Côte d'Ivoire (also known as the Ivory Coast), in western Africa on the Gulf of Guinea, is a little larger than New Mexico. Its neighbors are Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. The country consists of a coastal strip in the south, dense forests in the interior, and savannas in the north.
Côte d'Ivoire was originally made up of numerous isolated settlements; today it represents more than sixty distinct tribes, including the Baoule, Bete, Senoufou, Agni, Malinke, Dan, and Lobi. Côte d'Ivoire attracted both French and Portuguese merchants in the 15th century who were in search of ivory and slaves. French traders set up establishments early in the 19th century, and in 1842, the French obtained territorial concessions from local tribes, gradually extending their influence along the coast and inland. The area was organized as a territory in 1893, became an autonomous republic in the French Union after World War II, and achieved independence on Aug. 7, 1960. Côte d'Ivoire formed a customs union in 1959 with Dahomey (Benin), Niger, and Burkina Faso. The nation's economy is one of the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa. It is the world's largest exporter of cocoa and one of the largest exporters of coffee.
From independence until his death in 1993, Felix Houphouët-Boigny served as president. Massive protests by students, farmers, and professionals forced the president to legalize opposition parties and hold the first contested presidential election in Oct. 1990, which Houphouët-Boigny won with 81% of the vote.
Beginning in Sept. 1998, thousands of demonstrators protested a constitutional revision that granted President Henri Konan Bédié greatly enhanced powers. Bédié also promoted the concept of ivoirité, which, roughly translated, means “pure Ivoirian pride.” Although its defenders describe ivoirité as a term of positive national pride, it has led to dangerous xenophobia, with numerous ethnic Malians and Burkinans driven out of the country in 1999.
President Bédié was overthrown in the country's first military coup in Dec. 1999, and Gen. Robert Guei assumed control of the country. As a result, the majority of foreign aid to the country ceased.
Voters Approve a Draft Constitution
In what were seen as the first steps toward reasserting democracy, voters overwhelmingly approved a draft constitution in July 2000. However, the document permitted only those of “pure Ivoirian” stock to run for president, thereby excluding nearly 40% of the population. Guei, who had promised to stay in power only to “sweep the house clean,” instead decided to run for president in Oct. 2000 elections. Gen. Guei ran against a civilian opposition candidate, Laurent Gbagbo. Each declared victory in an election most believe to have been rife with fraud. Popular outcry against Guei soon turned violent, forcing him to leave the country, and Gbagbo assumed the presidency. Many observers questioned his mandate, however, since the popular opposition leader Alassane Ouattara had been excluded from the election on the specious grounds that he was not a pure-blooded Ivoirian. It was not until June 2002 that Ouattara was finally granted full Ivoirian citizenship, allowing him to run for president. Hundreds have died in violence sparked by the dispute.
Mutineering soldiers attempted a coup on Sept. 19, 2002. Guei and Interior Minister Doudou were killed in fighting between government soldiers and the rebels. President Gbagbo accused Guei of staging the coup. Fighting continued, even after a French-brokered peace accord was signed on Jan. 25, 2003, calling for the government to share power with the rebels. President Gbagbo's supporters found such a plan unacceptable, and there was rioting in the capital. The war was finally declared officially over in July. The peace, supported by 4,000 UN-sponsored French peacekeeping troops, was fragile, however. Pro-government and rebel militias remained armed, and in 2004, Northern and Muslim rebels still controlled half the country.
In Nov. 2004, the civil war again erupted; in May 2005, another peace deal was signed, but no militias disarmed. Elections were scheduled for October 2005, but the UN declared this impossible under the continued fighting. To avert a constitutional crisis, the UN Security Council recommended the president remain in office another year, but that he turn over most of his power to a new transitional prime minister. African mediators selected Charles Konan Banny, governor of West Africa's central bank, as a candidate acceptable to all sides of the conflict.
Power-Sharing Agreement Brings Hope for an End to the Civil War
Another peace accord between the government and the rebels was signed in March 2007. The two sides agreed to set up a power-sharing government and establish a joint army. Observers were cautiously optimistic that this deal would finally end the civil war. In April, rebel leader Guillaume Soro—President Gbagbo's bitter rival—was sworn in as prime minister, and a new government was formed.
Gbagbo Refuses to Accept Election Results
After several postponements by President Gbagbo, Côte d'Ivoire held its first presidential election in ten years in Oct. 2010. The first round of voting between incumbent Gbagbo and his historic rival Alassane Ouattara, a former IMF official who was excluded from the presidential 2000 race because he was not a pure-blooded Ivoirian, was inconclusive. In the second round, Ouattara defeated Gbagbo 54.1% to 45.9%. Gbagbo, however, refused to accept the results or step down, leaving the country on the brink of civil war. The African Union, UN, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), U.S., and the EU all endorsed the results. ECOWAS officials have tried in vain to negotiate a solution to the impasse.
For several months following the November election, Gbagbo's security forces attacked and killed citizens in Abidjan and other areas. Ouattara took refuge in a hotel near the presidential palace under the protection of UN troops, and was not able to assume a leadership position. Militias from the north loyal to Ouattara, however, began battling Gbagbo's forces, bringing the country to the brink of a civil war. The violence against citizens by Gbagbo's forces peaked in March 2011, prompting Human Rights Watch to say the attacks amounted to crimes against humanity. Ouattara's militias persisted, and by April had taken control of much of the country. As the stalemate continued and civilian deaths mounted, France and the UN intervened militarily. Troops blockaded the presidential palace, and Gbagbo, who had been holed up in the basement of the presidential palace, stubbornly refused to surrender for a week before finally being apprehended. He was turned over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in Nov. 2011, where he will face charges of crimes against humanity.
Gbagbo hails from the south of the country and supports the concept of ivoirité, which means “pure Ivoirian pride.” Ouattara is from the Muslim north, which has been at odds with the government-controlled south since the 2002 civil war began.
In Nov. 2012, President Alassane Ouattara dissolved the government of Prime Minister Jeannot Kouadio-Ahoussou and Foreign Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan was named the new prime minister. In the new cabinet, Duncan will also act as finance minister, while Charles Koffi Diby became foreign minister; Ouattara remained as defense minister, and Hamed Bakayoko interior minister.