Once one of Africa’s economic powerhouses, the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire fell on hard times in the 1980s and entered a period of political instability and civil war at the end of the 1990s. The country has largely been at peace since 2011, enjoying some of the highest economic growth rates globally, especially during the period 2012-16. Still by far the world’s most important cocoa producer, the former French colony is linguistically, ethnically and religiously diverse, and well on its way to reclaiming its status as a dynamic driving force of the West African regional economy.
According to the most recent census, the population numbered 22.7m in May 2015. However, it is estimated that there were 25m people living in Côte d’Ivoire by 2018, making it the 53rd-most populous country in the world. According to UN estimates, the population is expected to double to more than 50m by the middle of the century. Its population density of 77 people per sq km is only enough to see it rank 139th worldwide on this metric, however. At the pinnacle of its economic fortunes in the late 1970s, population growth was nearly 5% per annum, but this would decline steadily to fall below 2% during the civil war period in the early 21st century. In recent years, however, the rate of population growth has been relatively stable at 2.5% per annum, although the fertility rate in rural areas (6.3 children per woman) is almost double the rate in urban areas (3.7). For the first time in 2017, more than 50% of Ivorians lived in urban areas, but the divergence in fertility trends is likely one reason why the rate of urbanisation continues to lags behind the global average.
With a relatively high prevalence of HIV (estimated to be 2.7% in 2016), the UN Sustainable Development Goals to be implemented, will focus the country’s energies, with a direct target of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. Additionally, having suffered a decade of civil war, life expectancy in Côte d’Ivoire fell steadily during the 1986-2000 period, dipping again in 2012, and only recovered its previous peak in 2016 when it stood at 53.6 years. The country has a very young population, with a median age of around 21 in 2017 and with nearly 60% aged under 25. The World Bank has identified gender equality as something the country must address, as the country has been ranked 152nd out of 155 countries worldwide by the UN.
Côte d’Ivoire has an area of 322,463 sq km, making it the 70th-largest country by size, between Norway at 69th and Poland at 71st. In terms of land mast in West Africa, it is significantly larger than Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ghana and Senegal, and nearly twice as large as Liberia and Sierra Leone combined, As well as having a 515-km Atlantic coastline in the south, the country shares land borders totalling 3110 km with five other countries: Guinea and Liberia in the west, Burkina Faso and Mali to the north, and Ghana in the east.
Located on the coast in the south-east of the country, Abidjan is the largest city by population (4.5m), the second-largest in West Africa after Lagos, Nigeria, and the third-largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris, and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although Abidjan is the economic hub and still the administrative centre of gravity in the country, its 50-year reign as the official capital ended in 1983 when then-President Félix Houphouët-Boigny moved the capital to his relatively sparsely-populated birthplace, Yamoussoukro, 240 km to the north-west.
Côte d’Ivoire has 11 cities with a population between 100,000 and 1m, though only Abidjan has more than 1m inhabitants. With the exception of the capital, which has a population of around 200,000, and Bouaké, with around 640,000 residents, the interior is relatively sparsely inhabited, with the bulk of the population congregating on or close to the more hospitable coastline. Other major cities include Daloa, to the west of Abidjan, with around 240,000 inhabitants, and San Pedro, the second-largest, complete with a newly developed port, after Abidjan, with a population of about 200,000.
The country’s topography can be roughly divided in two, between a relatively arid savannah region in the north, and a densely forested region in the south. In the west and north-west is an extension of the Guinea Highlands, representing the most elevated area of Côte d’Ivoire and containing Mount Nimba, the country’s highest peak at 1752 metres above sea level. The rest of the country, by contrast, is relatively flat. Côte d’Ivoire boasts four major rivers: the Bandama, the Cavally, the Komoé and the Sassandra. In 1973 the Bandama river was dammed, creating man-made Lake Kossou, the largest body of water in the country. Situated in the centre of the country, the lake’s southern-most tip is not far from the capital, Yamoussoukro.
The climate differs significantly between the northern and southern regions, the former being semi-arid and the latter being tropical. The average monthly temperature in Abidjan is relatively stable throughout the year, typically ranging from 24°C to 28°C. On the contrary, rainfall tends to vary significantly, from as high as 10 days per month in June to as low as one day per month, on average, in January and February, with the bulk of the rain falling in the southern half of the country.
Language, Religion & Ethnicity
Muslims account for a plurality of the population (38.6%), with the largest concentrations in the north of the country. Most of these follow the Maliki school of Sunni Islam. Christians, split roughly evenly between Roman Catholics and evangelical denominations, represent the second-largest religious group, with 32.8% of the population, while most (28%) of the remaining population are adherents to animist or indigenous religions. One of the most important fault lines in the civil war period was between North and South, and between Muslims and Christians.
French is the lingua franca, and the official language, but about 65 native languages and dialects are spoken throughout the country. Of these, Dioula is the most widely spoken, being the first language of most of the Muslim population.
Côte d’Ivoire is a patchwork quilt of ethnic diversity, with more than 60 distinct ethnic groupings or sub-groups. Although not considered to be racially homogeneous, the Akan are the largest ethnic grouping in the country, accounting for some 42% of the population. The single-largest ethnic subgroup in the country are the Baoulé, who account for nearly half of the Akan grouping and are concentrated in the interior of the country around Bouaké and Yamoussoukro. The other major ethnic groupings are the Gur (17.6% of the population), Northern Mandes (16.5%), Krous (11%) and Southern Mandes (10%), while approximately 4% of the population is non-African. The latter group comprises the French (approximately 45,000) and the Lebanese (around 30,000), both of which are important commercial players in the country. Historic economic success has also attracted significant immigration from neighbouring countries, notably from Burkina Faso, so that non-Ivorians are estimated to account for about one-fifth of the total population.
Famed for being the biggest global producer of cocoa beans, agriculture remains the driving force of the economy. Other cash crops produced in significant quantities include cashew nuts, coffee, palm oil and rubber. The country also boasts a wealth of natural resources, including oil, natural gas, diamonds, manganese, iron ore, cobalt, bauxite, copper, gold, nickel, tantalum, silica sand and clay. The country’s proven oil reserves amount to around 100m barrels, making them the world’s 67th-largest, and oil production has ramped up in recent years from less than 30,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2015 to more than 50,000 bpd by 2018.
Having surpassed its previous 1980 peak only in 2008, Côte d’Ivoire’s GDP per capita had risen further to $1662 by 2017 on the back of GDP growth averaging 9% per annum during the 2012-16 period. As such, the country has been among the fastest-growing economies in the world in recent years, while it ranks 142nd by GDP per capita, roughly on a par with the level of development in the South Asian countries of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Strong growth has also allowed the government to rebuild or repair much of the infrastructure damaged or destroyed during the civil war. The government adopted a National Development Plan for the 2016-2020 period which has as its overarching aim the achievement of middle-income status by 2020. GDP growth has slowed slightly, to 7.6% in 2017, with the World Bank forecasting still-robust growth of approximately 7% in both 2018 and 2019.