History & Politics

Emergence of states

Little is known about Ivory Coast’s first inhabitants, but weapon and tool fragments confirm the presence of early settlements.

Gold pendant from 1900s Ivory Coast, probably from the Baule people, by Daderot (Daderot) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia CommonsBetween AD1000 to 1500, Muslim merchants established trade routes from northern Africa to Ivory Coast. They came for gold, ivory and slaves. A number of kingdoms emerged at this time, including the Senufo people at Kong and the Dyula, craftsmen in gold.

In the late 17th century, Bounkani migrants from modern-day Ghana moved into Ivory Coast and formed a kingdom around Bouna. This became a centre for Islamic learning, like Kong.

Other kingdoms, such as the Baule and Abron, formed in different regions of Ivory Coast. (The 1900s gold pendant opposite is thought to be the work of the Baule people.)

The arrival of the Europeans

Exploitation of the land

The French extended railways and introduced schools and Western-style hospitals to Ivory Coast. But they also encouraged locals to plant cash crops, such as cocoa and coffee. This started the exploitation of the country’s forests and land.

Until the 19th century, French and Portuguese traders mostly confined themselves to the coast, where they traded in goods such as slaves and ivory. But during the second half of the 1800s, European explorers ventured inland and made treaties with local chiefs. In the rush to divide up Africa, France claimed Ivory Coast in 1893.

With forced labour and taxes on the locals, many Ivorians revolted against their French rulers, especially when thousands were conscripted to serve in World War I.

During World War II, 40,000 Ivorians fought for the French army.

Dwindling resources and violent division

Independence from France was achieved in 1961. 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.

Posters of Alassane OuattaraWith an ability to unite people and keep prosperous relations with France, Ivory Coast grew in wealth during his rule. However, there was political unrest during the end of his presidency. The first multiparty elections were held in 1990.

Ethnic and religious tensions rose in the 1990s, exacerbated by concern for the dwindling of Ivory Coast’s natural resources. With many migrants having settled in the north, nationalistic arguments were brought into play by politicians in the south. Civil war broke out in 2002.

Various peace agreements followed and in 2010, an election was supposed to unite the nation. But violent unrest broke out when Laurent Gbagbo refused to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara. Mr Ouattara is now trying to set the country on the road back to normality.