PARIS, France – Cote d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara (R, rear) reviews troops during a military parade marking the 59th anniversary of the country’s independence in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
The West African state of the Ivory Coast celebrates its 59th independence as a nation. At independence (1960), the country was known as French West Africa’s most prosperous nation, contributing over 40% of the region’s total exports.
Félix Houphouet-Boigny, the son of a Baoulé chief, became Ivory Coast’s father of independence. In 1944, he formed the country’s first agricultural trade union for African cocoa farmers like himself. Angered that colonial policy favored French plantation owners, the union members united to recruit migrant workers for their farms. Houphouet-Boigny soon rose to prominence and within a year was elected to the French Parliament in Paris. A year later, the French abolished forced labor. Houphouet-Boigny established a strong relationship with the French government, expressing a belief that the Ivory Coast would benefit from the relationship, which it did for many years. France appointed him as a minister, the first African to become a minister in a European government.
When Houphouet-Boigny became the first president, his government gave farmers reasonable prices for their products to further stimulate production, which was also boosted by a significant immigration of workers from surrounding countries.
Coffee production increased significantly, catapulting Ivory Coast into third place in world output, behind Brazil and Colombia. By 1979, the country was the world’s leading producer of cocoa. It also became Africa’s leading exporter of pineapples and palm oil. French technicians contributed to the “Ivoirian miracle.” In other African nations, the people drove out the Europeans following independence, but in Ivory Coast, they poured in. The French community grew from only 30,000 before independence to 60,000 in 1980, most of them teachers, managers, and advisors. For 20 years, the economy maintained an annual growth rate of nearly 10%—the highest of Africa’s non-oil-exporting countries.
Since 2011, Ivory Coast has been administratively organized into 12 districts plus two district-level autonomous cities. The areas are divided into 31 regions; the regions are divided into 108 departments, and the departments are divided into 510 sub-prefectures. In some instances, multiple villages are organized into communes. The autonomous districts are not divided into regions, but they do contain departments, sub-prefectures, and municipalities.
The Ivory Coast is a religiously diverse country, in which adherents of Islam (mostly Sunni) represented 42.9% of the total population in 2014, while followers of Christianity (predominantly Catholic and Evangelical) represented 33.9% of the population. Besides, 19.1% of Ivoirians claimed to be irreligious, and 3.6% reported following traditional African religions. In 2009, according to U.S. Department of State estimates, Christians and Muslims each made up 35 to 40% of the population, while an estimated 25% of the population practiced traditional (animist) religions.
Judaism is not a dominant religion in the Ivory Coast, but some Jews are found throughout the country. The Jewish people had a more significant presence in the late 20th century before mass Jewish immigration in which Jews from the Ivory Coast and all over the world left their native countries for Israel. Despite this, the Jewish population is beginning to re-emerge in the Ivory Coast.