivory Coast is compounded by the presence of millions of foreign workers in the country. During its economic heydays, the country imported many workers from its neighbors to work at its plantations. Over 20% of the country comes from foreign countries, particularly Burkina Faso. These people demand a meaningful role in the governance of the country.

Ivory Coast is divided into 19 regions, which, in turn, are subdivided into 58 departments.

The economy of the Ivory Coast is dependent on commodity prices, which fluctuates in the world market. Nevertheless, Houphouet-Boigny’s attraction of French nationals and the diversification of the economy keep the economy relatively advanced, by African standards.

The future of the Ivory Coast depends on how it deals with the Christian South-Muslim North cleavage. Until this issue is resolved, it is doubtful that there would be lasting peace in the country.

Regarding the tendency of African leaders to resort to undemocratic rule that behavior will probably change with the evolution of African countries into a more middle class economy. As long as the majority of people are illiterate and ignorant, it is easy for dictators to rule them, but a well educated middle class society cannot tolerate dictators. As Ivory Coast and other African countries produce a middle class population, democracy would finally come to that wretched continent.

Posted by Administrator at June 4, 2006 11:27 PM


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