History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. Very little is known about the early history of Côte d'Ivoire. As early as 1 C.E. , the area now called Côte d'Ivoire had become a melding place of various African people. Between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, as kingdoms rose and fell, many ethnic groups moved in and settled permanently in the region. France made its initial contact with Côte d'Ivoire in 1637, and in the eighteenth century the country was invaded by two related groups: the Anyi and the Baoule. In 1843 and 1844, the French government signed treaties with the kings of the Grand Bassam and Assinie regions, placing their territories under a French protectorate. The French gradually extended the area under French control until they dominated in 1915.
Today, the sixty distinct ethnic groups that make up the Côte d'Ivoire are loosely grouped into four main cultural regions which are differentiated in terms of environment, economic activity, language, and overall cultural characteristics. Most representatives of southeast cultures are Akan peoples, descendants of eighteenth-century migrants from the kingdom of Asante. The largest Akan populations in Côte d'Ivoire are the farming communities of the Baoule and the Agni. Smaller groups live in the southeastern lagoon region, where contact and intermarriage between the Akan and other groups have resulted in a multicultural lifestyle. Dependent on fishing and farming for their livelihood, they are not organized into centralized polities above the village level. The southwest Kru peoples are probably the oldest of Côte d'Ivoire's present-day ethnic groups, the largest tribe of which is the Bete. Traditional Kru societies were organized into villages that relied on hunting and gathering for sustenance, and they rarely formed centralized chiefdoms. In the north, descendants of early Mande conquerors occupy territory in the northwest, stretching into northern Guinea and Mali. The Mande peoples are comprised primarily of the Malinke, Bambara, and Juula. To the east of the Mande are Voltaic peoples. The most numerous of these, the Senufo, migrated to their present location from the northwest in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Amidst the settling of these unique cultures, the peoples of Côte d'Ivoire have been influenced by the French. The Ivory Coast became an autonomous republic in the French Union after World War II, and achieved independence on 7 August 1960. As Côte d'Ivoire has emerged as a nation—amidst colonization, exploitation, native revolts against the French, the prominence of French culture, and finally independence—its people have lived in ethnic diversity, strong economic prosperity, and a cultural mosaic. Only in the latter part of the twentieth century did several decades of political tensions culminate with the country's first coup d'etat.
National Identity. Since their independence the people of Côte d'Ivoire began to develop a national consciousness. Most of the country's people consider themselves Ivoirians first, and then as members of a particular ethnic group. Yet the concept of a national identity is complex. National boundaries reflect the impact of colonial rule as much as twenty-first century politics, bringing nationalism into conflict with centuries of evolving ethnicity. Each of Côte d'Ivoire's large cultural groups has more members outside the nation than within, resulting in strong cultural and social ties with people in neighboring countries.
Ethnic Relations. For the most part, the multiethnic groups live together in harmony, with certain group tensions. Conflict between the majority Muslims and native peoples exists, and societal discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is sometimes practiced by members of all ethnic groups. According to the U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights, differences between members of the Baoule group and other ethnic groups, especially the Bete, are a major source of political tension and have erupted repeatedly into violence, most recently in 1997. During the latter part of 1999, tensions arose between several Ivoirian and non-Ivoirian ethnic groups.
Côte d'Ivoire is a juxtaposition of the urban and rural. Its cities, particularly the fashionable Abidjan, are replete with modern office buildings, condominiums, European-style boutiques, and trendy French restaurants. They stand in sharp contrast to the country's many villages—accessed mainly by dirt roads—whose architecture is comprised of huts and simple abodes reminiscent of an ancient time. While the cities are described as crowded urban enclaves with traffic jams, high crime rates, an abundance of street children, and a dichotomy of rich and poor, the villages are filled with farmers tending their fields, native dress, homemade pottery, and traditional tribal rituals. Most traditional village homes are made of mud and straw bricks, with roofs of thatched straw or corrugated metal. The Baoule live in rectangular structures, while the Senufo compounds are set up in a circle around a courtyard. High fences surround many Malinke village of mud-brick homes with cone-shaped straw thatched roofs. The artistic Dan paint murals with white and red clay onto their mud-brick homes.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. In Côte d'Ivoire, grains such as millet, maize (corn), and rice and tubers such as yams and cassava make up most meals. These staples are complemented by legumes such as peas, beans, or peanuts, and smaller quantities of vegetables, oils, spices, and protein—usually meat or fish. Women prepare the grains by grinding them in large wooden bowls with long wooden pestles. For the most part, the family meals are cooked outdoors in ceramic or metal pots on stone hearths. Ivoirian food is very spicy and eaten with the hands. Well-known dishes consist of rice with a pepper-flavored peanut sauce, which is found in the northern savannah; and fish and fried plantains, served in the coastal regions. The national dish is foutou (also spelled futu ) a thick, heavy paste made of mashed plantains or yams eaten with a spicy sauce or stew made of fish or meat. Because of its ability to keep well, dried, grated cassava, known as gari, is a popular food. Côte d'Ivoire's most popular culinary treat, maquis, normally features braised chicken and fish in onions and tomatoes. Favorite drinks among the villagers include palm wine and home-brewed beer.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Food plays an important role in the ceremonial and religious ceremonies of most native people groups. Feasting and drinking are used in coming-of-age ceremonies, religious ceremonies, and funeral/memorial services. Among the Akan peoples, the most important of these is the yam festival, a time of thanksgiving for good harvests and an opportunity to remember the discovery of the yam. One of Côte d'Ivoire's most famous festivals involving food is the Festival of Masks, which takes place in villages in the Man region every February. Every March, the Carnival in Bouaké is filled with festivities and food. Côte d'Ivoire's major Muslim holiday, Ramadan, is a month-long celebration during which everyone fasts between sunup and sunset in accordance with the fourth pillar of Islam, and then ends the fast with a huge feast. Eid al-Fitr is another Muslim holiday focused on feasts, prayer, fellowship, and gift giving. In native traditions, fetish priests often use food to create magic potions or amulets; the future may be divined by tossing rice grain into a box; certain foods may be forbidden to improve illness or misfortune. Ancestral spirits are offered food and drink before being consulted.
Basic Economy. Despite economic hardship in the 1980s and early 1990s, Côte d'Ivoire is still the most prosperous of the tropic African nations, primarily because of its diversified export goods, close ties to France, and foreign investment. Côte d'Ivoire is among the world's largest producers and exporters of coffee, cocoa beans, and palm oil. Consequently, the economy is highly sensitive to fluctuations in international prices for these products and to weather conditions. Despite attempts by the government to diversify the economy, it is still largely dependent on agriculture. The Ivoirian economy began a comeback in 1994, due to the devaluation of the CFA franc (the Ivoirian currency unit) and improved prices for cocoa and coffee, growth in nontraditional exports such as pineapple and rubber, limited trade and banking liberalization, offshore oil and gas discoveries, and generous external financing and debt rescheduling by France and other countries. According to 1999 statistics, the Gross National Product is $25.7 billion; $1,600 per capita.
Land Tenure and Property. Historically, the government has viewed the use of land as equating ownership. After independence, Ivoirian law on landownership required surveys and registration of land, which then became the irrevocable property of the owner and his or her successors. However, the National Assembly enacted the Land Use Law in 1988, which established that land title does not transfer from the traditional owner to the current user simply by virtue of use. However, in rural areas, tribal rules of land tenure still exist, which generally uphold that members of the tribe that dominates a certain territory have a native right to take that land under cultivation for food production and in many cases cash crops. Throughout the country, land tenure systems are changing from those in which rights are secured by traditional village authorities (communal systems) to those in which land can be bought and sold without approval from customary authorities.
Commercial Activities. Cities and villages feature open markets, where foodstuffs are sold liberally, along with common household items. Merchants deal in locally grown products and few imported items. Additionally, cultural items are often found for sale, including clay pots, masks, drums, baskets, jewelry, and sculpture. In the major cities, including Abidjan and Bouaké, there are speciality shops for dry goods, foodstuffs, hardware, electrical appliances, and consumer electronics. Generally, items are sold on a cash basis, but bartering is common in the smaller villages. Shopkeepers also extend credit to farmers until the end of the harvest season, and vendors allow installment purchases for automobiles and major appliances.
Major Industries. Côte d'Ivoire's major industries include agriculture (coffee, cocoa beans, bananas, palm kernels, corn, rice, manioc [tapioca], sweet potatoes, sugar, cotton, rubber), timber, wood products, oil refining, automobile assembly, textiles, fertilizer, construction materials, and electricity. In 1998, the country's industrial production growth rate was 15 percent. Small manufacturing factories produce food, wood products, cloth, chemicals, cement, lumber, furniture, and corrugated-steel roofing; heavy industries produce air conditioners, freezers, refrigerators, paint, varnish, railroad cars, and heavy metal.
Trade. Historically, Côte d'Ivoire has had strong economic ties with France. During the 1990s, Côte d'Ivoire's principal markets for exports were France and the Netherlands, which purchased approximately one-third of its total exports, a trend that continues today. The United States is the third largest export market, with Italy following. Current statistics indicate that Côte d'Ivoire exports $3.9 billion worth of goods annually, primarily cocoa, coffee, tropical woods, petroleum, cotton, bananas, pineapples, palm oil, cotton, and fish. France, which provides one-third of Côte d'Ivoire's imports, is the country's largest supplier. The United States, Italy, and Germany each supply about 5 percent of the country's imports, which include food, consumer goods, capital goods, fuel, and transport equipment. Due to the 1999 coup, Côte d'Ivoire received only limited assistance from international financial institutions during that year, and the European Union stopped its assistance programs altogether.
Division of Labor. In Côte d'Ivoire, men, women, and children of all ages work. Almost 70 percent of the labor force is engaged in agriculture, livestock raising, forestry, or fishing. Both men and women work in the fields and harvest the crops, while men perform heavier agricultural work, as well as mining, construction, and industrial work. Men dominate civil and military positions, such as police officers, soldiers, customs officials, top-level bureaucrats, and foreign-salaried government officials. Children often work on family farms, and in the cities some children work as vendors, shoe shiners, errand runners, and car washers. Labor legislation is based on the French overseas labor code of 1952, which allows for collective bargaining, trade unions, and a government-set minimum wage, however the majority of the labor force works in agriculture or in the informal sector where the minimum wage does not apply. Forced labor is prohibited by law.
Classes and Castes. While the growing economy of Côte d'Ivoire has greatly improved the quality of life for some citizens, gross financial inequality exists. High population growth coupled with the economic stagnation of the 1980s and early 1990s resulted in a steady fall in living standards overall. Access to land, housing, secondary education, and jobs are the key determinants of social mobility in Ivoirian society, which allows for a wealthy, urban minority to receive most of society's benefits. The vast majority of the population is poor; 1998 statistics indicate that at least 60 percent of the country's active population is unemployed and most of those who have jobs earn wages that are not enough to cover their basic monthly expenses. When Gross Domestic Product declined by an average 2.7 percent between 1985 and 1990, the proportion of the population in poverty increased from 14 percent to 20 percent. The Ivoirian middle class is still a small minority—primarily traders, administrators, teachers, nurses, artisans, and successful farmers—whose opportunity for social mobility is fairly limited.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Urban housing is a measure of status, since most urban land concessions are granted to people in government and administration and to their relatives and clients. Secondary education is also an important urban resource and vehicle of social mobility. Although primary schools are found throughout the country, secondary schooling is an urban activity, channelling graduates into urban occupations in medical and legal fields. By the 1990s, employment had become the most significant indicator of social status. Like many other nations, consumer goods are another prominent symbol of social stratification, especially for the city population. Among the administrative and civil-servant class, imported cars and clothes, home furnishings, and broad cultural and recreational activities mark a high standard of living.
Government. Côte d'Ivoire is a constitutional multiparty republic dominated by a strong presidency. Côte d'Ivoire's Constitution provides for its presidency within the framework of a separation of powers between its three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The president is the chief of state; the prime minister is the chief of government. The unicameral National Assembly is composed of 175 members elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term. It moves forward legislation typically introduced by the president although it also can also introduce legislation. In June 1998, the National Assembly enacted amendments to the Constitution that diminished the authority of the prime minister relative to the president, authorized the president to annul elections or to postpone announcing election results, extended the presidential term from five to seven years, mandated the creation of a second legislative chamber (senate), provided for the president of the senate to succeed the president in the event of his death or incapacitation, and wrote into the Constitution the presidential eligibility restrictions of the 1994 electoral code. A draft of a new constitution was overwhelmingly approved by voters in July 2000.