What Should I Know About CôTe D'Ivoire?

Thursday Bram

The Republic of Côte d'Ivoire was previously known as the Ivory Coast, and English speakers still often use the older name. The country is located along the western coast of Africa, although Côte d'Ivoire’s coastal region is actually its southern border, on the Gulf of Guinea. The total area is 200,367 square miles (322,460 square kilometers). The capital is officially located in Abidjan, but in reality Côte d'Ivoire is ruled from the city of Yamoussouktro. Most economic activity remains in Abidjan, as do the majority of embassies from other countries, though many have closed due to the Ivorian Civil War and attacks against Europeans. Yamoussouktro’s population is approximately 200,000, barely a fraction of the estimated 17,654,843 people in Côte d'Ivoire as of 2006.

Côte d'Ivoire produces bananas.
Côte d'Ivoire produces bananas.

Côte d'Ivoire is effectively split in two as a result of the Ivorian Civil War. There has only been sporadic fighting since 2004, but rebels continue to hold the northern part of the country while the government remains in the south. French troops and United Nations peacekeepers have failed to reduce hostilities. The civil war stemmed from issues with the 1994 presidential election — the first competitive election in thirty years — compounded by an economic down turn and tensions between the various ethnic groups in Côte d'Ivoire.

Traditionally, most of the coffee that is grown in Côte d'Ivoire is sold in France and Italy.
Traditionally, most of the coffee that is grown in Côte d'Ivoire is sold in France and Italy.

French is the official language of Côte d'Ivoire, but 65 other languages are spoken in the country. The majority of Ivorians are Roman Catholic or animist, but about 20 percent of the population is made up of Muslim workers from the neighboring countries of Liberia, Guinea and Burkina Faso. The high number of immigrants is believed to worsen the unrest in Côte d'Ivoire.

Most of the major ethnic groups who are considered Ivorian arrived in the area relatively recently, begin with migrations in the seventeenth century by the Kru, Senoufo and Lobi peoples. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Akan and Malinke people also came into the area. French colonists settled in the Ivory Coast area beginning in the 1840s, building cocoa, coffee and banana plantations that relied on force labor. Côte d'Ivoire became an autonomous member of the French community under the leadership of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a Ivorian from the Baoulé tribe, and the country became independent in 1960. Houphouët-Boigny was elected president in 1960 and was continuously re-elected until his death in 1993.

Côte d'Ivoire was considered one of the most prosperous of the post-colonial states in Western Africa, with heavy foreign investment and diversified agriculture. But as international prices for coffee, cocoa and other Ivorian products have fallen and Côte d'Ivoire is facing economic problems made worse by corruption.

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