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Ivory Coast - People

Cote d'Ivoire has more than 60 ethnic groups, usually classified into five principal divisions: Akan (east and center, including Lagoon peoples of the southeast), Krou (southwest), Southern Mande (west), Northern Mande (northwest), Senoufo/Lobi (north center and northeast). The Baoules, in the Akan division, probably comprise the single largest subgroup with 15%-20% of the population. They are based in the central region around Bouake and Yamoussoukro. The Betes in the Krou division, the Senoufos in the north, and the Malinkes in the northwest and the cities are the next largest groups, with 10%-15% each of the national population. Most of the principal divisions have a significant presence in neighboring countries.

Among the reasons for the country’s economic growth was that the country’s first President, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, encouraged and welcomed workers from the north of the country and from northern neighbors Burkina Faso and Mali to work the lucrative plantations in Cote d’Ivoire’s West and South. In addition to providing labor in the plantations, these migrants and immigrants often took on jobs that southern Ivoirians considered menial and underpaid. Many migrants settled and had children and families, who have been there now for generations. An estimated 25–30 percent of the population is of immigrant stock. Of the more than 5 million non-Ivoirian Africans living in Cote d'Ivoire, one-third to one-half are from Burkina Faso; the rest are from Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Benin, Senegal, Liberia, and Mauritania. The non-African expatriate community includes roughly 10,000 French and possibly 60,000 Lebanese. In November 2004, thousands of expatriates, African and non-African, fled from violence in Cote d'Ivoire. Subsequently, many expatriates slowly returned.

Since the Ivory Coast's independence (1960), the population increased from 3.7 million to 9.7 million by 1985, representing a growth rate of up to 4.2%. The country's 5th 5-Year Plan (1981-85) had 4 priorities: 1) agricultural modernization, 2) traditional industry and crafts modernization, 3) human resources enhancement, and 4) continued economic growth. Population objectives include 1) increasing peasant aid, 2) making education more development oriented, 3) making health care more accessible, and 4) finding solutions to employment and unemployment problems. The government wanted to increase population size because it needed labor for economic development. Programs 1) develop areas with high out-migration, 2) reduce maternal and child mortality, and 3) support family planning only to benefit family well being. Although the Ivory Coast's population reached 26 million by the year 2016, and population density tripled since 1950, the country is still thinly populated. The population policy in the 1980s was to 1) reduce infant mortality, 2) maintain fertility, and 3) diminish immigration and emigration. Life expectancy is 47 years, infant mortality is 122/1000, and most rural people have no health services. The government considers the total fertility rate of 6.7 satisfactory. Abortion for contraceptive purposes and sterilization are illegal; access to contraception was limited.

The Ivory Coast, because of rapid economic growth, attracted immigrants from neighboring countries; at present 1/3 of the population is foreign-born. Since the 1930s, Ivory Coast has been the first destination for West African migrants — but under Article 35 of the constitution, an estimated 30 percent of the country’s 14 million inhabitants would be considered non-Ivorians.

Ethnic factors in Ivorian society have for many years - and increasingly - been subject to political manipulation. In Côte d’Ivoire as elsewhere in Africa, the colonial Power frequently exploited ethnic differences to divide and rule, or else, using anthropology and ethnology, ethnicized groups and communities whose relationships had been regulated by traditional values and cultural practices for jointly dealing with ethnic tensions. Economic imperatives such as labor force mobility did not respond to any desire to promote a genuine, interactive coexistence that might have fostered a national consciousness as opposed to the colonial policy of assimilation.

President Houphouët-Boigny found the implicit tensions within Ivorian society relatively manageable and was able to maintain a generally quiescent inter-ethnic coexistence. However, his approach to ethnic tensions, a mix of traditionalist pragmatism, political opportunism and the use of corruption and repression, within a non-democratic, one-party system, did nothing to neutralize the threat of conflict those tensions posed in any deep or lasting way. During his reign, Côte d’Ivoire was the scene of both xenophobic violence targeting foreign groups and political repression directed against particular Ivorian ethnic groups and their leaders.

This tendency finally took political expression in 1990, with the introduction of a multiparty system in which ethnic tension became a decisive political factor. In the forced transition from a paternalistic single-party system to a democratic multiparty one, in the context of multi-ethnic Côte d’Ivoire, it was only too tempting to play the ethnic card in the political manoeuvring, i.e., in the absence of any debate on ideas or substantive platforms, to resort to ethnic considerations to build up a militant political base for the conquest of power. In this context, “ivoirité”, or Ivorianness, became the conceptual basis for the construction of an ideology of political manipulation of the ethnic factor.

Among both Ivorians and non-Ivorians, it is a widely-held perception that police routinely abuse and harass non-Ivorian Africans residing in the country (who represent one-third of the total population). This activity reflects the Ivorian conclusion that foreigners are responsible for high local crime rates and the concern over Ivorian national identity. Election law changes in 1995 limited candidates to those who could prove that both parents had been born in Cote D'Ivoire, and several recent, well-publicized cases have demonstrated that the concept of "Ivorianness" is being used to determine employability.

Members of the Bete ethnic group allege discrimination by the more powerful Baoule tribal group. The Baoules are the single largest tribal group in the country and have been politically dominant. According to the Bete, in 1970 members of the army killed 4,000 Bete in the Gagnoa region. Tensions between the groups escalated before the 1995 presidential elections, again in the Gagnoa region, and four people were killed during rioting. Some Baoule settlers and native Guere people of the Duekoue region in the western part of the country fought in August, leading to five deaths and significant property damage.

Cote d’Ivoire’s youthful population is a great asset but it could also be a potential powder keg. High rates of unemployment and underemployment could precipitate disquiet and unrest.13 This is particularly worrisome when a significant proportion of the unemployed have been involved in the violence and there is a proliferation of small arms and light weapons across the country. In addition to developing training and retraining programs, serious thought could be given to the development of labor-intensive infrastructure programs.

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