Since independence in 1960 Côte d’Ivoire’s foreign policy has been characterised by friendly relations with the West, particularly France, and participation in regional and international multilateral organisations. The country’s relations with its immediate neighbours have generally been good, with few of the border tensions that are notable in other West African countries. In recent years Côte d’Ivoire has also played its part in ensuring regional security, and combatting religious extremism and international criminal activities.
President Felix Houphouë tBoigny’s long period of rule, from 1960 to 1993, saw the country continue as a key member of the francophone world. Côte d’Ivoire kept the CFA franc as its currency – now pegged to the euro – and French as the official language, with French advisors in many government posts and a French marine brigade based in Abidjan, under a mutual defence agreement signed in 1961.
Relations with Paris remained excellent until after Houphouët-Boigny’s death and the 1999 coup and 2000 elections. France recognised Laurent Gbagbo as the victor in that ballot, placing Paris at odds with the forces of General Robert Gueï. The civil war that erupted in 2002 also created discord, with President Gbagbo criticising France for not backing him militarily against the rebels. Instead, France helped mobilise a peacekeeping force, including UN and ECOWAS troops, to establish a buffer zone between the warring parties. During the subsequent years of conflict and peace negotiations, Côte d’Ivoire lost much of the international standing it had gained under Houphouët-Boigny. This did not return until the end of the civil conflict in 2011 and the establishment of a unified state. The country has since rebuilt international connections and its close links with France. President Alassane Dramane Ouattara had a state visit to Paris in 2018, and France’s President Emmanuel Macron has visited Abidjan, where French firms are constructing the city’s metro. On the former, Côte d’Ivoire has joined the UN, and is a member of the World Trade Organisation, the European Investment Bank, the IMF, the World Bank, the African Union, the African Development Bank – which is headquartered in Abidjan – ECOWAS, the West African Economic and Monetary Union, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and a range of other international trade and commodity bodies. It is also an associate member of the EU. Several of its political leaders have held important positions in international organisations, with President Ouattara himself a former IMF deputy managing director.
Côte d’Ivoire has also developed good relations in recent years with China, India and the UK. China is behind a number of major infrastructure projects in the country, such as the modernisation of the Port of Abidjan. In 2018 China and Côte d’Ivoire signed five cooperation agreements during President Ouattara’s state visit to Beijing and a memorandum of understanding on participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. India, meanwhile, saw bilateral trade with Côte d’Ivoire pass the $1bn mark for the first time in 2019, with minerals, agriculture and machinery some of the chief items. The UK is another non-traditional partner with high potential. Demonstrating the growing relationship, President Ouattara gave a speech at the UK-Africa Summit in London in January 2020.
Relations with close neighbours have had their tensions, but remain generally good. A maritime boundary dispute with Ghana was resolved in 2017 in Ghana’s favour, but the security situation in Mali and Burkina Faso continues to cause concern. Côte d’Ivoire has a treaty of cooperation with Burkina Faso, while the importance of the country’s cooperation with Mali in the fight against extremist groups based there was highlighted by the 2016 terror attack in Grand-Bassam. Going forwards, Côte d’Ivoire’s international relations will likely continue to be characterised by strong partnerships with France and Europe, as well as good relations with the US and other important newcomers.
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