Neighbourhood watch: Improving diplomatic relations could signal closer ties to Ghana

The volume of people and goods which traverse Côte d’Ivoire’s border with Ghana is significant both socially and economically. Relations between the two countries, however, have not always been straightforward. Côte d’Ivoire gained its independence from France in 1960, three years after its eastern neighbour won its independence from the UK. Their developmental paths diverged almost immediately, with Ghana’s then-president Kwame Nkrumah encouraging inter-African ties and self-sufficiency, while Côte d’Ivoire’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny sought to maintain close ties with France, a policy later known as Françafrique. Ghana, which at the time had Africa’s largest aluminium smelter and biggest hydroelectric dam, sought to develop its manufacturing and mining industries, while Côte d’ Ivoire focused on its services and agricultural sectors.

Differing Approaches

In politely rejecting Nkrumah’s pan-African proposal, Houphouët-Boigny described the differing strategic approaches of the two countries as the start of two experiments, suggesting that the results should be compared a decade later. The changing fortunes of the neighbours have provided an interesting basis for this comparison ever since.

In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Ghana grappled with political instability – including the overthrow of Nkrumah – and economic turbulence, including an inflation rate that at one point exceeded 100%. Meanwhile, Côte d’Ivoire was enjoying an economic boom that became known as the Ivorian Miracle. Subsequent decades saw a reversal of fortunes, as Ghana’s political environment and economy stabilised, yielding a growth rate that at one point exceeded 14%, while Côte d’Ivoire suffered from civil unrest and an exodus of business.

Since the ascension of Dramane Alassane Ouattara to the presidency of Côte d’Ivoire in 2010, much of the momentum that was lost during the years of economic strife has been regained: according to the IMF, the nation’s real GDP grew by 9% per year on average between 2012 and 2015, and is forecast to grow by 7.6% annually until 2020. Ghana’s GDP expanded by 3.9% in 2015 and was expected to be 3.3% for 2016 – the lowest growth rate for more than two decades – with the country in the midst of an IMF assistance programme.


The changing fortunes of the two nations have resulted in large cross-border flows of people and goods, but there have been some tense moments. During the 1980s, tensions rose when Côte d’Ivoire granted asylum to political agitators sought by the Ghanaian authorities and the governments wrangled over the final definition of their shared border. In the 1990s, violence following a football match between the two countries resulted in deaths, the looting of Ghanaian property in Côte d’Ivoire and the evacuation of around 10,000 Ghanaian citizens from the country.

Relations have improved significantly since, although both governments are seeking to settle competing claims over their maritime boundaries. In 2010 Côte d’Ivoire petitioned the UN to define the Ivorian maritime boundary with Ghana, a move which prompted its neighbour to establish its own commission tasked with determining its land and maritime borders. The issue is crucial to the development of both nations. In 2010 Ghana began oil production at the offshore Jubilee field, not far from Ivorian waters. Côte d’Ivoire has recently sought to encourage offshore exploration as well, revising its mining code and pursuing foreign investment, but confusion as to the status of the maritime border has put projects in both countries on hold. In 2016 the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea received submissions regarding the maritime border claims, with oral hearings expected to commence in early 2017.

A resolution of the issue raises the possibility of the nations working together to exploit their hydrocarbons resources, which would involve close cooperation in regulatory harmonisation. The invitation of Ouattara to the investiture of Ghana’s newly elected President Nana Akufo-Addo in 2017 as a guest of honour has been interpreted as heralding a strengthening of relations.