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Ivory Coast - Geography

The Republic of the Ivory Coast, whose size and area is approximately that of New Mexico, is located on the southern coast of the continental bulge that is West Africa. The country is divided roughly equally into a southern forest zone and a northern savannah area. The former produces the cocoa, coffee, timber, bananas, and pineapples that pruvide the majority of the export earnings of the agriculturally based economy. The latter is the production source of livestock and the basic food crops.

The issue of land is a critical driver of instability in Côte d’Ivoire. It is true that land is a long-term issue, but it is also one of the most combustible issues in the run-up to the elections, especially in the West and across the central forest belt (Gagnoa, Daloa) where support for former President Laurent Gbagbo was strong. The West was the fulcrum of conflict in Côte d’Ivoire up to 2010 due to the border with Liberia and the long u-ngoverned badlands that lie beyond as well as longstanding tensions between autochtones (local groups, mostly Guéré) and settlers from the north of the country, Burkina Faso and Mali, and because it was one of the bastions of support for former President Laurent Gbagbo.

As part of the legislative reforms mandated by the Linas-Marcoussis Peace agreement, in July 2004 the National Assembly adopted amendments to the law on rural-land ownership. This new law provides very limited free-hold ownership for rural lands, which had been traditionally held as a tenancy in common by villages. Rights are only protected, however, if the owner can provide proof of ownership through an assignment deed or purchase contract.

The country consists of a large plateau rising gradually from sea level to almost 500 meters altitude in the north. Vegetation changes from lagoon and semitropical growth in the south to savanna grassland and scrub in the north. Mountain ranges extend along the western border, and a few peaks dot the northeast corner. Four major river systems flow southward forming parallel drainage basins. Cutting across these basins are three geographic regions roughly parallel to the coast—the lagoon region, the forest region, and the savanna region. The Lagoon Region (zone lagunaire) is a narrow coastal belt extending along the Gulf of Guinea from the Ghana border to the mouth of the Sassandra River. It consists of a strip of low, sandy islands and sandbars built by the combined action of heavy surf and ocean currents. These barrier islands, known as the cordon littoral, have almost closed the rivers flowing into the gulf. The resulting series of lagoons range in width from about a hundred meters to seven or eight kilometers, and adjacent lands seldom rise more than thirty meters above sea level, leaving the area subject to frequent flooding during rainy seasons.

Most of the lagoons are narrow, salty, and shallow and run parallel to the coastline, linked to one another and the gulf by small watercourses or canals. Where large rivers empty into the gulf, broad estuaries extend as much as ten to twenty kilometers inland. The sandy soil supports the growth of coconut palms and salt-resistant coastal shrubs. The dense rain forest that once came down to the water's edge along the continental side of the lagoons has been largely supplanted by clearings for farms and towns and by second-growth woodlands. In the few remaining undisturbed areas, dense mangrove thickets appear along the edges of marshy inlets.

A broad belt of dense forest covers nearly one-third of the country, extending north of the lagoon region in the east and reaching down to the coastline in the west between the Sassandra River and the mouth of the Cavally River. Its northern boundary stretches from the city of Man in the west to Bondoukou in the east, dipping down in the center of the country to the confluence of the Bandama Blanc and Bandama Rouge rivers. This boundary marks the transition from forest to grassy woodlands where plantation agriculture and burning have encroached on the forest. From the border with Ghana west to the Sassandra River, the gently rolling relief of the forest region is broken by small hills. West of the Sassandra, the Dan Mountains and the Toura Mountains reach 1,300 meters elevation. Mt. Nimba, near the border with Liberia and Guinea, reaches 1,752 meters.

The northern half of the nation is generally characterized as savanna — a large plateau consisting primarily of rolling hills, lowlying vegetation, and scattered trees. Vegetation varies from woodlands to grasslands and occasional patches of dry scrub in the far north. Some narrow strips of forest extend toward the north along watercourses and drainage lines. The southern portion of the savanna is sometimes referred to as the transition zone (zone de transition) and the northern portion as the sudanic zone (zone soudanienne), although the entire region is transitional between the narrow belt of forest paralleling the coastline and the Sahara Desert. The gently rolling plains are broken occasionally by granite domes or small hill masses, the most extensive being the Komonos Hills. In the northwest, a number of peaks exceed 800 meters elevation.

A major divide extends across the northeastern corner of Cote d'Ivoire near Burkina Faso, separating the main southward drainage system from the Volta River Basin, which drains to the north. Near Bondoukou, where the divide crosses the Ghana border, Mt. Bowe de Kiendi reaches 725 meters elevation. In the north, Mt. Yeleve reaches an altitude of 685 meters.

Four major river systems follow meandering courses from north to south, draining into the Gulf of Guinea. From west to east these are the Cavally, Sassandra, Bandama, and Comoe—all relatively untamed rivers navigable only short distances inland from the coast. In the north, many smaller tributaries change to dry streambeds between rains.

The Cavally River has its headwaters in the Nimba Mountains of Guinea and forms the border between Cote d'lvoire and Liberia for over half its length. It crosses rolling land and rapids and is navigable for about fifty kilometers inland from its exit to the sea near Cape Palmas. The Sassandra River Basin has its source in the high ground of the north, where the Tienba River joins the Feredougouba River, which flows from the Guinea highlands. It is joined by the Bagbe, Bafing, Nzo, Lobo, and Davo rivers and winds through shifting sandbars to form a narrow estuary, which is navigable for about eighty kilometers inland from the port of Sassandra.

The Bandama River, often referred to as the Bandama Blanc, is the longest in the country, joining the Bandama Rouge (also known as the Marahoue), Solomougou, Kan, and Nzi rivers over its 800-kilometer course. This large river system drains most of central Cote d'lvoire before it flows into the Tagba Lagoon opposite Grand-Lahou. During rainy seasons, small craft navigate the Bandama for fifty or sixty kilometers inland.

Easternmost of the main rivers, the Comoe, formed by the Leraba and Gomonaba, has its sources in the Sikasso Plateau of Burkina Faso. It flows within a narrow 700-kilometer basin and receives the Kongo and Iringou tributaries before winding among the coastal sandbars and emptying into the Ebrie Lagoon near Grand-Bassam. The Comoe is navigable for vessels of light draft for about fifty kilometers to Alepe.

Large dams were built in the 1960s and 1970s to control the flow of major rivers to the south. These projects created reservoirs, now referred to as lakes bearing the names of the dams — Buyo on the Sassandra, Kossou and Taabo on the Bandama, and Ayame on the small Bia River in the southeast corner of the country. Lake Kossou is the largest of these, occupying more than 1,600 square kilometers in the center of the country.

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Page last modified: 06-10-2016 19:50:20 ZULU