Cote d’Ivoire maintained close business and political ties with France (their colonial rulers) after independence in 1960. The first leader - Félix Houphouët-Boigny - was a staunch Francophile, and the French built upon the colonial policy of assimilation. Assimilation had the end goal of turning French colonies into an extension of the French state, with equal political representation and with colonial subjects gaining French citizenship. Complete assimilation was never achieved in any French colony but the close bonds that were created by this process continued into the independence era.
Houphouet-Boigny ruled for thirty three years and maintained a relatively stable economy, underpinned by sound economic planning, good governance, good relations with the West and a stable international demand for Cote d’Ivoire’s main cash crops, cocoa and coffee.
That was until the 1980s, when the global recession hit prices of the Ivory Coast’s key exports. Cut-backs led to hundreds of civil servants going on strike in 1990. Houphouet-Boigny died in 1993 and Cote d’Ivoire quickly deteriorated. A military coup in 1999 ousted his successor Henri Konan Bédié. The new regime, under General Robert Guéi successfully sought to cut down crime and corruption, but ultimately lost power to Laurent Gbagbo, in a democratic election held in 2001.
On September 19th 2002, Ivorian troops mutinied against their demobilisation and secured large areas of the north of the country. In January 2003 the government and the rebel leaders signed a treaty and a government of national unity was formed. The treaty was unstable, so a fresh peace accord was signed in 2007. Some pundits have suggested that recent efforts to stabilise the country have actually served to strengthen Gbagbo’s hold on power. Several thousand UN troops and several hundred French troops remain in Cote d’Ivoire to facilitate the ongoing peace process.
Sixty five different languages are spoken in the Ivory Coast, though French is the official language and most used for trade. About a quarter of the population live below the poverty line.