In pre-colonial times, the territory of present-day Côte d'Ivoire was inhospitable to the sea-borne European traders because of the dense, thinly populated tropical forest stretching hundreds of kilometers inland from the Atlantic Ocean. There was little European interest in the interior before the mid-19th century. Northern Côte d'Ivoire, largely savanna and populated by Muslims, was historically controlled by the Guinean kingdoms, which periodically exerted influence over much of modern Mali, Guinea, and Niger. The French presence grew after 1893 when the colony of Côte d'Ivoire was officially established. The potential of the country's agricultural and forestry resources came to be realized with the building of the railway through Côte d'Ivoire into present-day Burkina Faso, and by the late 1940s, Côte d'Ivoire had replaced Senegal as France's richest colony in West Africa.
Côte d'Ivoire became independent in August 1960, with Felix Houphouet-Boigny, a successful cocoa farmer and former minister in the French government, as president. Close ties to France have characterized the period since independence, and trade and investment links have expanded, as well as the number of French expatriates working in Côte d'Ivoire.
Capitalizing on his carefully cultivated personal relations with successive French governments as well as his skillful economic and political management, Houphouet-Boigny dominated the country's political life for more than 3 decades. Houphouet-Boigny's party, Parti Democratique de Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI), became the only legal political party in Côte d'Ivoire. In the 1960s and 1970s, he presided over Côte d'Ivoire's emergence as one of Africa's few stable and economically successful countries. With the introduction of multiparty politics in 1990, his PDCI remained in control. There was remarkably little internal strife and no significant external threat, leading to a resolution not to develop a costly and possibly untrustworthy army, and instead entrusting national defense to France.
However, Côte d'Ivoire faced serious social and economic problems in the 1980s with the fall in world commodity prices. As Houphouet-Boigny slipped into old age and popular dissent grew in the beginning of the 1990s, demonstrations and strikes became commonplace. The first multiparty elections were held in 1990 and were won by Houphouet-Boigny's PDCI amid accusation from the opposition of vote rigging.
Flamboyant Laurent Gbagbo, leader of the Front Populaire Ivorienne (FPI), defiantly led thousands of protesters through the streets of Abidjan in 1992, resulting in widespread rioting in the commercial capital and attracting a stern reaction from the authorities. Many protesters, including Gbagbo, were arrested and charged under legislation rushed through parliament, although many were freed 6 months later.
Mr. Houpouet-Boigny's death in 1993—which was feared would lead to social chaos and dash hopes of a return to economic prosperity—resulted in a controversial power transfer to Konan Bedie, formerly president of the Assemble Nationale.
In the October 1995 presidential elections Konan Bedie won 95 percent of the vote amid protests from the opposition against a PDCI-dominated parliament's passing of a law that barred Alassane Dramane Ouattara, a World Bank-schooled economist who had been prime minister since 1990, from participating. The law excluded anyone who was considered not born to Ivorian parents, or who had been resident abroad in the preceding 5 years, and Ouattara was deemed to fall into both categories. A pro-Ouattara party, the Ressemblement des Republicans (RDR), was formed by defectors from the reformist wing of the PDCI. Whereas the presidential elections were marred with violence, the parliamentary elections were more peaceful, resulting in a PDCI victory with 149 of the 175 available seats while the rest were split between the FPI and the RDR.
In December 1999, a military coup—the first ever in Côte d'Ivoire's history—overthrew the government and installed military rule under General Robert Guei. The presidential elections in October 2000 were contested by Guei and Laurent Ggagbo of the FPI. Ouattara of the RDR was prevented from running. The results were unclear, and Guei attempted to hijack the process by announcing himself the elected president. Demonstrations and protests and pressure from the international community prevailed, however, and on the basis of the available electoral results, Gbagbo was declared president.
Côte d'Ivoire has a republican (constitutional) government with a multiparty presidential regime established in 1990. It is a country with 50 administrative departments (or districts), with a constitution that was first drawn up in November of 1960 but has been amended on numerous occasions, the last time being in July 1998. The constitution recognizes universal adult suffrage at 21 years of age. The legal system is based on French civil law and customary law with judicial review in the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court. There is a unicameral (1-chamber) National Assembly of 175 seats to which members are elected by direct popular vote to serve 5-year terms.
Côte d'Ivoire has a more effective tax revenue collection system than most of sub-Saharan Africa. It includes a wide range of taxes on personal income, capital gains, value added on economic activities, exports, and imports. Tax revenues as a share of GDP were 20 percent in 1999. Taxes on international trade are around 40 percent of total government revenue. Income, profits, and capital gains taxes were 21 percent, taxes on goods and services were 5 percent, and the remaining 34 percent came from other taxes, licenses, and the surpluses of state-owned enterprises. There has been a steady rise in revenue collection, which has favorably affected the fiscal situation from 1994 to 1996. Tax revenue increased by an average annual rate of 24 percent in this period, reflecting the impact of the devaluation, strong GDP growth and the effects of improved tax measures. Tax revenues have increased because of the government's efforts to reintroduce an export tax on cocoa and coffee in 1994 and to build the capacity of its revenue departments by implementing strategies to curb fraud and tax evasion.