Country profile: Côte D’Ivoire

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Country profile: Côte D’Ivoire - May 2015

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A meeting about tetanus, in Yapleu. (© Nyani Quarmyne/Panos Pictures)

Sometimes, in the smart area of Abidjan, where the foreign embassies and expensive restaurants are, there are more Westerners (mostly French) than Ivorians. The restaurants sell French food, the adverts are for French fashions and the TVs show French programmes in the rich homes. It’s like when Côte d’Ivoire was first independent from France in 1960. The president, Alassane Ouattara, is like the first ruler of Côte d’Ivoire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, because he is France’s ‘man in Africa’ (and so also, the West’s ‘man in Africa’).

In the 1960s, Houphouët sold Côte d’Ivoire’s big cocoa industry to foreign companies, and these foreign companies kept 90% of the profit. Côte d’Ivoire made a third of the world’s cocoa then, and still does now. Two US companies – ADM and Cargill – still own most of Ivorian cocoa. And Ouattara has given a lot of business to French firms like Bouyges. The result is ‘growth without development’: the business elite are getting richer from new hotels, and roads. But the living standards of the poor have risen very little.

Ouattara ended a decade of terrible civil war. But he also made regional and ethnic groups feel separated. They do not think he should be leader and did not like the behaviour of the French during the conflict. The first civil war started in 2002. There was a lot of economic decline. This started when world cocoa and coffee prices went down in the late 1970s. Laurent Gbagbo became president in 2000. He was a nationalist. He blamed problems on the immigrants who, in the successful years of Houphouët, had moved from the north of the country (and also from Mali and Burkina Faso) to work in the plantations in the south. But the West and others think that the worst thing Gbagbo did was to fight against French economic exploitation of Côte d’Ivoire. Gbagbo cancelled a big contract with SAUR, a French gas supplier that refused to pay taxes to the Côte d’Ivoire. He also gave the Chinese a contract to build a new bridge in Abidjan – they agreed to do it for a quarter of the price the French wanted.

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Marina, nine months pregnant with her third child, on her way home from farming near the village of Yapleu in the west of Côte d’Ivoire. (Nyani Quarmyne/Panos Pictures)

France sent military to Côte d’Ivoire in 2004, like the UK and US sent military to Iraq the year before. France really wanted economic change. In changing the government, they completely destroyed the Ivorian Air Force and shot 20 - 57 unarmed protesters in Abidjan.

There were many problems with the 2010 elections (between Gbagbo and Ouattara) eg. fraud, intimidation and violence causing the deaths of 3,000. Both candidates were probably involved in the killing, but the French helped Ouattara, helped get rid of Gbagbo and sent him to trial in The Hague for war-crimes. His trial begins next year. Many Ivorians think Gbagbo was not perfect, but at least he tried to get a bit more autonomy for his people.

The Ivorian economy is growing fast. But 42 per cent of the population live below the national poverty line. And Gbagbo supporters in the east and southwest of the country still threaten the peace process. François, a young Ivorian first-time voter I met in Cocody, hopes that there will not be problems with the election in October this year.

Tom Sykes

Country profile: Côte D'Ivoire Fact File

Leader President Alassane Ouattara.

Economy Gross national income (GNI) per person $1,450 (Ghana $1,770, France $35,530). In the 1960s and 1970s, Côte d’Ivoire was called ‘the miracle of Africa’ because of all the cocoa and coffee exports. Agriculture is still very important. And they are developing other areas too: crude oil, chemicals, tourism and textiles.

Money African (CFA) franc.

Main exports Cocoa, oil products, rubber and coffee.

People 20.3 million. People per square kilometre 60.2 (France 289). Population growth 1990-2013 2.2%.

Health Infant mortality 71 per 1,000 live births (Ghana 52, France 4). 80% have clean drinking water and 71% have toilets. Lifetime risk of maternal death 1 in 19 (France 1 in 4,300). HIV rate 2.7%.

Environment The north of the country is dry because it is near the Sahara Desert. The northwest is cool, green and mountainous. Côte d’Ivoire has one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world. CO2 emissions per person per year 0.3 tonnes (France 5.6 tonnes).

Culture Four large ethnic groups – Akan, Ku, Mande and Voltaic – are divided into about 80 smaller groups.

Religion 63% follow African religions, 25% are Muslim and 12% Christian.

Language French (official). There are 70 African languages, the most popular are Baoulé (2-3 million speakers), Anyin, the Mande family and Senari (all have 1 million speakers).

Human development index 0.452, 171st of 187 countries (Ghana 0.573, France 0.884).

Country profile: Côte D'Ivoire ratings in detail

Income distribution The richest 20% owns 44% of the wealth and there is a lot of inequality between rural and urban workers. Nearly all money and property is in the cities.

Life expectancy 51 years (Ghana 61, France 81). This is the world’s sixth-lowest average life expectancy.

Position of women There was a lot of rape in the war, but life for Ivorian women is a lot better now.

Freedom Press freedom and civil liberties have improved since the civil war, but there are many arrests and still some torture.

Literacy 41% – only nine countries have a lower adult-literacy rate. Primary-school attendance is a little better, at 62%.

Sexual minorities Côte d’Ivoire has no laws against homosexuality. But there is a lot of discrimination against LGBT Ivorians. This is not as bad as in some other West African countries like Cameroon and Nigeria.

NI Assessment (Politics) The election in October is basically between 2 men: Ouattara and Gbagbo (Gbagbo is still at the International Criminal Court). People worry that civil war could start again if there are problems with the election results. Government corruption is still a serious problem. Côte d’Ivoire is 44th out of 52 African states for its legal system, human rights record and national security.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/columns/country/2015/05/01/cote-divoire/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed). [Category: Elections]]