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Understanding the political economy of Côte d'Ivoire

18 January 2024

Côte d'Ivoire's history is marked by a series of significant events that have shaped the country’s political landscape and economic development. From economic prosperity to political division and crises, each event has played a crucial role in shaping the country's path. This article will delve deep to explore the nuances of each instance.

Pre-colonial Politics and French Colonisation

Before French colonisation in the late 19th century, Côte d'Ivoire was a collection of independent states. Several kingdoms dominated the region, such as the Baoulé, Abron, and Agnii kingdoms. 

The most significant turning point in Côte d'Ivoire's politics occurred when the French established control over the area. In 1843, the French signed treaties with local chiefs in Assinie, marking the beginning of French influence in the region. The French established a colony in Côte d'Ivoire on 10 March 1893 after successfully conquering the kingdoms in the area.

The French appointed a governor who wielded significant power over the local population until the 1940s. All decisions concerning education, taxation, and land ownership were made by French officials.

Côte d'Ivoire Independence and Félix Houphouët-Boigny Era

After gaining independence from France on 7 August 1960, Côte d'Ivoire's political landscape experienced significant changes. The country's first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, governed for over 30 years, from 1960 until his death in 1993. He was known for his strong leadership and vision for modernisation and economic growth.

One of the critical moments in Côte d'Ivoire's political development during this era was the consolidation of power by Houphouët-Boigny, who created a centralised government that enabled him to control all aspects of the country's political and economic life. He also implemented policies that encouraged foreign investment and trade, leading to a period of economic prosperity.

However, this era was not without its challenges. Houphouët-Boigny's centralised rule led to accusations of authoritarianism. His government was also criticised for its failure to address issues of poverty and inequality. In response to these criticisms, he introduced political reforms in the 1990s that paved the way for multiparty democracy.

Overall, the independence and Houphouët-Boigny era marked major political changes in Côte d'Ivoire. The era set the stage for future developments in the country's political landscape.

Economic Prosperity and Political Stability in Côte d'Ivoire

During the leadership of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Côte d'Ivoire experienced a period of economic prosperity that had a significant impact on the country's political landscape. This era of growth was characterised by the implementation of the President's development plans which targeted agriculture, mining, and infrastructure. For example:

  • There were significant investments in the agriculture sector through the establishment of the National Fund for Rural Development in 1961. This led to the agriculture sector becoming the backbone of the country's economy
  • The construction of the Vridi Canal in 1950 made Côte d’Ivoire the world's largest exporter of cocoa
  • The development of education and healthcare, through the establishment of schools and hospitals, improved human capital 

This economic prosperity led to political stability in the country. Political stability was credited to the Houphouët-Boigny government's investment in development projects and good governance practices. 

"The quality of the relationships between the President and his ministers was marked by mutual trust and political dialogue on the management of the State's resources and development plans"

Lucien Houédanou, a political analyst

Post-Houphouët-Boigny Leadership Crisis

Following the death of Félix Houphouët-Boigny on 7 December 1993, Côte d'Ivoire experienced a period of political uncertainty and instability. The subsequent struggle for leadership had significant consequences for the country's political landscape. 

The first pivotal moment was when Houphouët-Boigny’s successor, Henri Konan Bédié, moved to exclude former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara from the October 1995 presidential race for not having two Ivorian parents and not being resident in Côte d'Ivoire for five years before the election. This led to Ouattara supporters protesting and riots in the streets of Abidjan. Bédié was elected and served until 24 December 1999 when he was ousted in the country’s first military coup. 

Retired military General Robert Gueï, who did not take part in the coup, was appointed the new leader. Gueï's attempts to cling to power after losing the October 2000 presidential elections to Laurent Gbagbo sparked a civil conflict, with rebel factions emerging in the north of the country. The political instability caused a significant economic downturn and resulted in the displacement of people from their homes. Gueï fled Abidjan when Gbagbo took over and later returned to take part in a reconciliation reform. Gueï, his wife, children and several relatives were killed in September 2002 at the start of the first civil war.

Côte d'Ivoire flag on soldiers arm
Côte d'Ivoire flag on soldiers arm

The 2002 Rebellion and Civil War

The 2002 rebellion marked one of the most important turning points in Côte d'Ivoire's politics. The country, previously known for its stability, was plunged into the First Ivorian Civil War, with a split between the government-controlled south and the rebel-controlled north. 

The rebellion resulted in significant displacement and humanitarian concerns, with thousands of people forced to flee their homes. Regional bodies such as the African Development Bank relocated thousands of staff from Abidjan to Tunisia from 2003 to 2014.

The war ended in 2007 when a peace deal between the warring factions was signed in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The 2010-2011 Post-Election Crisis

The 2010 presidential election in Côte d'Ivoire proved to be another critical moment in the country's political development. History repeated itself when the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to recognize the victory of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. This led to a second civil war that lasted from 28 November 2010 to 11 April 2011.

The civil war started when both Gbagbo and Ouattara claimed victory and established parallel governments. The political crisis caused significant damage to the economy, with businesses shutting down, and foreign investments declining. The crisis ended in 2011, after international intervention led to Gbagbo's arrest, and Ouattara was declared the winner. 

The Ouattara Presidency and Reconciliation Efforts

Following the 2010 post-election crisis, Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner of Côte d'Ivoire's presidential election in 2011. His presidency has been marked by notable efforts towards political reconciliation in the country.

One of the key political milestones of his tenure was the establishment of the National Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation, which aimed to address issues of human rights violations and impunity. The commission's work resulted in the release of political prisoners and the restoration of rights to the victims of the crisis.

Ouattara also adopted several policies aimed at promoting inclusivity and healing, including creating a Ministry of National Reconciliation and promoting dialogue between political opponents. He has been celebrated for his efforts towards national unity and for restoring stability in a country that had been plagued by political violence and unrest. Ouattara was re-elected in 2020 in an election that was marred by some violence, which resulted in the deaths of at least 85 people.

The recent constitutional referendum in March 2021, which saw the overwhelming approval of a new constitution, is another significant turning point in Côte d'Ivoire's political development. The reforms are expected to strengthen democracy and increase political participation in the country.

Côte d'Ivoire Economic Performance in Recent Years

In recent years, Côte d'Ivoire's economy has shown impressive growth, establishing a solid foundation for future expansion. Between 2015 and 2019, the country's GDP grew at an average rate of 7.8% annually, with a consistent 7.4% growth in 2020 despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the World Bank, the GDP growth rate fell to 7% in 2021, then 6.7% in 2022 and is expected to be around 6.5% in 2024-25. 

This positive trajectory can be attributed to a range of factors, including a stable political environment and the government's focus on economic development. In addition, the country has benefitted from its strategic location and natural resources, including a large agricultural sector and significant mineral deposits.

However, despite these positive developments, Côte d'Ivoire still faces challenges that could potentially impact its economic performance in 2024. For example, income inequality remains a significant issue, with a high proportion of the population living in poverty. In addition, corruption and weak governance continue to pose a threat to sustainable economic growth.

Main exports and imports of Côte d'Ivoire

Cocoa beans from Côte d'Ivoire
Cocoa beans are the main export from Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire’s biggest export remains cocoa beans, which accounts for nearly 20% of all goods. Other export commodities include petroleum products, gold, natural rubber, nuts and cotton. These commodities are sold to regional trading partners such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana. They are also exported internationally to the Netherlands, Switzerland, United States, France, Malaysia, China and India, among others.

The biggest imports are petroleum products, rice, frozen fish, motor vehicles and light vessels, wheat and cement. These are bought from key trading partners such as China, Nigeria, France, India, United States, Belgium, Bahamas, Togo, Vietnam and Türkiye.

Key Drivers of Economic Growth in 2024

In 2024, Côte d'Ivoire's economic growth will be shaped by several key drivers. These factors include:

  • Government Policies: The Ivorian government's pro-business policies and initiatives aimed at promoting investment and reducing bureaucracy are expected to create a favourable environment for economic growth in 2024.
  • Infrastructure Development: Infrastructure development is a foundational aspect of economic growth. The Ivorian government has already invested heavily in infrastructure projects such as the expansion of the Port of Abidjan, which is expected to boost the country's exports.
  • Emerging Industries: Emerging industries such as renewable energy and technology are expected to attract significant domestic and foreign investment
  • Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): Foreign direct investment is a crucial component of economic growth in Côte d'Ivoire, and the government is working to create an environment that is attractive to foreign investors
  • Regional Integration: Côte d'Ivoire's participation in regional integration initiatives is set to play a key role in driving economic growth in 2024. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), for instance, is expected to create new opportunities for Ivorian businesses to expand their reach within the continent. The country’s membership of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and Economic Community of West African (ECOWAS) remain critical for trade.

Conclusion

Côte d'Ivoire’s story is one of resilience and perseverance. While there is still work to be done, the country's journey towards democracy and economic prosperity is a testament to its people's determination and commitment to a better future. 

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