1 General Information
Côte d’Ivoire is a country in Western Africa, bordering Ghana in the east, Burkina Faso and Mali in the north, Guinea and Liberia in the west, and the Gulf of Guinea in the south. It has a population of 23,295,302 and covers an area of 322,463 sq. km. The official language is French, although a large number of native dialects are also spoken. (CIA, 11 February 2016).
The World Culture Encyclopedia (WCE) explains the origin of the country’s name:
“In the fifteenth century, French and Portuguese merchants in search of ivory named the region the Ivory Coast for its abundance of the natural resource. The country changed its name to Côte d'Ivoire in 1985; its official name is the République de Côte d'Ivoire —a reflection of French control of the country from 1843 until independence.” (WCE, 2015)
With regard to the economic and social situation in Côte d’Ivoire, an April 2015 report of the Independent Expert on capacity-building and technical cooperation with Côte d'Ivoire in the field of human rights explains:
“A thriving economy can provide fertile ground for human rights to flourish. The economic growth rate in Côte d’Ivoire was in double figures in 2012 (10.5 per cent) and 8.5 per cent in 2014. Other indicators also point to the country’s reinvigorated economy. These include the new investments in infrastructure, the return of the African Development Bank, the resumption of long-haul flights connecting the capital with Europe, the improved business climate reflected by international agencies and the establishment of a commercial court. Another symbolic and timely event that raised hopes was the crowning of the Côte d’Ivoire football team as champions of the Africa Cup of Nations on 8 February 2015” (UNHRC, 27 April 2015, p. 7)
1.1 Historical background
Africa, a news website showcasing information about the various countries in the continent, discusses the origins of Côte d’Ivoire: “Côte d’Ivoire was home to several states prior to European occupation. These include the Gyaaman, the Baoule, and the Kong Empire. Two Anyi kindoms, the Indenie and Sanwi, also existed and attempted to maintain their identity through the colonial period and independence.
Côte d’Ivoire became a protectorate of France based on a treaty in 1843-44. In 1893, it formally became a French colony.” (Africa, n.d.)
A study commissioned by UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and published in December 2016 also explains the colonial history of Côte d’Ivoire and the migration movements towards the country during that period:
“Côte d’Ivoire had been a magnet for settlement of peoples from neighboring West African areas now constituting Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Liberia, and Ghana since pre-colonial times. It became a French colony in 1893 and comprised a population of 1,959,360 people in 1901. Côte d’Ivoire possessed fertile and uncultivated agricultural land, but had low population density. The French therefore began to forcibly recruit laborers from neighboring colonies for resettlement in Côte d’Ivoire. The largest source of manual laborers was in Haute Volta (Upper Volta), now Burkina Faso, which became a French colony in 1919. In 1932, France annexed part of Haute Volta to the land mass of Côte d’Ivoire. This facilitated the mass forced recruitment of Burkinabè to work on major projects, like the rail line between Abidjan and Ouagadougou and ports in Côte d’Ivoire, as well as develop Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa and coffee plantation economy. Although the colonial system of forced labor was abolished in 1946 and Haute Volta became again a distinct French colony in 1947, the number of Burkinabè migrants resettling to Côte d’Ivoire steadily grew in the decades to come.” (Adjami, December 2016, pp. 7-8)
In 1958, the country became an autonomous republic within the French Community.
Independence was achieved in 1960, when Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who had long fought for African equality, was elected president. He ran the country under a one-party state for over three decades. (BBC News, 5 May 2015a).
Regarding Félix Houphouët-Boigny’s administration, a 2011 Africa Portal backgrounder explains:
“During the first 20 years of his administration, Ivory Coast witnessed remarkable economic growth, recording consistent annual GDPs of more than seven percent. Economic growth arose mainly from the sale of cocoa and coffee, two of Ivory Coast’s major export crops. HouphouëtBoigny combined economic policies with shrewd politics that emphasized dialogue and compromise among Ivory Coast’s various ethnic groups. To alleviate fears of political domination by one ethnic group, he introduced a system of ethnic quotas within government institutions. As a result, Ivory Coast maintained a relatively stable political and civil profile by most African standards.
Ivory Coast’s cocoa and coffee plantations relied on immigrant labourers, who were first brought into the country by French colonialists. To ensure that these labourers remained in Ivory Coast following independence, Houphouët-Boigny extended their right to live and work in the country. […] Furthermore, he introduced liberal land ownership laws that were favourable to immigrants, resulting in large immigrant settlements in the country.” (Ogwang, April 2011, pp. 2-3)
In 1990, the first multiparty presidential elections were held and Houphouët-Boigny was once again elected president. He held power until his death, in 1993, when he was succeeded by Henri Konan Bédié. (BBC News, 5 May 2015a).
According to History World, “Houphouët-Boigny was able to maintain, for the most part a peaceful one party regime in his relatively prosperous nation (being the world’s largest exporter of cocoa), while remaining on good terms with both France and its African neighbors." (History World, n.d.).
An April 2011 article from The Guardian further explains that, unlike Houphouët-Boigny, who welcomed in millions of immigrants from neighbouring countries, “his successor, Henri Konan Bédié, was less focused on avoiding tensions” and “stressed the concept of ‘Ivority’. This was mainly to hurt his rival, Alassane Ouattara, whose father was from Burkina Faso.” (The Guardian, 6 April 2011).
According to Minority Rights Group (MRG), these measures “substantially sharpened public sentiment among the majority against northerners, including all Manding, regardless of the length of individual or family tenure in Côte d'Ivoire.” (MRG, 2008b)
The April 2015 report of the Independent Expert on capacity-building and technical cooperation with Côte d'Ivoire in the field of human rights explains the issue and adds:
“In the 1990s, a number of factors, including the introduction of a multiparty system and the economic crisis caused by the fall in coffee and cocoa prices, began to exacerbate xenophobic tension. This tension centred around the concept of “ivoirité”, underlined in article 35 of the Constitution
Since then, the country’s history has been punctuated by violent events, starting with the overthrow of President Henri Konan Bédié in a military coup on 24 December 1999 and followed by an armed conflict that virtually split the country into two opposing parties: the north, more or less controlled by the rebels, and the south, which remained in the hands of supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo. The violent conflicts that have arisen in Côte d’Ivoire since the late 1990s have primarily been related to elections. The most recent electoral crisis was in 2010.” (UNHRC, 27 April 2015, p. 5)
Similarly, a November 2011 article by Al Jazeera also notes: “Before the 2000 presidential elections, a law quickly passed by the government [requiring] both parents of a presidential candidate to be born within Côte d'Ivoire. This led to the disqualification of the presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, whose parents were allegedly Burkinabe immigrants, a claim that he contested.” (Al Jazeera, 30 November 2011).
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), “[a]s the economy contracted and the perception grew that northerners were being excluded to the benefit of the southern government, political parties started to form along geographic lines, while intercommunal tensions fuelled by religious divides festered.” (IDMC, 26 February 2015).
In 1999, a military coup led by General Robert Guéï overthrew Bédié. In the months following the coup, a highly contested election took place, reaffirming Guéï’s victory over the opposition candidates, namely Laurent Gbagbo, leader of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), and Alassane Ouattara, banned from the presidential election because of his foreign parentage. (BBC News, 5 May 2015a).
In October 2000, Laurent Gbagbo, “believed to be the real winner in the presidential elections, [was] proclaimed president.” Subsequently, in October 2000, “[f]ighting erupt[ed] between Gbagbo’s mainly southern Christian supporters and followers of Ouattara, who are mostly Muslims from the North”. (BBC News, 5 May 2015-b). According to the BBC:
“In September 2002 a troop mutiny escalated into a full-scale rebellion, voicing the ongoing discontent of northern Muslims who felt they were being discriminated against in Ivorian politics. Thousands were killed in the conflict. Although most of the fighting ended in 2004, Ivory Coast remained tense and divided. French and UN peacekeepers patrolled the buffer zone which separated the north, held by rebels known as the New Forces, and the government-controlled south.” (BBC News, 5 May 2015a)
The conflict which became known as the First Ivorian Civil War lasted from 2002 until 2007.
Minority Rights Group (MRG) explains its aftermath as follows:
“A ceasefire in 2003 followed by political accords in 2007 eased tensions between the regions, but they remained effectively partitioned. Xenophobic election campaign language heightened tensions between north and south. Gbagbo and his 'Young Patriot' supporters questioned the nationality of his main opponent, northerner Alassane Ouattara, playing on the perception among some of the public of northerners as descendants of economic migrants drawn to Côte d'Ivoire by its relative affluence over past decades.” (MRG, 6 July 2011)
In 2010, new elections were organized, as explained by a May 2013 report submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee. The report further details:
“Fourteen candidates met in the first round. Messrs. Laurent Gbagbo, the outgoing President, and Alassane Ouattara, the former Prime Minister, were in the lead after the first round with 38.04 per cent and 32.07 per cent, respectively, outpolling Henri Konan Bédié (25.24 per cent),
Toikeusse Mabri (2.57 per cent) and another group of candidates receiving less than 1 per cent of the vote between them.
Following the second round, Alassane Ouattara was declared President of Côte d’Ivoire on 2 December 2010 with 54.10 per cent of the vote. However, the Constitutional Council invalidated the results from certain regions of the north and centre and announced the re-election of Laurent Gbagbo with 51.45 per cent of the vote.” (UN Human Rights Committee, 21 May 2013, p. 80)
According to a December 2010 article by The Guardian:
“Gbagbo's youth leader, Charles Ble Goude, has warned Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised election winner, and his supporters to "pack up their bags" and leave their base at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is deeply alarmed by the youth leader's comments. ‘Any attack on the Golf Hotel could provoke widespread violence that could reignite civil war,’ his spokesman Martin Nesirky said.” (The Guardian, 31 December 2010)
The following months were characterized by political instability and violence, with over 3,000 civilian casualties, 150 women raped, and serious human rights violations committed by both sides. (HRW, 22 January 2012)
BBC news reports that Gbagbo was “forcibly removed from office after refusing to accept Mr Outtara’s internationally recognized victory in the November 2010 presidential election”. (BBC News, 5 May 2015a). In May 2011, Alassane Ouattara was inaugurated as president. In November 2011, Gbagbo was transferred to The Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. (BBC News, 5 May 2015-b).
In its December 2015 “To Consolidate this Peace of Ours” report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) provides information about the 2015 Ivorian elections:
“On October 25, 2015, the Ivorian people elected President Alassane Ouattara to a second term, in an election deemed free and fair by the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The election was largely devoid of the violence that had accompanied previous polls in 2000 and 2010.” (HRW, 8 December 2015, p. 3)
With regard to the data collected by the Afrobarometer poll, a November 2015 article by the Washington Post writes:
“In a 2014 Afrobarometer poll, over 60 percent of respondents who indicated preference for the presidential election supported a party in Ouattara’s coalition. The poll accurately predicted Ouattara’s victory, but underestimated his margin. The official tally was 83.7 percent for the incumbent, and 9.3 percent for his top challenger, Affi N’Guessan Pascal (FPI).” (Washington Post, 26 November 2015)
News 24 reported that since taking office, Alassane Ouattara “has been credited with reviving the economy… [by] investing in huge infrastructure projects that have helped raise annual growth to around 9%.” In January 2016, the President reportedly announced that he would reduce the sentences of 3100 prisoners, including some held over the post-election unrest. (News 24, 5 January 2016).