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Cote d'Ivoire Profile (A Brief History)

Updated: Oct 31, 2020

Cote d’Ivoire, also known as the Ivory Coast, officially the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, is located on the south coast of West Africa and has a population of 23 million people. Ivory Coast is bordered by Mali and Burkina Faso to the north, Ghana to the east, Liberia to the southwest, and Guinea to the northwest. Ivory Coast has two capitals, Yamoussoukro the political capital and Abidjan the economic capital and the largest city. There are more than 60 ethnic groups and 80 languages spoken in Ivory Coast. Most of the largest ethnic groups have ethnic affiliations with larger groups living outside of the country’s border in particular the Akan from Ghana, the Mande from Mali, and the Kru from Liberia.

Early History of Cote d'Ivoire

It is hard to establish exactly when the first inhabitants migrated to Ivory Coast because human remains don’t persevere in the humid climate of the country, however, archaeological evidence suggests that there was a large human presence in the area as early as 15,000 – 10,000 BC. Historians are of the opinion that certain groups such as the Ehotilé, Zéhiri, Kotrowou, Diès and Ega had arrived at the coast well before the 16th century. Not much else is known about the people who originally inhabited the Ivory Coast, it is assumed that they were displaced by the ancestors of the present-day inhabitants of the country.

Sudanic Empires

Modern-day Ivory Coast, located along the trans-Saharan trade route, was one of the major commercial trading centers that was under the control of the Sudanic Empires. The Islamic religion flourishing in Northern Africa, began to spread southward, Arab traders from the north would begin spreading Islam along the trans-Saharan trade route. Eventually Islam would encompass the Sudanic Empire and the rulers of the various kingdoms, they would go onto bring Islam to most of West Africa and Central Africa.

At some point between the 11th and the 14th century the Ghana Empire, one of the Sudanic empires and later the Mali Empire held absolute control over the northern region of modern-day Ivory Coast.

Following revolts by vassal states, these Muslim empires would lose dominion over the territories, and the Songhai Empire grew to be powerful and advanced to the forefront of power in the region between the 14th and 16th century.

Later, internal discords and factional warfare within the Songhai Empire would lead to the migration of people to the southern rainforest belt of the country. The secluded communities lived in the thick rainforest regions survived on farming and hunting. With limited interaction with the northern part of the country the dwellers avoided the political conflicts and were for the most part left to their own accord.

Arrival of Europeans in Cote d'Ivoire

Before the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century, there were five prominent kingdoms in the country; namely Kong, Abron, Baoule, Indenie and Sanwi, these Kingdoms were for the most part former remnants of the larger Sudanic Empires. European traders began exploring the coast of west Africa and started establishing trade outs looking for gold, ivory and spices. The trading interest would later shift from commodities to slave trading as that became more profitable, specially driven by the establishment of American colonies in the 15th century.

With the spread of their commercial contacts the Europeans would gain influence over the people of western Africa. However, since there were no sheltered harbors along the Ivorian coastline the European traders could not establish permanent trading forts in Ivory Coast. Most of the trading that occurred was sea-borne and even that was inconsistent. The main trade focus in this territory was on ivory obtained from elephant tusks. This thrived in the 17th century but would gradually fizzle out towards the beginning of the 18th century with the demise of the elephants.

Colonization of Cote d'Ivoire

As far back as 1483 the first French voyage had landed on the Western African coast, by the mid-nineteenth century they had firmly established their presence in Ivory Coast. In 1843 France would sign treaties with local rulers in modern-day Ivory Coast and these treaties would place those territories under a French Protectorate. The provisions of the treaty included the building of forts along the coast and trading privileges. The local rulers would receive compensation in the form of annual payments for the use of their land.

When France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian war of 1871 the French government withdrew military garrisons from the trading posts in West Africa and relinquished control to French merchants who resided on trading posts. The annexation of French territories by Germany would further douse the colonial ambitions of France in Africa.

The Berlin conference of 1885 which brought together all the European powers scrambling for colonial territories in Africa stipulated that only European annexations on the African coastline with effective occupation would be recognized. The following year in 1886, France established claims of effective occupation over its former west African coastal trading posts, that were still under the control of French merchants, and in 1887 the would sign more treaties with local rulers further inland and established the French Protectorate of the Ivory Coast. In 1893, France made Ivory Coast a French colony, with Captain Binger appointed as governor.

Many of the local rulers did not comprehend the implications of the treaties they signed with the French. Until the loss of their sovereignty and the colonization of all the kingdoms of Ivory Coast, the rulers were misled to think that France’s ambition were to help in solving their economic problems and to protect them from attacks. Nonetheless, French domination was not entirely without resistance, Samori Toure, a local chief put up fierce resistance against the French penetration of his kingdom.

French oppression of the natives started with the imposition of a forced labor system which made every male Ivorian adult work for 10 days on French-owned plantations without any form of compensation.

Ivory Coast continued as a colony and overseas territory and was a constituent unit of the federation of French West Africa. France held the policy that all African indigenes in Ivory Coast were French subjects and had no political rights to representation, both in Africa and in France. The French colonial policy was that of assimilation and association, and this meant imposition of French cultures on the colonized locals and upholding French superiority.

After World War II in 1946, in appreciation of African loyalty coming in the form of soldiers fighting European wars, France made reforms which granted citizenship to all its African subjects giving them political rights and abolishing forced labor.

Independence of Cote d'Ivoire

The French adopted certain divide-and-rule policies that ensured small groups of educated and influential elites in their colony were given preferential treatment and privileges that would keep them satisfied to quench any anti-French sentiment. However, the Ivorian leaders understood clearly that only independence can end colonial rule. One notable figure among these elites was Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who led many negotiations that saw Ivory Coast liberated from many unfavorable policies laid on it by France.

In 1958, Ivory Coast was made an autonomous member of the French Community, and later in 1960 was granted complete independence. Félix Houphouët-Boigny would become the country’s first president, a position he held until his death in 1993.

Ivorian Civil Wars

Following the death of Houphouet-Boigny in 1993, Ivory Coast disintegrated into chaos and civil unrest which adversely affected its economic growth and stability. The first civil war occurred between 2000 and 2004, after a contested election in October of 2000, that banned candidates from the northern region, saw Laurent Gbagbo win the presidency.

The country was essentially divided between Guillaume Soro, the leader of the rebelling northern region, and President Laurent Gbagbo who controlled the southern portion of the country. All efforts made by peacekeepers from France and the United Nations towards reconciliation and disarmament would ultimately fail. Finally, in 2007 a peace accord between government forces and rebel forces was signed which created a unity government appointing rebel leader Guillaume Soro as Prime Minister. Elections would be held three years later in 2010.

After Alassane Ouattara was declared the victor of the 2010 Ivorian presidential election, Laurent Gbagbo rejected the result and refused to concede victory to the international recognized winner. This would lead to civil war and another wave of violence between supporters of Gbagbo and those of Quattara which claimed the lives of hundreds of Ivorians and displaced many from their homes.

It took the joint effort of the United Nations, the Economic Community of West African States, and the French military forces to bring the war to an end in 2011, with the arrest of former President Gbagbo.

Economy of Cote d'Ivoire

After independence in 1960, Ivory Coast became the richest and most prosperous French West African country and contributed over 40% of total exports of West Africa. In coffee production Ivory Coast held third place in the world output, by 1979 it became the leading producer of cocoa worldwide, and the largest exporter of palm oil and pineapples in Africa. The civil wars and internal discords would later put a clog to the wheel of the country's economic growth.

Following the end of a decade of civil war in 2011, the economy of Ivory Coast has been one of the fastest growing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, growing to 40 billion-dollar GDP. Ivory Coast’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture and related services which accounts for almost 60% of export revenue. Consequently, the economy is sensitive to international pricing of its cash crops.


Agriculture accounts for 20% of GDP but employs almost 50% of the country’s workforce. Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa accounting for 30% of the global market, and is a major exporter of cashews, palm oil, coffee, and oil.


Manufacturing accounts for 25% of the countries GDP and employs 6% of the workforce. The country’s main industrial sectors include the processing of food, textiles, construction materials, and fertilizer.


The services industry is the fastest growing sector in Ivory Coast and accounts for almost 50% of the country’s GDP and employs 45% of the workforce. The industry is led by telecommunications, banking, and other rapidly growing services.

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