History & Background
The Republic of Côte d'Ivoire is located on the southern coast of West Africa and is one of the richest nations in the country. It is bordered by Liberia and Guinea on the west, Mali and Burkina-Faso to the north, Ghana to the east, and the Atlantic ocean to the south. Its area is 124,501 square miles, and its population in 2001 was 15,900,000 people. The population of Côte d'Ivoire is diverse, with more than 60 different ethnic and tribal groups, among them Baoulé (23 percent of the population), Bété (18 percent), Sénoufou (15 percent), and large Krou, Malinke, and Mandingo tribes. Côte d'Ivoire's prosperous economy has also attracted a large number of foreign African workers, mostly from Guinea, Ghana, and Burkina-Faso (estimated at 2.6 million in 2000), as well as a contingent of 200,000 Lebanese expatriates. Together, these workers represent nearly 20 percent of the country's population. Abidjan is the economic capital of Côte d'Ivoire, with an estimated 2001 population of 3,305,000 people. Yamoussoukro (population 125,000) is the official capital and the site of the world's largest Christian church: the basilica of Notre-Dame de la Paix, erected at a cost of $200 million and dedicated by Pope John-Paul II in 1990. The population is 60 percent Muslim and 22 percent Christian, with another 18 percent representing animist and indigenous religions. French is the official language, though the Dioula dialect is also widely used.
French settlers first appeared in 1687, but France did not exercise political control over Côte d'Ivoire until the late nineteenth century. Côte d'Ivoire became a French protectorate in 1883, a colony in 1889, and a territory of French West Africa in 1904. It gained full independence from France in 1960. For 33 years, between 1960 and 1993, Côte d'Ivoire was ruled by a single man: president Félix Houphouet-Boigny, a benign dictator who led the country from independence to economic prosperity. He chose to keep close cultural, political, and economic ties with France (the French still maintain a modest military presence), and in 1985 changed the nation's official name from Ivory Coast to Côte d'Ivoire. Côte d'Ivoire is a member of the"Zone Franc,"and its currency is backed by the French treasury. True democratic institutions were slow to arrive, but Houphouet-Boigny's single-handed rule (no opposition parties were allowed until 1990) was not marred by the sort of terror and torture that characterized many of the dictatorial governments that emerged from the former colonies of West Africa after 1960. From the late 1950s through the start of the twenty-first century, Côte d'Ivoire enjoyed a prosperity and a political stability unmatched in neighboring countries. When Houphouet-Boigny died in 1993, president Bédié became the country's leader until he was ousted in a coup in 1999. In October of 2000, Laurent Gbagbo was democratically elected to a five-year term as Côte d'Ivoire's president.
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