Côte d’Ivoire is one of Africa’s most rapidly expanding economies, with significant oil, gas and mineral reserves, a major agriculture sector and a growing and youthful population all driving the country forwards. Possessing a wide range of natural environments, stretching from tropical rainforest to dry savannah, the former French colony is also a mosaic of ethnicities, languages, religions and viewpoints. The presidential elections in October 2020 will be a key test of how far this diverse country has come towards peace and reconciliation since the instability of 2010 and 2011. Economic inclusion remains a major goal as the country experiences high growth. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic this growth trajectory was expected to continue, but how deeply it is impacted by the crisis remains to be seen.
The World Bank estimated Côte d’Ivoire’s population at 25.1m in 2018, with an annual growth rate of 2.6%. This pace has recently begun to increase slightly, after dipping from around 5% in the 1970s and 1980s, to reach a low during the times of civil conflict in 2010-11.
The most densely inhabited part of the country is the southern coastal region, in contrast to the northern savannah region. Indeed, around 20% of the total population live in the largest city, Abidjan, located on the southern Atlantic coast. The city, which is the de facto administrative and commercial centre, had a population of 4.7m in the most recent census of 2014. This made it the sixth-most-populated city in Africa, as well as the largest Francophone metropolis on the continent.
In 2017 the country had an average life expectancy of 57 years, with the population therefore a predominantly young one – the age dependency ratio was some 81% in 2018, according to the World Bank. Indeed, in 2018 those aged 65 and above only represented 2.9% of the total population. Those under working age – deemed by the World Bank to be aged 15 and above – accounted for 41.9%, leaving 55.2% in the 15-64 age bracket. This indicates a major population boom in the country in the coming decades, with some estimates suggesting the current number of Ivorians will nearly double by 2050.
Côte d’Ivoire borders five other West African countries – Ghana to the east, Guinea and Liberia to the west, and Mali and Burkina Faso to the north. The southern boundary is formed by the stretch of North Atlantic known as the Gulf of Guinea. The country’s topography rises from a low, narrow coastal plain to an average elevation of around 500 metres in the north. The highest peak is Mount Nimba, at 1752 metres, which rises in the mountainous western region, near the border with Guinea and Liberia. The coastal region – which is historically difficult to access from the sea, due to high surf and a low submarine sandbar along much of its length – divides between a 300-km string of lagoons in the south-east, and dense, tropical forests in the south-west. North of this lies a central belt of forest-savannah landscape, with the forest element fading northwards as pure savannah begins, along with sparse vegetation and sandy soils.
The country also has two main climatic zones. In the north, the hot, north-easterly wind known as the harmattan blows during December to February, with a dry season lasting from November to March. This is followed by a rainy season, when the north’s annual total precipitation, of 1100mm-1500mm, falls. In the south, two rainy seasons occur – from May to July, and October to November – with the coast experiencing these more dramatically than the central forest-savannah belt. In the western mountains annual rainfall is as high as 2000mm. Temperatures in Abidjan vary from an average high of 28°C from March to May, to a low of 24°C in September. Averages in the capital, Yamoussoukro, are similar. In the north the city of Korhogo experiences wider variations – highs of 36°C between February and March, and lows of 19°C in December. The country has several major rivers, with the Sassandra running through the west of the country, the Komeo to the east, and the Bandama – Côte d’Ivoire’s longest river, at 800 km – draining the east-central region. This latter watercourse has been dammed to form Lake Kossou, the country’s largest lake, at 1855 sq km. All three drain into the Gulf of Guinea within Côte d’Ivoire, while the Cavally River runs into the Gulf in Liberia, which forms much of the border.
Language, Religion & Ethnicity
There are some 60 different ethnic groups in Côte d’Ivoire, with the largest being the Akan, who divide into several sub-groups. The largest of these is the Baoulé, with around 15-20% of the total population, living mainly in the interior of the country.
Other major ethnic groups include the Northern Manding, or Mandé, who mainly live in the northwest; the Southern Manding, or Mandé, mainly living in the west; the Krou, living mainly in the south-west; and a range of Voltaic ethnicities, such as the Senoufou in the north and the Lobi in the centre region of the country. Côte d’Ivoire is also home to a large, foreign population that is estimated at 20% of the total. Most come from neighbouring states, while around 4% of the population is of French, Lebanese, Vietnamese or Spanish descent.
This makes for a wide variety of languages, with the official language being French. Two other lingua francas in use are Dyula-Taboussi, a trading language from the Mandé group, spoken by many Muslims; and Français de Moussa, a pidgin French popular in Abidjan. Most other languages are from three main groups: Kwa, spoken widely in the south; Mandé, in the north-west; and Gur in the north-east. The majority religion is Islam (42.9%), though there are notable numbers of adherents of Christian faiths, along with animist, traditional and non-religious believers. The north is more strongly Muslim, while the south is more Christian and Abidjan is more mixed. Among Muslims, the majority are Sunni, following the Maliki school, while the largest Christian grouping is Roman Catholic (17.2%), while Protestant Evangelicals account for 11.8%. In certain community syncretic religious practices are widespread, incorporating elements of more than one religion.
The country is blessed with significant oil and natural gas reserves, almost all of which are located offshore. Current production stands at 38,000 barrels per day of oil and 213m cu feet per day of gas, with estimated reserves of 300m barrels of oil and 1.5trn cu feet of gas. In February 2020 the government unveiled 13 new blocks for exploration, with output therefore likely to rise in the coming years. The country’s rivers also provide a source of hydroelectric energy, with these accounting for around a quarter of total power production. The country is a major source of minerals, including diamonds and gold. Reserves of the former are estimated by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative at 11.2m carats, while the latter is estimated at 90m tonnes. Iron ore is exploited in the Mount Nimba region, with 3bn tonnes in estimated reserves. Some 3bn tonnes of manganese is also estimated to be present, along with 1.2bn tonnes of bauxite and 390m tonnes of nickel.
With 49.2% of the population living in rural areas in 2018, agriculture forestry and fishing are also major providers of livelihoods. Popular cash crops include cocoa beans, with Côte d’Ivoire being the world’s largest producer of cocoa. Other crops include coconut, copra, coffee, cotton and pineapples. While deforestation has reduced the amount of tropical rainforest in Côte d’Ivoire, rare and valuable timber species can still be found in the southern forests. Much of the clearance has been to cultivate rubber and oil palm trees. Fishing is another key industry in the coastal areas, while livestock are kept in the savannah and forest-savannah regions.
Côte d’Ivoire has been one of the fastest-growing economies in the world in recent years, with the IMF estimating real GDP grew by 7.5% in 2019. The country has been following an IMF-supported programme since 2016. The focus of government policy is now firmly on private sector-led growth. A reform strategy that broadens the tax base, digitises administration and restructures the banking sector is under way, which aims to have budget deficit ceiling of 3% of GDP. Nominal GDP at market prices was estimated by the fund at $44.4bn-45.2bn in 2019, with GDP per capita growth of 4.8%. Foreign direct investment stood at 1.4% of GDP in 2019, much the same as levels in 2018, but significantly up on the 0.8% that was recorded in 2017. The country ranked 110th out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2020” report, well ahead of its five neighbours. The World Bank noted improvements made in the categories for tax filing and contract enforcement regulations.