History of the Ivory Coast

The Ivory Coast has been inhabited by humans for at least 10,000 years before our timescale (BCE), a finding of implements suggests. Still, there are few or no descendants of the country’s indigenous people, most of whom are descendants of immigrants who came to the country 500–600 years ago. French missionaries settled in the southeastern part of the country in the early 17th century, and from 1893 the Ivory Coast was a French colony.

Félix Houphouët-Boigny

In 1960, the Ivory Coast became an independent republic. The country was one of the most economically developed countries in sub – Saharan Africa, but falling prices for the country’s export products after 1980 created serious economic problems. Under the patriarch Félix Houphouët-Boigny, president from independence and until his death in 1993, the Ivory Coast benefited from extensive political stability. It was not until the 1990s that the one-time president had to bow to demands for multi-party system and democracy, and he won the first free elections himself.

The Ivory Coast has maintained close political, military and economic cooperation with France. As a result of the civil war in neighboring Liberia, the Ivory Coast in 1990 welcomed some 230,000 refugees, while civil war and political conflict in the Ivory Coast in the 2000s brought refugee flows back to Liberia and Ghana.

Older history

The pre-colonial history of the Ivory Coast largely coincides with modern Ghana, with migration from the north and east. Around 1200, the ancestors of the Akan people in today’s Ivory Coast and Ghana came from the plain of Western Sudan. The reason for the migration may have been the chaos that followed in the wake of the dissolution of ancient Ghana, or as an escape from the emerging Mali kingdom.

The indigenous peoples mingled with already settled tribes and laid the groundwork for today’s ethnic composition. The greatest immigration occurred from present-day Ghana and into the southeastern Ivory Coast in the 18th and 19th centuries and resulted in the establishment of several states, such as the Agni and Abrong kingdoms.

The northern part of the country received immigration from the north and had already established trade with northern states, including Mali, in the early 1300s. As a result, the area was heavily influenced by Islam.


Contact with European trade was far less than was the case with Ghana and Nigeria, and it was not until the 1840s that the French signed trade agreements with the states along the Ivory Coast. During the division of Africa, the Ivory Coast became subordinate to France as a colony from 1893. Resistance to the French government was evident in several areas, with guerrilla warfare against the French, who only in 1917 managed to defeat the resistance.

After securing full military control, the French concentrated on developing the country’s economy, with the main emphasis on the production of raw materials for export. The colonial power forced labor to build roads and public facilities, and to work on the plantations. Palm oil and timber were from the beginning Ivory Coast’s most important products, but cocoa was introduced in 1905 and was the largest export item of 1930.


The first organized political opposition to colonial rule appeared towards the end of World War II. In 1944, Félix Houphouët-Boigny founded the party Syndicat Agricole Africain, which the following year was converted to the Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI). The PDCI joined forces with other parties in French West Africa in the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), which was an important driver of the decolonization process. Houphouët-Boigny was one of the PDCI’s two delegates in the French National Assembly, and he originally advocated that the Ivory Coast, along with other colonies, continue to be associated with France through a French commonwealth.

When most of the other French colonies claimed independence, Houphouët-Boigny, who had returned to the Ivory Coast as prime minister in 1959, chose to declare the country independent on August 7, 1960.

Throughout the independence period, PDCI has held a dominant position in the Ivory Coast, even after 1990, when it was no longer the country’s only permitted party. The Ivory Coast was, by far, in the 1990s, the most politically stable country in West Africa, and until the 1980s had a steady economic growth based on a capitalist, market-oriented development, though with significant state participation. Politically, the country has been one of the most conservative African states, both in domestic and foreign policy.

The close relationship with France has been the most important pillar of Ivory Coast policy. Already in 1961, the two countries entered into a defense cooperation, with France guaranteeing the Ivory Coast’s security against stationing troops there. President Houphouët-Boigny deliberately used French expertise in a number of positions, including in public administration. Similarly, French companies have had a prominent place in the country’s economy.

Political stability was based on the patriarch Houphouët-Boigny and the ruling party PDCI, as well as close relations with France. Opposition was not accepted. After 1985, there were several candidates to choose from, but all were from the PDCI. After a democratization forced itself, a multiparty system was introduced in 1990. In the elections that year, both Houphouët-Boigny and PDCI clearly won.


The country’s father, Houphouët-Boigny, died after a long illness in December 1993. President of the National Assembly Henri Konan Bédié was appointed head of state, although this was disputed by Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, who resigned. Ouattara’s supporters in government, state administration, the judiciary and the media were pushed out of their positions, and Bédié consolidated his position until the 1995 presidential election.

A breakout group from PDCI established in 1994 a new party, the Rassemblement des républicains (RDR), which Ouattara later joined. Together with the more radical Front populaire ivoirien (FPI) and the association of smaller parties Union des forces démocratiques (UFD), the opposition established the umbrella organization Front Republic (FR).

Throughout the 1990s, the government was accused of violations of human rights by several teams, both for imprisoning opposition politicians as well as journalists and for restrictions on freedom of organization. Only two candidates were approved for the 1995 presidential election, which was boycotted by the major opposition parties. Only one candidate voted against Bédié, who received 95.2 percent of the vote. In the election of a new National Assembly, the PDCI achieved 148 out of 175 seats, RDR received 14 seats and FPI 12.

The political contradictions of the Ivory Coast, which became evident in the 1990s, are partly ethnic and partly religious – with contradictions between Christians and Muslims. Christians dominate the south of the country, while Islam is strongest in the north. After the 1995 election, about 6,000 members of the Baulé people fled their homes in the southwest, an area dominated by the beet people – the opposition’s leadership is mainly beet.

In 1999, a campaign was launched against Ouattara, which had returned to Ivorian politics to take part in the presidential election. It was alleged that his mother was from Burkina Faso and that he himself did not fulfill the constitutional requirements for a president. While Bédié, like its predecessor Houphouët-Boigny, is a Christian from the south of the country, Ouattara is a Muslim from the north. In 1996, a National Security Council was formed to fight, among other things, the growing crime of violence. In November 1999, there was a clash between residents of Burkina Faso and the locals southwest of the country because of land rights disputes; About 12,000 Burkins fled their homes.

Unlike in most other African states, the Ivory Coast military stayed away from direct involvement in politics. In 1990, several hundred soldiers participated in riots, and plans for a coup must have been revealed in 1995. However, on Christmas Eve 1999, the army conducted a coup, after soldiers started an uprising in Abidjan the day before, providing economic and service demands. They also demanded the resignation of former army commander, General Robert Gueï, after he was deposed in 1995.

It is believed that Gueï participated in the coup, and he immediately took the leadership of the rebels and took over as head of state after President Bédié, who sought refuge in the French embassy and then flew to France. Gueï established the Comité national de salut publique (CNSP) to govern the country, and promised to reinstate democratic governance.

Civil War

In July 2000, a new military uprising broke out in the Ivory Coast, which was turned down. A new constitution was passed through a referendum; it granted amnesty to those behind the military coup the year before. Disgruntled soldiers attacked Gueïs residence, but this rebellion was also stifled. Prior to the 2000 presidential election, the Supreme Court ruled that neither Ouattara nor Bédié could stand as candidates. Thus, the choice was in reality between Laurent Gbagbo for FPI and Gueï for PDCI-RDA, although three others also voted.

A failed coup attempt by Gueï led to mass demonstrations and the election was completed. Gbagbo was declared the winner and inaugurated as president. The RDR boycotted the parliamentary elections in December 2000, and the new National Assembly was dominated by the FPI and PDCI-RDA. A new military coup attempt in January 2001 was turned down, but political uncertainty persisted, and in several parts of the country clashes between various ethnic groups.

In September 2002, military units were in turmoil in several cities and it was believed that General Gueï was behind; he was himself killed on the first day of the rebellion.

The riots in the fall of 2002 marked the start of a civil war that led to a de facto division of the country. The southern part was in the hands of the government, the northern was controlled by rebel groups. The riots also led to the deployment of approximately 4,000 French soldiers, originally to protect French citizens. The United Kingdom and the United States also sent smaller forces to the country, and Nigeria supported the government with fighter jets.

From Abidjan, the riots spread to several parts of the country in the fall of 2002, and the rebellion became more organized, with distinct militia groups, essentially originating in the Muslim north. A front was opened by the rebels at the border with Liberia, and Liberia’s then-President Charles Taylor was blamed for participating in the war, as he had previously been instrumental in the civil war in Sierra Leone. Burkina Faso was also accused of supporting the rebels.

In October 2002, the government and rebel movement Mouvement patriotique de Côte d’Ivoire (MPCI), which had taken control in the areas around Bouaké and Korhogo and eventually the whole of the northern part of the country, signed a peace treaty that the French forces in the country undertook to monitor. At the same time, a new front developed in the west, where two other groups emerged: Mouvement pour la justice et la paix (MJP) and Mouvement populaire ivoirien du grand ouest (MPIGO). Both were allied with the MPCI, and the three joined together from January 2003, under the designation Forces Nouvelles (UN), led by Guillaume Soro and headquartered in Bouaké, the largest city in the Northern Ivory Coast.

The rebels were on their way to establishing their own administration in the north and threatening to disengage from the Ivory Coast, while at the same time stating that there was no goal of establishing a new state. In the west, the Wa people formed the Front pour la libération du Grand Ouest (FLGO) group to fight the rebels, who in the west in the country mainly recruited their soldiers among the Dan people.

Several attempts were made to find a solution to the conflict. The ECOWAS regional group, of which the Ivory Coast is a member, decided at an extraordinary summit in December 2002 to deploy a West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG. With political support from the UN Security Council, around 1,500 soldiers from five countries (Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo) were deployed, alongside the French forces. A divisional zone was established between the government and the rebels, which divided the country.

A power distribution agreement was negotiated by France in January 2003 (Linas-Marcoussis Agreement, LNA). By taking members of the rebel movement into government, while recognizing the authority of President Gbagbo, the agreement was to form the basis for an end to the conflict. The LNA commissioned a UN mission to oversee its implementation, and this was launched in May 2003: Mission des Nation Unies en Côte d’Ivoire (MINUCI), with about 75 military observers, no departments.

In July, the government and the rebels signed a declaration that the war was over. But the ceasefire was quickly broken, and new peace negotiations were initiated under the auspices of ECOWAS. The subsequent Accra agreement, signed in July 2004, confirmed the objectives of the LNA, and included amnesty and place in the national defense, as well as in the country’s transitional government, for the rebels. Despite the peace agreement, new fighting between insurgents and government forces came in November 2004, and the peace process was paralyzed.

In fighting between the government forces and rebels in the fall of 2004, nine French soldiers were killed. France responded by destroying the Ivory Coast’s air force in an attack at the Yamoussoukro airport. The incident triggered anti-French riots in several parts of the country. 130 people were killed in the riots, which led to a more tense relationship between the Ivory Coast and France. The UN Security Council subsequently approved a boycott of the Ivory Coast, which was later expanded.

The West African Peace Force was replaced in 2004 by a United Nations military peace operation. The UN Operation Opération des Nations Unies en Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) began in April 2004 with an authorized force of 6240, later expanding to about 7800 soldiers, plus military observers, police officers and civilian personnel. Under pressure from the UN in 2005, the parties embarked on a new peace mediation under the auspices of the African Union, led by South African President Thabo Mbeki. These led to the Pretoria Agreement, which formally ended the state of war, and contained clauses on the disarmament, integration and establishment of an independent electoral commission. Elections scheduled for October 2005 were postponed; later elections for 2007 and 2008 were also postponed.

According to UN Resolution 1633, the international community, represented by President Thabo Mbeki (South Africa) and Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria), appointed Charles Konan Banny, Governor of the West African Central Bank, as Prime Minister. One of his tasks was to ensure that elections were held in 2006, which was unsuccessful, and several attempts to move forward in the peace process were stranded. Following a new round of mediation in the spring of 2007, in Burkina Faso, led by President Blaise Compaoré, another peace agreement was signed (the Ouagadougou Agreement), with the aim of unifying the country and holding elections.

That precisely Burkina Faso, considered one of the rebels’ closest supporters, this time mediated was important in order to have a more committed participation. The leader of the Forces Nouvelles, Guillaume Soro, was appointed new prime minister for a government with representatives from both parties. Along with President Gbagbo, the rebel leader and Prime Minister Soro lit in July at a collection of weapons in Bouaké – to symbolically mark the end of the war. An important part of the subsequent unification process has been the dismantling of the militia groups, where members of these are integrated into the new government army. This again has gradually, with its mixed devices, taken over control of the buffer zone.


The cause of the Ivory Coast war is complex, in which economic, political, social and ethnic factors have been recorded. As in other countries in this part of Africa, there is also an economic and cultural divide between the South and the North in the Ivory Coast. In the north, animal husbandry is important, in the south, tropical agriculture dominates. The North is essentially Muslim, the South is mainly Christian (and animistic).

After independence in 1960, the country was long regarded as a success story, with political stability and economic growth. This picture changed after the death of compatriot Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1993. There was then a power struggle between individuals, with different backgrounds, and a core question came on the political agenda: who of the country’s citizens should be perceived as genuine Ivorians, and thus get issued national identity cards, and then be able to participate in elections. This power struggle became visible, among other things, when prominent opposition politician from the north, Alassane Ouattara, was refused elections because it was claimed he was not born of Ivorian parents.

The idea that the country’s politics was linked to an identity- bearing philosophy – ivory – was promoted by Houphouët-Boigny’s and his successor Henri Konan Bédié (both belonging to the Baoulé people in the south), and stirred up prejudices against people from the north. Migration has been common in the north of the country, and during the economic upswing there was considerable labor immigration, among other things to agriculture – above all from Burkina Faso and Mali. Even those who have lived in the country for a long time – and partly the rest of the population in the north – feel discriminated against.

It is estimated to be around two million immigrants from Burkina Faso alone, which helps explain why this country supported the rebels in the north. The war in Ivory Coast is also to some extent seen in the context of the instability that characterized the region in the 1990s, with civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia – and where Liberian rebel leader and later President Charles Taylor supported militia groups in both Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast (MPIGO and MJP).

In the autumn of 2006, an international scandal involving the dumping of toxic waste was discovered in several places around Abidjan, when at least 8 people died and about 80,000 had to seek medical help. In 2007, the Dutch company Trafigura agreed to pay approx. NOK 1.2 billion in compensation for the incident.