Ivory Coast: Conflict Profile

Ivory Coast: the post-independence period

After gaining independence from France in 1960, the Ivory Coast fell under the role of authoritarian but charismatic leader, Félix Houphouët-Boigny. For a time, the Ivory Coast flourished economically and politically, and Boigny was hailed as a leader capable of maintaining ethnic unity and political stability within a diverse and historically disunited country.

However, this period of success masked the development of grievances that laid the groundwork for later conflict. Tensions between ethnic groups began to emerge in the west of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, as Boigny encouraged the migration of foreign workers and labourers from the north of the Ivory Coast to support the expansion of cocoa plantations in the west. This resulted in some local groups feeling marginalised, increased tensions around land scarcity, and escalated anti-immigrant sentiment. This was made worse as the global price of cocoa fell and the country entered a recession in the 1990s.

Photo credit: Sunset Parkerpix

The rise of identity politics

In 1990, Boigny bowed to increasing pressure and held multi-party elections. His main opponent was Laurent Gbagbo, of the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI), who drew much of his support from groups in the west of the country. In what was widely considered to be an unfair election, Boigny won 82% of the vote.

When Boigny died in 1993, the president of the National Assembly, Henri Konan Bédié, took over as President. Bédié began consolidating political and military power for his own ethnic group and capitalised on anti-immigrant sentiments with increasingly xenophobic policies based on the idea of Ivoirité, or ‘Ivorianess’. This privileged the people of the south as ‘real’ citizens, and excluded the ‘foreigners’ from the north. Crucially, Bédié used this rhetoric to pass legislation to prevent his primary political rival, Alassane Ouattara, from running in the 1995 elections. Ouattara was a northerner and suspected of having parents from Burkina Faso. This marked the beginning of a spiral of increasing political marginalisation and retaliation, with political affiliation becoming increasingly aligned with regional and ethnic identities.

The Ouagadougou Agreement outlined security sector reform, and dismantled the buffer zone that divided the country
In 1999, dissatisfied army officers from the excluded groups, led by General Robert Guéï, led a mutiny and overthrew Bédié. When presidential elections were held in October 2000, Ouattara was again blocked from running, leaving Gbagbo to oppose Guéï. Gbagbo was widely cited as the winner, but Guéï refused to leave office. Massive protests ensued and eventually Guéï fled, bringing Gbagbo into power.

After becoming president, Gbagbo began to consolidate power for his own ethnic group and continued the exclusion of northerners in the government and military. This further increased the grievances and feeling of marginalisation among these groups. In September 2002, several northern army officers led an attempted coup. These officers and their supporters, led by Guillaume Soro, formed the New Forces (FN) and quickly gained control of the northern half of the country, plunging the country into civil war.

Ivorian youngsters torch a UN car on a crossing in Riviera II, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, 13/1/2010

Photo credit: Stefan Meisel

The 2002-2007 civil war

Over the next few years, the ensuing conflict would frequently be described in ethnic, religious and regional terms, with the Christian southern government fighting the Muslim northern rebels. Much of the violence subsided by 2004, thanks in part to the creation of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and intervention by French troops, but the division of the country and sporadic violence continued for the next several years.

Finally, in 2007 Gbagbo and Soro signed the Ouagadougou Agreement, which named Soro as the prime minister, outlined security sector reform, and dismantled the buffer zone that divided the country. Unfortunately, many of the much-needed post-conflict processes established in the agreement were undermined by delays, lack of financing, and mismanagement in the years following the war.

The 2010-2011 crisis

Presidential elections were finally held in October 2010, with Gbagbo running against Alassane Ouattara. Neither candidate received a majority in the first round of voting, and a second round was scheduled for November.

On 2 December 2010, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) released provisional election results naming Ouattara as the winner, with 54% of the vote. The Constitutional Council (CC) immediately pronounced the results invalid and instead named Gbagbo as the victor. He was sworn in as the new President on 4 December. Violent clashes erupted, as supporters of both sides, unhappy with the result, rearmed and remobilised. Despite the rhetoric of reunification, the country was still essentially split in two, with two armies and two separate chains of command that became partisan participants in the crisis.

Approximately 3000 people were killed during the violence
The international community was quick to recognise Ouattara as president, but Gbagbo refused to give up power. Mediation attempts proved unsuccessful and widespread violence between Gbagbo loyalists and opposition supporters continued for the next five months. Ouattara’s Republican Forces of the Ivory Coast (FRCI), supported by French and UN troops, eventually defeated Gbagbo’s forces in April 2011 and Gbagbo was captured.

It is estimated that approximately three thousand people were killed during the violence.

Displaced people crossing the border from Ivory Coast to Liberia

Photo credit: DfID

Peacebuilding efforts

Since taking office in May 2011, Ouattara has focused on rebuilding the economy and restoring domestic security. A truth commission was launched in September 2011, but has been criticised for its lack of concrete results. Ouattara also created a Special Investigative Unit within the Justice Ministry to address crimes committed during the 2010-2011 crisis. Trials are ongoing; however, as few Ouattara supporters have been charged for any abuses, observers question the impartiality of the justice system. Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, the leader of a pro-Gbagbo youth militia, are in The Hague awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) on multiple counts of crimes against humanity. Former first lady Simone Gbagbo is currently on trial in the Ivory Coast for crimes committed during the crisis.

Within the security sector, disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) programmes continue, although progress has been slow and a large number of small arms continue to circulate in the country.

Ongoing peacebuilding work in the country includes strengthening civil society, encouraging community reconciliation, supporting the return of refugees, addressing land disputes, and promoting rights for women and children.

Presidential elections are scheduled for September 2015.


Displaced people crossing the border from Ivory Coast to Liberia

Photo credit: DfID


Last updated: March 2015. Background information published on Insight on Conflict is compiled by volunteer researchers and does not reflect the opinions of Peace Direct. For information on how you can contribute to this site, please contact us.