Know Côte d’Ivoire

Known as the Ivory Coast in English, the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire is in West Africa. Its surface area is 322,462, sq. km. Countries bordering Côte d’Ivoire are Guinea, Mali, Liberia, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. The Gulf of Guinea is on its southern border. Population is 25,344,044 in 2019.

Côte d’Ivoire was home to several states prior to European occupation. These include the Gyaaman, the Baoule, and the Kong Empire. Two Anyi kindoms, the Indenie and Sanwi, also existed and attempted to maintain their identity through the colonial period and independence. Côte d’Ivoire became a protectorate of France based on a treaty in 1843-44. In 1893, it formally became a French colony.

Côte d’Ivoire gained independence on August 7, 1960. Felix Houphouet-Boigny led the country from 1960 to 1993. It maintained economic and political ties with its neighbors and the west. Since the end of Houphouet-Boigny’s rule, Côte d’Ivoire has undergone two coups and a civil war. Elections and an agreement between rebels and the government have brought peace. Côte d’Ivoire is a republic but does have a strong executive branch. The capital is Yamoussoukro and Abidjan is the largest city. The country is divided into 19 regions and 81 departments. The country belongs to the African Union, La Francophonie, Organization of the Islamic Conference, Latin Union, South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, and the Economic Community of West African States.

French is the official language but many local ones are spoken including Dioula, Dan, Baoule, Anyin, and Cebaara Senufo. Christianity and Islam are the main religions.

Coffee and cocoa production made the country an economic powerhouse in the 1960s and 1970s in the region. There was an economic crisis in the 1980s leading to instability. Currently, the Côte d’Ivoire economy relies on agriculture.


The country was originally known in English as the Ivory Coast until 1985, when the government requested it be known as Côte d’Ivoire.

Usage in English

The term Ivory Coast is still used despite the government’s request. The BBC uses the Ivory Coast as do the Times, the New York Times, ABC News, and the South African Broadcasting Company.

For diplomatic reasons, many countries use the term Côte d’Ivoire, such as the U.N. The U.S. State Department uses Côte d’Ivoire in formal documents. The Economist and the National Geographic Society use the requested name.


Land Migration

It has been difficult to determine the date of the first human presence in Côte d’Ivoire because the humid climate does not preserve human remains well. Findings indicate a large presence in the Paleolithic period from 15,000 to 10,000 BC or the Neolithic at a minimum.

Côte d’Ivoire’s earliest known inhabitants did leave traces and many believe they were displaced or absorbed by the present inhabitant’s ancestors when they arrived before the 16th century. These included the Kotrowou, Ehotile, Ega, Dies, and Zehiri.

Pre-Islamic and Islamic Periods

The earliest recorded history is the chronicles of Berber traders from North Africa. From early Roman times, they sent trade caravans across the Sahara for salt, gold, slaves, and other goods. From the southern end of the route, additional trade moved south to the edge of the rain forest. Djenne, Gao, and Timbuktu, important trade centers, grew into the Sudanic empires’ commercial hubs.

These empires used their military to dominate neighboring states. These also became Islamic education centers. In the western Sudan, Muslim Berbers introduced the religion and it rapidly spread after many rulers converted. After the religion was embraced in the area from the 11th century, it spread south to the area of modern day Côte d’Ivoire.

The earliest of the Sudanic empires, the Ghana Empire, thrived in what is now eastern Mauretania from the 4th to the 13th century. At its peak in the 11th century it extended from Timbuktu to the Atlantic Ocean. After the Ghana declined, the Mali Empire grew and reached its height in the early 14th century. The Mali Empire in Côte d’Ivoire only reached the northwest corner.

Internal fighting and vassal state revolts followed the slow decline of the Mali Empire. One of these states, the Songhai, thrived during the 14th and 16th centuries. Discord also weakened the Songhai, leading to war. People also migrated south toward the forest belt. Large-scale political groups could not form in the dense rain forest in the Côte d’Ivoire’s southern half. Its people lived in small villages with limited contact with the outside world.

In the pre-colonial era, five states thrived in Côte d’Ivoire. Established by the Juula in the 18th century, the Muslim Kong Empire was inhabited by Senoufo who fled the Mali Empire. The Kong prospered in trade, crafts, and agriculture. Ethnic divisions gradually weakened the empire leading to the city of Kong’s destruction by Samori Ture in 1895.

Gyaaman, the Abron kingdom, was established by the Akan group in the 17th century. The Abron fled from the Ashanti confederation in modern day Ghana. The Abron gradually extended their rule over the Dyula people in Bondoukou. That city developed into a commercial center and one for Islam. Its scholars attracted West African students. Other Akan fleeing the Asante established a Baoule kingdom at Sakasso in the mid-17th century. They also established two Agni kingdoms, the Sanwi and Indenie.

Like the Ashanti, the Baoule, had a highly centralized administrative and political structure under three rulers. It finally split into small chiefdoms. The Baoule resisted the French despite their kingdom’s breakup. The descendants of Agni kingdoms’ rulers tried to keep their identity after independence. Sanwi of Krinjabo tried to break from Côte d’Ivoire in 1969 to form a separate kingdom.

Establishment of French Rule

The slave trade did not affect Côte d’Ivoire as much as its neighbors. Europeans preferred to use areas with better harbors. The first French voyage to West Africa occurred in 1483. Saint Louis, the first French settlement in Africa, was founded in Senegal in the mid-17th century. Near this time, the Dutch ceded Goree Island to the French. In 1637, a French mission, Assinie, was set up near the border with modern Ghana.

The mission’s survival was precarious and it took until the mid-19th century for the French to become firmly established in Côte d’Ivoire. Bouet-Willaumez, a French admiral, signed treaties in 1843-44 with kings in the Grand Bassam and Assinie regions. This placed their territories under French control. Traders, missionaries, explorers and soldiers extended the territory inland. Complete pacification did not occur until 1915.

Coastal activity increased the European’s interest in the interior, particularly near the Senegal and Niger Rivers. In the mid-19th century, dedicated French exploration began, but was more based on individuals with initiative rather than government policy. Additional treaties finalized in the 1840s allowed French fortified posts to be built along the Gulf of Guinea. These served as permanent trading areas.

Grand Bassam became the first capital. Assinie was another early post. In exchange for annual fees, the French received sovereign trading rights in the posts. The French were not satisfied because the privileges had limits. The French government did maintain the treaties.

The French presence was also meant to stem Britain’s influence along the Gulf of Guinea. French naval bases were also built to keep out other traders and begin additional conquest.

After France was defeated in 1871’s Franco-Prussian War, the province of Alsace Lorraine in Europe was annexed by the Germans. This caused the French to withdraw its garrisons from West Africa and abandon its colonial ambitions. The trading posts were left in the care of merchants.

France returned to the trading posts in 1886 and restarted efforts to expand into the country’s interior. Four treaties established French control in Côte d’Ivoire in 1887 after Lieutenant Louis Gustave Binger’s journey into the country. That same year, five additional treaties further extended French authority from the Niger River’s headwaters though Côte d’Ivoire.

French Colonial Era

France established effective control by the end of the 1880s. Britain recognized French rule in 1889. Treich-Laplene was also named governor that year. Côte d’Ivoire attained formal colony status in 1893 and Captain Binger was then appointed governor. An agreement with Liberia in 1892 and another with Britain in 1893 fixed the east and west borders of Côte d’Ivoire. The northern border was not established until 1947 due to French attempts to include the French Sudan and the Upper Volta in the colony’s administration.

The goal of the French was to increase exports. Cocoa, palm oil, and coffee were cultivated in the coastal areas. Côte d’Ivoire was the only African colony with a large population of settlers. In other areas, Europeans were mostly administrators. This resulted in forced labor to support the French controlled coffee, banana, and cocoa plantations.

During France’s early rule, its military went inland to found new trading posts, which the population resisted. Samori Ture in particular fought the movements. In the 1880s and 1890s he established the Wassoulous Empire. This extended over what is now Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire. His well-equipped forces manufactured and repaired their own firearms. They attracted strong support. The French responded militarily and met resistance. The fighting increased through the mid-1890s until Ture’s capture in 1898.

In 1900, the French imposed a head tax to begin public works programs. This provoked revolts. The people viewed the tax as violating the original treaties. It appeared France was demanding a tax from the local kingdoms as opposed to the reverse situation the treaties required.

Côte d’Ivoire was part of the Federation of French West Africa from 1904 to 1958. Under the Third Republic, it was an overseas territory and a colony. Its affairs were administered from Paris until after World War II. The French followed their policy of association, meaning it viewed all Africans in Côte d’Ivoire as subjects without representation rights.

While French policy incorporated assimilation, this presupposed the French culture’s superiority over others. In essence, assimilation meant the populations needed to adopt French laws, customs, languages, and institutions. There were different sets of laws for the French and the Africans. Côte d’Ivoire people could keep their traditions to the extent they did not conflict with those of the French.

Some indigenous people from Côte d’Ivoire were taught French practices and acted as an intermediary between the Africans and the French. After 1930, a small number of Ivoirians were allowed to apply for French citizenship, but most were classified as subjects. These people had no political rights and were forced to work on plantations, in mines, and as porters. This work was considered part of their tax liability. They were subject to separate laws and required to serve in the military.

After Germany defeated France in World War II, the Vichy government controlled the colony until 1943. At that time, Gen. Charles de Gaulle’s government took control of West Africa. Reforms began in 1946 after the Brazzaville Conference and the Fourth Republic. France was also grateful for colonial support during the war. The people were allowed to politically organize, forced labor was abolished, and French citizenship was granted.

Côte d’Ivoire was overseen by ministers appointed in Paris until 1958. This centralized administration left little room for local participation in policies. The French wanted there to be a small local elite that would not oppose French goals and the status quo. This was successful in that educated Ivoirians generally believed they were better off trying to become equal with the French through assimilation rather than independence. Once the assimilation was entirely implemented after the post-war reforms, those same leaders began to understand that this policy still assumed French superiority. They realized independence was the only way to end the inequality.


Felix Houphouet-Boigny, a Baoule chief’s son, was to become the country’s father of independence. He formed the first agricultural trade union for cocoa farmers. Tired of favoritism for French plantations, they recruited migrant workers for their own farms. Houphouey-Boigny was elected to the French Parliament in Paris within a year. Forced labor was abolished a year later. Houphouet-Boigny believed strong French relations would benefit the country. He became a government minister and was the first African to do so.

The 1956 Overseas Reform Act was a turning point in relations with France. It removed voting inequalities and moved many powers from Paris to African elected territorial governments. Côte d’Ivoire gained autonomy in 1958.

At independence in 1960, Côte d’Ivoire was French West Africa’s most prosperous colony. It contributed over 40 percent of the total exports in the region. The government gave farmers good prices to stimulate production. The resulting increase in coffee production made it the third highest exporter in the world. It was also the leading cocoa producer by 1979.

Côte d’Ivoire was the largest pineapple and palm oil exporter in Africa. This was done with the help of French technicians. In other former colonies, Europeans were driven out after independence. In Côte d’Ivoire, they migrated in, growing from 30,000 before independence to 60,000 in 1980. Mostly, these were managers, advisors, and teachers. The economy’s growth rate was 10 percent per year for two decades, the highest of any country in Africa without oil exports.

Houphouët-Boigny Administration

Houphouet-Boigny ruled sternly. There was not a free press and only one party was allowed. Some accepted this restriction because of his popularity. His large scale projects were also criticized, such as money spent on his home village, Yamoussoukro, to make it the capital Houphouet-Boigny also spent money to develop a peace, education, and religion center in country. In the early 1980s, the country’s economy declined due to world recession and drought. External debt increased primarily due to collapsing sugar prices and timber overcutting.

Civil servants went on strike in 1990. Students joined them to protest corruption. This forced the government to support allowing multiple parties. Houphouet-Boigny died in 1993 and favored Henri Konan Bedie as the next leader.

Bédié Administration

Bedie won re-election overwhelmingly in 1995. He jailed hundreds of opposition members. The outlook for the economy improved somewhat with lower inflation. This led to foreign debt reduction attempts.

Unlike his predecessor who avoided ethnic conflict, Bedie excluded his rivals, including Alassane Ouattara, from running in elections. He also excluded those from other countries, leading to ethnic tensions.

1999 Coup

Bedie’s opponents were also kept from the army. Military officers staged a coup in 1999. This put General Robert Guei in power. Bedie fled to France. The new leaders reduced corruption and crime and publically supported a campaign to have a less wasteful society.

Gbagbo Administration

Laurent Gbagbo competed with Guei in peaceful elections in 2000. There was unrest before the elections. After a public uprising resulting in deaths, Gbagbo replaced Guei. Due to his Bukinabe nationality, the Supreme Court disqualified Alassane Ouattara from running in the election. The constitution, and later the reformed one, forbid non-citizens from running for president. This led to battles between his supporters and riot police.

Ivorian Civil War

An armed uprising began on September 19, 2002 while the President was in Europe. Units that were set to be disbanded instead mutinied. Attacks were launched in several cities. A battle for the main troop barracks in Abidjan lasted until mid-morning, but the government secured Abidjan by lunchtime. The northern part of the country was taken by rebels. Due to the continued threat against Abidjan, French troops were deployed to stop any advance. The French claimed to be simply protecting its own citizens. The French intervention’s affect is unclear but both sides claimed it helped the other. The events of the initial night of the coup are disputed.

Gbagbo cut his European trip short. When he returned he addressed the country and stated rebels were hiding in migrant shanty towns. This led to forces destroying these homes and attacking the residents.

A ceasefire with the rebels was short-lived and fighting over the cocoa growing areas began again. France again sent in troops, this time to maintain cease-fire boundaries. Militia took the opportunity to seize parts of the west.

2002 Unity Government

Gbagbo and the rebel leaders created a unity government in January 2003. French troops monitored the western border and curfews were lifted. The government has proven to be unstable since then and neither side has achieved their goals. An opposition rally in 2004 resulted in 120 dead. Foreign nationals were evacuated after additional mob violence.

U.N. forces maintained a Zone of Confidence, but the two sides’ relationship declined further. The rebels refused to disarm in 2004 and the peace agreement collapsed. Gbagbo ordered air strikes. On November 6, 2004, nine French soldiers were killed in an air strike that the government claimed was a mistake. The French destroyed the country’s aircraft, leading to riots by the population of Abidjan.

Gbagbo’s original term expired on October 30, 2005. Since there was no disarmament, elections could not be held. A plan was worked out with the African Union extended his term for one year and was approved by the U.N. Security Council. In 2006, with the deadline approaching, it was unlikely elections could be held. The rebels rejected an additional extension. One more extension was endorsed by the U.N. on November 1, 2006. This resolution allowed the Prime Minister, Charles Konan Banny, to strengthen his powers. Gbagbo declared that unconstitutional parts of the resolution would not be applied.

The rebels and government entered a peace agreement on March 4, 2007. Guillaume Soro, leader of the rebels now known as the New Forces, became the prime minister. Observers believe this has actually strengthened Gbagbo’s position in Côte d’Ivoire.


Côte d’Ivoire is located in western sub-Saharan Africa bordering Mali and Burkina Faso in the north, Ghana in the east, the Gulf of Guinea in the south, and Liberia and Guinea in the west.

Regions and Departments

There are 19 regions in Côte d’Ivoire. Those regions are Agneby, Bafing, Bas-Sassandra, Denguele, Dix-Huit Montagnes, Fromager, Haut-Saddandra, Lacs, Lagunes, Marahoue, Moyen-Cavally, Moyen-Comoe, N’zi-Comoe, Savanes, Sud-Bandama, Sud-Comoe, Vallee du Bandama, Worodougou, and Zanzan.

These are further subdivided into 81 divisions.

Population of Major Cities

Yamoussoukro is the capital of Côte d’Ivoire. Its population of 295,500 makes it the 4th most populous city. Abidjan is the largest city with 3,320,500 in population. It serves the banking and commercial as well. It is also has the highest population of any French speaking city in Africa. Additional large cities are Bouake (775,300), Daloa (489,100), Korhogo (163,400), San Pedro (151,600), and Divo (134,200).


Yamoussoukro has been the capital since 1983. The administrative hub has been Abidjan. Most international embassies are in Abidjan, but some, like the U.K., have closed them due to the violence. The civil war continues to cause the population to suffer. There are human rights issues related to the treatment of captives by both sides. There are also problems with child slaves working in cocoa cultivation.

The majority of the fighting ended in 2004, but the country was still split. The New Forces controlled the north. An agreement was reached to proceed with elections in March 2007, but those were delayed numerous times.


Côte d’Ivoire had experienced economic growth after independence due to agricultural exports, close French ties, and foreign investment. Agricultural competition internationally and falling prices for coffee and cocoa have made life difficult for growers and exporters.

Côte d’Ivoire belongs to the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).


Ivoirians are 77 percent of the population. Several different language groups and people make up the Ivoirians. 65 languages are spoken in Côte d’Ivoire. Dyula is one of the most common and is a language of trade. It is spoken in the Muslim population.

French is the country’s official language and is taught in schools. Three groups make up the native population and are Muslim, Christian, and animist. 20 percent of the population are workers from Liberia, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. The majority of these are Muslim.

Non-Africans make up 4 percent. These include Lebanese, French, Spanish, and Vietnamese. There are also missionaries from the U.S. and Canada. 10,000 French and other foreigners left the country in 2004 due to attacks. There are native-born descendants of French settlers in the country as well.


Islam and Christianity are the main religions, but the country’s religions are diverse. A 2008 survey showed 38.6 percent were Muslim, 32.8 Christian, 11.8 percent practiced indigenous religions, and 16.7 percent with no religion. Christians mostly live in the south and Muslims in the north. The largest church in the world, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, is located in the capital.



Twelve physicians are present for every 100,000 people. 25 percent of the country lives below the international poverty line.


Many children are not enrolled in school. While a large portion of the population is illiterate, it is a particular problem among women. Most secondary school students are men. There are universities in Abidjan and Bouake.


Different musical genres exist for each ethnic group. Common elements include talking drums and polyrhythms. Zouglou, Coupe-Decale, and zoblazo are popular styles of music.


In the Olympic men’s 400 meters, Côte d’Ivoire has won a silver medal. The nation’s football team played in the finals of the World Cup twice.

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