Little is known of the early history of the area now called Côte d'Ivoire. Most of its peoples entered the country in comparatively recent times, mostly from the northwest and the east, although the Kru-speaking peoples came from west of the Cavally River (modern Liberia). European travelers described flourishing and well-organized states in the north and east, with strongly hierarchical social organization and elaborate gold weights and ornaments. These states, such as the Agni kingdom of Indénié and the Abron kingdom of Bondoukou, were closely related linguistically and socially to the neighboring Ashanti of modern Ghana and formed with them, and with the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin) and the Yoruba and Bini kingdoms in Nigeria, an almost continuous string of relatively rich and developed states of the Guinea forest zone. Nearer the coast, the scale of social organization was much smaller, and innumerable small units recognized no political superior.
Modern European acquaintance with the west coast of Africa began with the Portuguese discoveries of the 15th century, culminating in the discovery of the route to India around the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 and the establishment of trading posts along the Senegal coast and the Gulf of Guinea. The Portuguese and Spanish were soon followed by the Dutch and English. Gold, ivory, ostrich feathers, gum arabic, and pepper were succeeded by slaves as the major trading commodities. French activity in what is now Côte d'Ivoire began in 1687, when missionaries landed at Assinié. In 1843, Adm. Louis-Édouard Bouet-Willaumez established French posts at Assinié and Grand Bassam, where treaties with the local chiefs provided for the cession of land for forts in exchange for tribute to the chiefs ("coutumes") at fixed rates and regular intervals.
After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the small garrisons of Assinié, Grand Bassam, and Dabou were withdrawn. French interests were confided to a resident trader named Verdier. He and a young assistant, Treich-Laplène, consolidated the French position along the coast. In 1887, Treich-Laplène signed treaties with Indénié, Bettié, Alangoa, and other chiefdoms of the interior, thus preventing British advances into eastern Côte d'Ivoire from Ashanti. Continuing northward to Kong, he joined forces with Col. Louis Binger, who had made his way from Bamako in French Sudan (Soudan Française, now Mali) to Kong and from there northeast to Ouagadougou in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) and back to Kong through Bondoukou. French claims to Upper Volta and northern Côte d'Ivoire, joining French Sudan and Niger in a continuous territory, were thus established. In 1893, the territory was renamed Côte d'Ivoire, and Col. Binger was appointed the first French governor. The new colony's frontier with Liberia was settled by a convention in 1892, and that with the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) by the Anglo-French agreement of 1893. The northern border was not defined until 1947.
French control of Côte d'Ivoire was, however, far from secured. Much of the region remained unexplored, and administrative control had still to be effectively organized in those areas whose chiefs had concluded treaties with the French. More serious still, Samory Touré, a Malinké from Guinea who periodically fought the French, had moved southeast after the French capture of Sankoro in 1892 and was continuing his struggle against the invaders in the region of Kong. Not until 1898, after prolonged fighting, was he finally captured near Man. Systematic military operations in the densely forested area between the upper Cavally and the upper Sassandra were carried out from 1908 onward before French rule was finally established in Côte d'Ivoire on the eve of World War I. In other parts of the colony, too, intermittent revolts continued throughout this period, stimulated by the imposition of a poll tax and opposition of many of the chiefs to the substitution of a tax rebate for the coutumes promised in the treaties. Nevertheless, some 20,000 Ivoirian troops were raised in the colony during World War I, when the greater part of the French forces was withdrawn.
In the interwar years, Côte d'Ivoire became a considerable producer of cocoa, coffee, mahogany, and other tropical products. Although European planters produced about one-third of the cocoa and coffee and most of the bananas, the share of African planters rapidly increased throughout this period. The railroad, begun in 1904, did not reach the northern part of the colony until 1925. The wharf at Grand Bassam (opened 1901) and that at Port Bouet (opened 1932) remained the principal ports until the cutting of the Ébrié Lagoon in 1950 and the opening of the deepwater port of Abidjan in 1954.
During World War II, Côte d'Ivoire, like the rest of French West Africa, remained under control of the Vichy government between 1940 and 1943. In 1941, the king of Bondoukou and thousands of his people made their way into the Gold Coast to join Gen. Charles de Gaulle's resistance forces. At the end of the war, Côte d'Ivoire was established as an overseas territory under the 1946 French constitution and given three deputies and three senators in the French parliament and an elected territorial assembly. By 1956, it produced 45% of all French West African exports, took in 30% of the imports, and seemed assured of continued economic advance.
In 1958, Côte d'Ivoire accepted the new French constitution in a referendum on 28 September and opted for the status of an autonomous state within the new French Community. On 4 December 1958, the Territorial Assembly, which had been elected by universal suffrage on 31 March 1957, formed itself into the Constituent Assembly and proclaimed the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire as a member state of the French Community. On 26 March 1959, the assembly adopted the first constitution of the new country. The legislature provided for in this constitution was chosen by a national election held on 17 April, and Félix Houphouët-Boigny was unanimously selected by the Assembly as prime minister on 27 April.
On 7 August 1960, the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire proclaimed its complete independence. On 31 October, a new constitution providing for a presidential system was adopted. In elections held on 27 November, Houphouët-Boigny was unanimously elected the country's first president. Although two plots to overthrow him, organized by government and party officials, were discovered in 1963, both failed, and in that year Houphouët-Boigny took over most key ministerial portfolios and consolidated his control over the Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI).
Outbreaks of unrest plagued the Houphouët-Boigny government during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1969, some 1,500 unemployed youths were arrested in the course of widespread rioting. In 1970, disturbances broke out in Gagnoa, Bouaké, and Daloa. These incidents were followed in 1973 by an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government. Following a brief trial, two army captains and five lieutenants were sentenced to death, while others were given jail sentences ranging from 15 to 20 years of hard labor. Before the sixth PDCI congress, in 1975, President Houphouët-Boigny pardoned some 5,000 persons, among whom were 145 political prisoners, some associated with the Gagnoa disturbances. All death sentences were also commuted to 20 years of hard labor. Throughout this period, the government used a series of mass meetings called "dialogues" to win over new adherents. These public discussions were usually led by prominent members of the administration, and President Houphouët-Boigny often presided over them personally. During the second half of the 1970s, Houphouët-Boigny and the PDCI remained firmly in control, and Côte d'Ivoire became one of black Africa's most prosperous nations.
Houphouët-Boigny was reelected unopposed to his fifth five-year term as president in October 1980. The nation's first competitive National Assembly elections were held in the following month, as the ruling PDCI allowed 649 candidates to compete for the 147 seats, with a runoff between the two best-placed candidates in each constituency where there was no majority choice. A total of 121 new members were elected, while 54 of the 80 deputies who ran for reelection were defeated. Relations with neighboring countries have generally been favorable; in 1981, however, the death by suffocation of 46 Ghanaians who had been jailed near Abidjan on suspicion of drug smuggling led to friction with Ghana, which was resolved through Togolese mediation. Declining economic prospects in the early 1980s led to a series of strikes among professional workers, which Houphouët-Boigny accused a foreign power (presumed to be Libya) of fomenting.
Houphouët-Boigny won an unopposed sixth term as president in October 1985, reportedly receiving 100% of the vote in a turnout of over 99% of the eligible voters. In the following month, fewer than 30% turned out for the National Assembly elections, in which 546 candidates—all members of the PDCI but not screened—competed for 175 seats. Only 64 deputies were returned to office. Côte d'Ivoire celebrated the 25th anniversary of its independence on 7 December 1985 by releasing 9,500 convicted criminals from prisoners.
In 1990, Côte d'Ivoire entered a new political era as months of prodemocracy demonstrations and labor unrest led to the legalization of opposition parties, previously banned. Even within the PDCI, a progressive wing called for further liberalization. The first multi-party presidential and legislative elections were held on 28 October 1990 and 25 November 1990, respectively. Houphouët-Boigny was reelected as president with 81% of the vote. The PDCI carried 161 of the 175 seats and the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI), 9 seats. Yet, outside observers saw the elections as less than free and fair. That November, the National Assembly passed a constitutional amendment to allow the Speaker to take over the presidency in the event of a vacancy (a provision eventually invoked on Houphouët-Boigny's death on 7 December 1993).
Meanwhile, popular disillusionment grew. Early in 1992, the president rejected the findings of his own investigative commission, which had found army chief of staff General Robert Guei responsible for the shootings at Yopougon University in May 1991. Then Houphouët-Boigny left for a four-month "private visit" to France. Rioting followed a mass demonstration in February 1992, and the government used this as a pretext to jail opposition leaders. In protest, the FPI withdrew from the National Assembly, leaving it a PDCI exclusive preserve. Houphouët-Boigny continued to manage affairs from Paris. He returned in June to release the opposition leaders as part of an amnesty that also shielded the soldiers.
After Houphouët-Boigny's death, power was transferred smoothly to Henri Konan Bédié, who became president until the 1995 elections. Born in 1934 in Dadiekro, Côte d'Ivoire, Henri Konan Bedié was of the Baoulé ethnic group. Bedié's ties to his idol Boigny began at a young age. During his initial schooling in Bokanda, Guiglo, and Dabopu, Côte d'Ivoire, he distributed newspapers of Boigny's political party—the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain. As he grew up, Bedié's aspirations became clearer. He traveled to France to study law at the University of Poitiers after reconsidering a career in education; he worked his way through law school. He also obtained advanced degrees in economics and political science, as well as a doctorate in economics, and was appointed the first Ivoirian ambassador to the United States in his 20s. He opened the Ivoirian embassy in Washington, DC, during the last months of the Eisenhower administration and also established the Ivoirian mission to the United Nations when he was only 27. Bedié also served as Minister of Finance and National Assembly President, as well as an advisor to the International Bank on Reconstruction and Development. Throughout his posts, Boigny was his most significant supporter.
Bédié proved to be a controversial leader. A split in the PDCI occurred on his watch, as departing Assembly members formed the Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and, later, the Republican Front. Bédié, meanwhile, began cracking down on dissent, briefly imprisoning and exposing to beatings the editor of a prominent newspaper. In the year preceding the scheduled elections, Bédié also instigated electoral reforms strictly limiting candidates who desired to run for president. Opposition parties decried the new electoral code and vowed to boycott the elections.
The presidential elections held on 22 October 1995 were boycotted by the opposition in protest of Bédié's antidemocratic maneuvering since assuming office. Bédié was reported by government officials to have won 95% of the vote. Legislative elections were held in December. The opposition threatened to extend their boycott to these elections as well, but Bédié engaged the major parties in negotiations and agreed to allow representatives from the two largest parties to serve on the electoral commission overseeing the balloting. The elections were seen as relatively fair and resulted in a National Assembly with 146 seats held by the PDCI, 14 by the RDR, and 9 by the FPI. Presidential, legislative, and municipal elections were held, and Bédié was officially elected president.
Though Bédié's presidential win was seen as a significant accomplishment for the Baulé ethnic group, allegations of his corruption and discontent among Ivoirians continued to increase. After becoming president, Bédié maintained a low profile and granted few interviews to the press. Facing opposition from other politicians, Bédié invited members of some opposition parties to join his government. Only Bernard Zadi of the Union des Socieaux Démocrates party accepted and became minister of culture. Even though Bédié appointed nine ministers from his party, Alassane Ouattara-a Mandé from the northern tribes continued to be Bédié's most harsh enemy. Bédié had banned Ouattara's participation in the 1995 elections by claiming him a foreigner from neighboring Burkina Faso. Bédié subsequently stripped Ouattara of all outward signs of power and began a campaign against Ouattara's northern Dioulla-speaking tribes. Further, Bédié became very strict against any political opposition and went as far as to name a new director of the main television station to support his own agenda. Criticisms of corruption under his rule began to grow.
Therefore, as many believe, all of these actions could only lead to one outcome: a coup. Regardless, what occurred on 24 December 1999 nonetheless shocked many watchers of Côte d'Ivoire around the world. On that day, General Robert Gueï led a coup d'etat and overthrew Bédié. Familiar scenes ensued: gunfire, occupation of the public television station, and the president fleeing the country. However, never before had such an event occurred in the country that was often referred to as the "Ivoirian miracle." Bédié immediately sought refuge in the French ambassador's residence, who, along with the French government, denounced the coup. Bédié, who mistakenly assumed the loyalty of the military, was evacuated from Côte d'Ivoire soon after. While many people around the world, including numerous African leaders, condemned the coup, the streets of Abidjan filled with celebrations. The fact was that Bédié had become increasingly unpopular after the 1995 elections. Gueï rallied his supporters by pledging to honor all Ivoirians, no matter where they were born.
However, many see Gueï's rise to power as a pro-Ouattara and pro-northern movement. Though he pledged to create conditions for democracy, fair elections, and a quick hand-over of civilian rule, many were skeptical. The ruling party for 39 years did not yet have time to recuperate from the shock.
Regardless of in-country support, Gueï and his office remained unstable. Many soldiers originally protested out of anger for lack of pay, but Gueï did not find a way to address their concerns and offer payment. This resulted in increased corruption and bribery—soldiers and police officers are known to stop motorists at random and demand payment through threats. As of 2000, all foreign debt repayment had been suspended. General Gueï promised that as soon as political parties were formed, he would hold elections. They were tentatively set for October 2000, but the international community was concerned that Gueï had not ruled out his own presidential bid. Increasing military power and more defiance against Gueï's orders added to tensions in Côte d'Ivoire. Regional leaders, including US and French diplomats, warned Gueï against trying for the presidential bid, using the reasoning that international support for Côte d'Ivoire would be in jeopardy.
Presidential elections in which the principal candidates were excluded—including Ouattara and Bédié—were held on 22 October, which Gueï, who stood for election, proclaimed he had won. (In all, 15 of 19 presidential candidates were barred from running). In response to criticism that he had rigged the election, a violent popular uprising caused him to flee, and Laurent Gbagbo of the FPI, who was believed to be the actual winner, was proclaimed president. The results were eventually determined to be 59.4% for Gbagbo and 32.7% for Gueï. The main opposition parties, Ouattara's RDR and Bédié's PDCI, boycotted the elections. Although they joined Gbagbo's supporters in demanding Gueï's departure, they also called for the election to be annulled. In addition, that month fighting had erupted between the mainly southern Christian supporters of Gbagbo and the mainly northern Muslim supporters of Ouattara.
Parliamentary elections were held on 10 December 2000 and 14 January 2001; voter turnout was a mere 33.1%, as the elections were boycotted by the RDR. Gbagbo's FPI took 96 of the 225 seats in the National Assembly, to the PDCI/RDA's (African Democratic Rally) 94.
In March 2001, Gbagbo and Ouattara met for the first time since violence erupted between their supporters in October 2000, and agreed to work towards national reconciliation. Also in March, Ouattara's RDR gained a majority in local elections, taking 64 communes while the PDCI won 58. The FPI secured 34 communes and 38 went to independent candidates. There were calls for new presidential and legislative elections. In the 7 July 2002 county elections, the FPI and the PDCI each won 18 of the 58 departments. In August 2002, the RDR was awarded 4 ministerial positions in the new government.
On 19 September 2002, as Gbagbo was out of the country, an attempted military coup took place, destabilizing Abidjan and Bouaké, among other cities. Assumedly involved in plotting the coup, Gueï was killed; in addition, the Interior Minister and the former military commander of Bouaké were killed. France increased its military presence in Côte d'Ivoire to protect its large French community, and ECOWAS planned to send a peacekeeping force. Approximately 200 US Special Forces were sent to assist the government in putting down the mutineers. The original mutiny spread quickly into a general uprising in the Muslim north, against Gbagbo's southerner-dominated government. A cease-fire brokered by ministers from 6 African countries was signed by the government and rebels in Bouaké on 17 October, and direct negotiations between the Côte d'Ivoire Patriotic Movement (MPCI) and the government began on 30 October. The government agreed in principle to the idea of an amnesty and the reintegration of the mutineers into the army, but a political accord was not agreed upon. In what exacerbated the situation, two new rebel groups in the west emerged on 28 November— the Far Western Ivoirian People's Movement (MPIGO), and the Movement for Justice and Peace (MPJ). The MPCI continued to control the north while these two new groups controlled the southwest; the government continued to hold the majority of the south. France increased its troop presence; by the end of December, close to 2,500 French troops were in Côte d'Ivoire. Following incidents between the MPIGO, MPJ, and French troops in January, the two rebel groups agreed to participate in talks outside Paris on 15 January. Attending the talks were the three rebel movements, a government delegation, the political parties represented in the National Assembly, and the RDR. The talks resulted in a settlement to create a government of national unity and reconciliation in which the rebels would be represented, and Gbagbo would remain as head of state but with diminished powers. Gbagbo signed the accord on 24 January, but tens of thousands of Ivoirians in Abdijan protested the deal on his return, attacking the French embassy and French-owned businesses, as the protesters accused France of imposing the agreement. In Accra, Ghana in March, the parties involved in the power-sharing agreement finalized their plan for the creation of the government of national reconciliation: ten cabinet posts were reserved for President Gbagbo's FPI; the PDCI, RDR, and MPCI each were granted 7 posts; and 7 posts were shared by the MJP and the MPIGO. Representatives of the rebel movements and those from the RDR failed to attend the inaugural cabinet meeting in Yamoussoukro on 13 March; only 21 of the newly appointed ministers attended. As of the middle of March 2003, some 3,000 people had been killed in the fighting, and more than 1 million had been displaced. The first meeting of cabinet ministers in the new government was held on 17 April 2003, but fresh fighting broke out soon after. However, a total cease-fire on all fronts was agreed to on 1 May.