As a member of UEMOA, the African Union and ECOWAS, Côte d’Ivoire is an active player in regional politics. While the country’s close ties to France and its distance from pan-Africanism has traditionally strained relations with neighbouring Ghana, the it retains good relations with its other neighbours, namely Burkina Faso, Mali, Liberia and Angola.
Côte d’Ivoire’s first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, chose to maintain close ties with France, a policy later known as Françafrique. In this manner, the country distanced itself from the pan-Africanism that was popular with many newly independent African countries and championed by Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of neighbouring Ghana.
During Houphouët-Boigny’s presidency, the other main foreign policy objective was to establish influence over the region in order to secure access to affordable labour from Mali and Burkina Faso.
Under the leadership of Houphouët-Boigny, Côte d’Ivoire was also active in the mediation of regional disputes – most notably in Liberia and Angola – earning itself an international reputation as a regional peacekeeper, although the subsequent civil wars had a deleterious effect on this.
Côte d’Ivoire is a founding member of UEMOA, which was established in 1994. The West African monetary union also comprises Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. Its aim is to work towards the greater regional integration of its member states, with a Customs union and unified external tariffs in place.
To this end, it has established a shared currency, common accounting system, periodic reviews of member countries’ macroeconomic policies based on a set of convergence criteria, a regional stock exchange, and a common legal and regulatory framework for a regional banking system. Policy objectives are established by the UEMOA conference of heads of state and government, which meets at least once a year. Côte d’Ivoire has held the conference’s presidency since January 2016.
UEMOA is one of only four currency unions in the world. Its currency, the West African CFA franc, is pegged to the euro. UEMOA has also cooperated with ECOWAS to develop a common plan of action on economic liberalisation and policy convergence, with the latter agreeing to adopt UEMOA’s Customs declaration forms and compensation mechanisms.
The 15-member regional economic bloc was established in 1975 via the Treaty of Lagos. The organisation was originally conceived of as a means to maximise the potential of individual states and facilitate the realisation of the benefits of economies of scale. To these ends, the bloc implemented a common external tariff regime and free movement of capital, goods, services and people. It later evolved to include cooperation on matters of peace and security. The protocol on free movement of 1979 confers on community citizens the right to enter, reside in and establish economic activities in the territory of any ECOWAS member state.
One of the founding members of the bloc, Côte d’Ivoire’s last chairman of ECOWAS, President Alassane Ouattara, served from February 17, 2012 to March 28, 2014. During the Ivorian civil war, ECOWAS troops were stationed in the country with the aim of neutralising the conflict.
Furthermore, when the 2010 post-election crisis broke out, ECOWAS temporarily suspended Côte d’Ivoire’s membership, as part of a wider international pressure to force Gbagbo to relinquish power. In light of the recent military mutinies in Côte d’Ivoire, ECOWAS has issued a strong declaration of support for the government, condemning the violent actions of the mutineers.
Relations with neighbours have varied widely since independence. The Ivorian government disapproved of the military rule of Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings in Ghana, and relations took a turn for the worse in the mid-1980s, when Ghana and Burkina Faso appeared to ally with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Despite this, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have achieved successes in cooperative efforts to bring to an end smuggling in both directions across their common border.
The main bilateral issue in recent years has been a maritime border dispute. In 2015 Côte d’Ivoire submitted a request to the United Nations for Ghana “to suspend all oil exploration and exploitation operations under way in the disputed area”. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in September 2017 issued a unanimous ruling on the dispute in Ghana’s favour. ITLOS found that previous Ghanaian hydrocarbon development activities in the disputed area had not violated Côte d’Ivoire’s sovereign rights, and denied Ivorian claims for compensation. Furthermore, the judicial body demarcated a border similar to that proposed by the Ghanaian authorities. Both countries subsequently agreed to respect the tribunal’s decision, bringing an apparent end to the long-running disagreement.
Although relations with Burkina Faso were historically cordial, the 1983 coup put bilateral links under pressure. Diplomacy between the two states remain characterised by intermittent tensions, which arose again following the flight of Blaise Compaoré, former president of Burkina Faso, to Côte d’Ivoire after he was overthrown by a popular uprising in 2014. Compaoré had maintained strong connections with the Ivorian authorities, having supported Ouattara during the 2010-11 election crisis. In 2015 the Burkinabe judiciary issued a warrant for Compaoré’s arrest for his alleged involvement in the killing of his predecessor Thomas Sankara following the coup through which Compaoré came to power. Furthermore, in early 2016 a Burkinabe court issued an arrest warrant for Guillaume Soro, speaker of the Ivorian National Assembly, for allegedly supporting a failed 2015 coup attempt in Burkina Faso. Nevertheless, both arrest warrants were dropped in 2016.
While the presence of a large expatriate population from Burkina Faso in Côte d’Ivoire has strengthened links between the two countries, it has also given rise to some issues. Tensions have arisen in particular over the latter’s refusal to award citizenship to ethnic Burkinabe residents whose families have been present in the country for generations.
Meanwhile, connections with Mali and Liberia have generally been stable. In recent years the authorities have taken measures to prevent Islamist insurgent attacks in various parts of Mali near the border from spilling over into Ivorian territory.
North African Ties
One African state with which Côte d’Ivoire has developed particularly strong ties in recent years is Morocco. The two countries have similar political histories in a number of respects. Both chose to maintain close ties with France and, during the Cold War, the West more generally, while distancing themselves from the pan-African and non-aligned principles espoused by some of their neighbours. Bilateral relations have burgeoned in particular since the end in 2011 of Côte d’Ivoire’s long-running political crisis. As one of the largest and most dynamic economies in Francophone West Africa, the country has proven particularly attractive to Moroccan investors, who are seeking to develop business networks throughout the continent.
Ties between the two nations have been strengthened by a series of high-level meetings. For example, Mohammed VI, king of Morocco, visited Côte d’Ivoire twice in 2017. The first of these took place in February, when the king made a working visit, during which the two countries signed a number of bilateral agreements, including one affirming the Morocco-Côte d’ Ivoire Economic Development Group, an organisation aimed at boosting economic ties.
The second visit of the year came in November, when the king attended the European Union-African Union summit and also met with President Ouattara to discuss a range of bilateral, regional and international issues. The latter trip was Mohammed VI’s fifth journey to Côte d’Ivoire since 2011. With Morocco having declared that it will seek to enter ECOWAS in February 2017, relations could be bolstered further. The final decision on Morocco’s accession to the bloc was supposed to be held in December 2017, but has been postponed to 2018.
As diplomatic and business relations between the two have developed, Morocco has emerged as an important economic player in Côte d’Ivoire. The kingdom was the largest foreign investor in the country in 2016, contributing $213m. This forms part of a wider Moroccan push to invest in sub-Saharan African states and in Francophone West Africa in particular, especially in sectors such as financial services and telecoms.
As part of this trend, the Moroccan-owned Banque Atlantique has become the second largest bank by assets in Côte d’Ivoire, with a market share of 13.7%. This places them close behind the 15.4% held by the largest national player, Société Générale de Banques en Côte d’Ivoire. Another Moroccan-owned institution, Société Ivoirienne de Banque – controlled by Morocco’s largest financial services group, Attijariwafa Bank – has a market share of 7.6%, making it the sixth largest in the country. Four Moroccan-backed insurance companies – Saham, RMA, Wafa Assurances (a unit of Attijariwafa) and Atlanta Insurance – are also active in Côte d’Ivoire, the latter two having both established operations there in 2016. Morocco’s largest telecoms operator Maroc Telecom also owns Moov, one of Côte d’ Ivoire’s three mobile operators, with a 23% market share as of the third quarter of 2017.
Moroccan businesses are also playing a key role in the construction and real estate sector. For example, two of Côte d’Ivoire’s major cement producers are partly or fully Moroccan owned. Real estate developers from the kingdom are also working on large housing developments as part of the presidential initiative to boost the availability of low-cost accommodation. These include the kingdom’s two largest real estate promoters, Addoha and Groupe Alliances (see Construction and Real Estate chapter).
In May 2017, the state-owned Moroccan phosphates and fertiliser producer OCP also announced plans to build a fertiliser mixing and storage unit at the Port of Abidjan with the aim of using the country as a centre from which to develop and expand the firm’s activities across the wider region. In early 2017 the company stepped up its marketing activities in Côte d’Ivoire as part of its broader strategy for expansion in sub-Saharan Africa.
Bilateral trade between Côte d’Ivoire and Morocco has also expanded significantly in recent years. While Ivorian exports to Morocco have been more or less static, the value of imports of Moroccan goods nearly quadrupled, rising from Dh542.9m (€50.3m) in 2011 to Dh1.95bn (€180.6m) in 2015, according to data from Morocco’s Office des Changes, which regulates the country’s exchange system and gathers statistical data on Moroccan financial services. While the value of imports from the kingdom fell back to Dh1.45bn (€134.3) in 2016, this was still nearly three times its value in 2011.
This strongly outpaced overall expansion in Côte d’Ivoire’s total national imports over the same period, with the value of the total goods imported rising 28.4% between 2011 and 2015, according to the most recent figures from the World Bank, underscoring the growing relative importance of trade relations with Morocco.
Growing business ties have led to the development of a community of Moroccan expatriates in Côte d’Ivoire, particularly in the country’s unofficial economic capital Abidjan. The total Moroccan expatriate community stands at around 5000 people, large enough to have its own representative body, namely the Council of Moroccan Residents of Côte d’Ivoire In January 2018 rumours began to circulate that the Ivorian authorities were planning to expel many Moroccan residents from the country due to their inability to pay a new residency tax for all non-ECOWAS foreign nationals living there. The Moroccan embassy in late January issued a statement denying these rumours, explaining that the new tax had yet to be implemented and that it had no knowledge of any Moroccan residents currently facing problems arising from it.
Furthermore, the embassy added that they were in regular contact with the local authorities to try to ensure that the new fees were implemented in a manner that took into account the economic circumstances of Moroccan citizens residing in Côte d’Ivoire, and that the Ivorian government was keen to find a mutually agreeable solution to the issue.