Cote d’Ivoire: A land of contrasts
It is not often a country is known by two names but, in popular literature, the English name is Ivory Coast while the French is Cote d’Ivoire. In 1985, however, the West African country’s official name was changed to the French version.
What’s more, it also has two capitals – Yamoussoukro which is the political and administrative capital and Abidjan which is the economic capital and listed as the capital in most guide books. Abidjan also has the third highest number of French speaking people anywhere in the world.
Interestingly, Cote d’Ivoire is now best known not for any white goods like elephant tusk trading but as the world’s biggest producer of coca beans – the key ingredient in chocolate.
The name ‘Ivory Coast’ in the 15th and 16th centuries reflected the major trade that occurred on that particular stretch of the coast, the export of ivory.
The maintenance of close ties to France since independence in 1960, diversification of agriculture for export, and encouragement of foreign investment have been factors in the economic growth of Cote d’Ivoire.
For more than three decades after its independence from France, Cote d’Ivoire was known for its religious and ethnic harmony, as well as its well-developed economy.
The Western African country was hailed as a model of stability. But an armed rebellion in 2002 split the nation in two. Since then, peace deals have alternated with renewed violence as the country has slowly edged its way towards a political resolution of the conflict.
Despite the instability, Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa beans and its citizens enjoy a relatively high level of income, compared to other countries in the region.
Alassane Ouattara has been in power since his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, was forcibly removed from office after refusing to accept Ouattara’s internationally recognised victory in the November 2010 presidential election.
In 2015, Ouattara won a second five-year term with nearly 84% of the vote, in an election described as credible by US observers.
A US-educated economist from the Muslim north, Ouattara served as President Felix Houphouet-Boigny’s last prime minister after a long career at the International Monetary Fund.
Situated on the Gulf of Guinea with Liberia and Ghana as its coastal neighbours, Cote d’Ivoire is described as a country of extremes – from pristine rainforests to vibrant metropolises, massive churches to verdant hills and fancy restaurants rivalling sprawling street stalls.
Despite the civil war it has suffered, Cote d’Ivoire is now pretty much stable and ripe for adventurous travellers.
Travellers say the real beauty of the country is to be seen away from the cities and there are no fewer than eight national parks, including Comoé, the largest protected area in West Africa, which boasts the most biodiverse savannah in the world.
Wildlife ranges from lion to leopard, and from pygmy hippos and aardvarks to elephant. For those who like to relax in the sun, there are beautiful beaches around San Pedro, Assine and Grand Bassam.