Ivory Coast

POPULATION: 20.80 million (2014)

AREA: 124,503 sq. mi. (322,463 sq. km)

LANGUAGES: French (official); Dioula (Djula), other native languages


PRINCIPAL RELIGIONS: Muslim 60%, Christian 22%, Traditional 18%

CITIES: Yamoussoukro (political capital), 120,000 (1999 est.), Abidjan (economic capital), 2,793,000 (1999 est.); Bouake, Man, Gaghoa, Grand-Bassam, Bingerville

ANNUAL RAINFALL: Varies from 50–94 in. (1,270–2,413 mm) on the coast to 50–60 in. (1,270–1,542 mm) in the north.

ECONOMY: GDP $34.25 billion (2014)


  • Agricultural: coffee, cocoa beans, timber, palm oil and kernels, bananas, rubber, cotton, sugar, rice, corn, cassava, sweet potatoes
  • Manufacturing: agricultural product processing, food and beverage processing and canning, petroleum refining, textiles, wood processing
  • Mining: petroleum, diamonds, nickel, manganese, iron ore, cobalt, bauxite, copper

GOVERNMENT: Independence from France, 1960. Multiparty democracy. President elected by universal suffrage. Governing bodies: Assemblee Nationale elected by universal suffrage.


  • 1960–1993 President Felix Houphouet-Boigny
  • 1993–1999 President Henri Konan Bedie
  • 1999–2000 General Robert Guei
  • 2000– President Laurent Gbagbo

ARMED FORCES: 8,400 (1998 est.)

EDUCATION: Compulsory for ages 7–13; literacy rate 40%

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast, also known as Cote d'Ivoire, gained its independence from France in 1960. For more than 30 years the nation had a reputation as one of the most prosperous and stable countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of its successes—and some of its difficulties—resulted from the strong leadership of its long-time president, Felix HOUPHOUET-BOIGNY. His death in 1993 has been followed by economic troubles, ethnic rivalries, controversial leaders, and a popular desire for democracy.


Located on the southern coast of West Africa, Ivory Coast is almost completely flat, sloping gradually upward away from the sea. The country's only highlands are the Man Mountains, on the western border with GUINEA, which rise to a height of about 3,000 feet. The south is covered with thick rain forests and experiences heavy rainfall and high humidity during two rainy seasons. In the central region, the rain forest gives way to mixed forest and savanna. The north is mainly grassland with scattered trees and dry bushes. With only one long rainy season and desert winds between December and February, the north is much drier and somewhat cooler than the south. It has suffered severe droughts in recent years and has lost some of its plant and animal life.

Ivory Coast's tropical climate makes it ideal for agriculture. At one point the country was the world's leading producer of cocoa and the third leading producer of coffee. These crops account for a large percentage of the nation's profits from exports to other countries. However, the world prices of cocoa and coffee change from year to year, so the health of the economy depends heavily on those prices. Other export crops include palm oil, rubber, cotton, bananas, and pineapples.

Timber is also a major industry, but heavy logging has dramatically reduced the size of Ivory Coast's forests. Although mining and manufacturing are a smaller part of the economy, the country has reserves of both oil and natural gas, as well as limited deposits of gold, iron ore, nickel, and manganese. The coastal city of ABIDJAN, the nation's traditional capital, is a major port and banking center. It has a population of about 2.8 million. The country's people are known as Ivorians.


For about 50 years, the history and government of Ivory Coast were dominated by Felix Houphouet-Boigny. His actions and policies influenced social, political, and economic developments in the country. They also left a record of stability and growth unmatched in any country in Africa led by black Africans. But that stability dissolved into bitter riots by 2000.

Early and Colonial History

Before the arrival of Europeans in the 1400s, three kingdoms and many small tribal societies occupied what is now Ivory Coast. The first European trading posts, established along the coast in the late 1600s, were gateways for the export of African ivory and slaves. The IVORY TRADE led Europeans to name the area Ivory Coast. During the 1800s the French signed agreements with local chiefs that brought Ivory Coast under French rule in 1893.

As colonial rulers the French established plantations to grow crops such as cocoa and coffee and forced Africans to work as serfs on their land. However, the plantations were always short staffed, and they were no more productive than the small farms. Today, most of the country's coffee and cocoa comes from small farms.

In the late 1930s Houphouet-Boigny organized a union of African farm workers. The union worked to overturn laws that allowed forced labor and favored French growers. When France opened its National Assembly to colonial Africans in 1945, Houphouet-Boigny was chosen to represent Ivory Coast. As a deputy in the French legislature, he succeeded in passing a law that ended forced labor, causing his popularity to soar among Africans.

Back in Ivory Coast Houphouet-Boigny founded the country's first independent political party, the PDCI. During the 1950s he campaigned in favor of a federation of French colonies in which Ivory Coast could govern itself. But the people of Ivory Coast wanted complete independence from France, and in 1960 they won this goal. They elected Houphouet-Boigny to serve as their first president, giving him almost 99 percent of the vote.

Father of the Nation

Houphouet-Boigny believed that Ivory Coast needed a strong leader at all costs. He also believed that the country's 60 different ethnic groups would make it less stable and threaten his leadership. To ensure his control over the nation, Houphouet-Boigny abolished all parties other than his own PDCI. He also controlled the national assembly. Although its members were elected by the people, all the candidates were nominated first by a political committee dominated by the PDCI. With little effective opposition, Houphouet-Boigny won the election for president every five years until his death.

While Houphouet-Boigny enjoyed nearly complete power over Ivory Coast's government and economy, he never ignored the voice of his people. He tried to make his personal rule legitimate by emphasizing his closeness to the common citizen. He often invited social and professional groups to tell him their problems and to voice their complaints about the government. The president also reached out to the Muslim population of the north. He himself was part of the Christian population of the south, which had enjoyed greater political and economic status since the days of European rule.

The Rise and Fall of the Economy

After gaining independence most African countries moved rapidly to increase their industry and manufacturing. But Ivory Coast focused on developing its agriculture with modern technology. Ivory Coast's prosperity peaked in 1976–1977, when a frost devastated the coffee crop in Brazil. Prices rose worldwide, and Ivory Coast's coffee industry brought in large amounts of foreign money.

The government used this revenue to expand government services, hire more government employees, and finance a construction boom. But coffee prices soon returned to normal, and Ivory Coast fell into debt. The country was forced to borrow money from international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In 1981 these lenders forced Ivory Coast to spend less money, cutting back social services and firing government employees. Five years later the market for both coffee and cocoa collapsed, and Ivory Coast was forced to begin another round of economic reorganization. The new restructuring plan cut the prices paid to coffee and cocoa farmers in half, taxed private incomes, and reduced government spending by onefourth.

Political Change

The economic hardship led Ivorians to protest the restructuring and to call for a more democratic government. The protests forced Houphouet-Boigny to cancel the economic program and to hold multiparty elections in 1990—the first in the nation's history. However, the large number of political parties participating meant that no single party had enough power to overcome the PDCI, which won over 90 percent of the seats in the national assembly. Houphouet-Boigny again won the office of president. Under a new law he named Allassane Ouattera, a northern Muslim politician, to run the government as prime minister. A rivalry soon developed between Ouattera and Henri Konan Bedie, a southern Christian who was the speaker of the assembly.

When Houphouet-Boigny died in 1993, Bedie succeeded him as president. After ousting Ouattera, Bedie began to strengthen his own position through a campaign of ethnic division. He promoted the idea that some Ivorians were more truly “Ivorian” than others and that Christians were superior to Muslims. Christians felt free to harass Muslims and immigrants.

Under Houphouet-Boigny foreigners had been encouraged to settle in Ivory Coast, to find work, and to participate in politics. But in 1996 Bedie created laws granting citizenship and voting rights only to those whose parents and grandparents were born in Ivory Coast. This meant that about 40 percent of the people in the country—including Ouattera—could no longer serve in government or even vote. Bedie came under a great deal of criticism for these actions and responded by clamping down on his opponents. He arrested journalists for printing articles that he considered “insulting,” and he refused to give up any power to other political parties.

In managing the economy, Bedie went farther than Houphouet-Boigny in opening the economy to private capital and foreign investment. He sold most of the nation's public utilities and resources to corporations. He also abolished many laws that regulated the treatment of workers and the prices of crops. Fortunately, the world prices of coffee and cocoa rebounded in the late 1990s, helping to restore some strength to the economy.

In 1999 a growing crisis ended with a violent military coup, led by Robert Guei, a Christian general. In elections held the next year, Ouattera was ruled ineligible to run for office, and many Muslims decided not to vote. A southern Christian politician, Laurent Gbagbo, won the election, but Guei refused to leave office. Thousands of Gbagbo's supporters, joined by some police and military troops, protested in Abidjan and forced Guei to flee.

Gbagbo rallied his supporters by fanning the flames of anti-Muslim prejudice. In late 2000 Christians and Muslims fought in the streets of Abidjan, and Christians burned down several mosques. Ouattera's party called for the north to secede from the south. In January 2001 an attempted coup against President Gbagbo's government failed.


Ivory Coast is home to a wide variety of ethnic groups and languages. The largest group is the Baule, one of several AKAN peoples of central and eastern Ivory Coast. The second-largest group, the Bete, speak Kru and live mainly in the western part of the country. The Mande people, whose language is also called Mande, are divided into northern and southern groups. The northern Mande are indigenous to Ivory Coast, while the southern Mande originally came from areas now occupied by LIBERIA, Guinea, and MALI. The north is also inhabited by the Senufo, who speak a language of the Gur family. A large number of smaller ethnic groups live in the far south, near the coast.

Many people came to Ivory Coast from other West African countries as part of Houphouet-Boigny's campaign to strengthen the economy by encouraging immigration. People also arrived from as far away as Lebanon, Vietnam, Korea, and Indonesia. Many immigrant groups, like many local ethnic groups, control specific parts of the economy. This division of occupations presents another potential source of ethnic rivalries. The population of Ivory Coast is about 60 percent Muslim and 20 percent Christian. The north is the Muslim area, while the majority of Christians live in the south. However, many Ivorians incorporate elements of traditional religion into their beliefs and practice. (See also Colonialism in Africa, Ethnic Groups and Identity, Plantation Systems.)