Côte d’Ivoire is exploring new friendships, in addition to its traditionally close alignment with France and the West. While the years of conflict chipped away at the country’s regional influence and international diplomatic ties, today Côte d’Ivoire is a crucial member of the regional security infrastructure, notably in opposing the threat of extremism in the Sahel.

French Connection

In its post-independence years Côte d’Ivoire retained warm relations with France. Indeed, during the long rule of former President Felix Houphouët-Boigny Côte d’Ivoire has been deeply involved in the francophone world culturally, socially and economically by maintaining the CFA franc and French advisors. The country’s security infrastructure was also integrated with France and sealed by a mutual defence agreement concluded in 1961.

Following Houphouët- Boigny’s death, relations with France and most international players deteriorated during the years of civil conflict, with then-President Laurent Gbagbo decrying France’s unwillingness to assist him to victory in 2011. Instead, France played a role in deploying a peacekeeping force along the buffer zone during the time of civil conflict. Socioeconomic recovery after peace was achieved in 2011 meant that Côte d’Ivoire reestablished its connections with France, facilitated by presidential state visits.

Wider Diplomatic Outreach

The country is a member of numerous international organisations, including the UN, the World Trade Organisation and the IMF, of which President Alassane Dramane Ouattara was a former deputy managing director. Abidjan serves as the headquarters of the African Development Bank and the country is also a member of ECOWAS, the NonAligned Movement, the African Union (AU) and other important organisations. Côte d’Ivoire was the first West African state to apply for reciprocity with the EU and signed an Economic Partnership Agreement with the bloc in 2016. Beyond its traditionally amicable relationship with France and the US, Côte d’Ivoire increasingly developed its relationships with other countries, including China, India, the UK and Nigeria. China became the country’s top supplier and among the top three partners in terms of trade volume with bilateral trade increasing from $1.4bn in 2014 to $8.9bn in 2016 according to Souleymane Diarrassouba, the minister of trade and industry and small and medium-sized enterprise promotion. Côte d’Ivoire is also actively involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The trade relationship between Côte d’Ivoire and the UK solidified further after the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement in 2020. The country also ratified an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU in 2016. Trade relations with neighbours are improving and are being institutionalised with the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Regional Integration

Côte d’Ivoire and its neighbours are also building resilience by strengthening regional integration, a trend best exemplified by the AfCFTA. Following the pandemic-induced slowdown in activity, this creation of the AU, signed in March 2018, is becoming increasingly important. It is supported by 54 out of 55 AU members. If fully implemented, the AfCFTA’s combined GDP would be around $3.4trn and the project aims to double intra-African trade by 2035. The UN Conference on Trade and Development highlighted in its December 2021 report that the deal could achieve significant inclusive growth, emphasising that the continent already has $22bn in untapped export opportunities. This could be increased by $9.2bn if tariff liberalisation under the AfCFTA is achieved by 2026.

In a 2020 report, the World Bank projected that the AfCFTA will increase incomes by 7%, allowing for an acceleration of wage growth for women and lifting millions out of extreme poverty. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an independent good governance think tank, estimated in a 2019 report that if the AfCFTA is fully implemented, it could generate a combined consumer and business spending of $6.7trn by 2030.