Ivory Coast and Its Beautiful Land
Ivory Coast, known officially as Côte d'Ivoire, is an independent republic in West Africa. One of the eight territories that formerly constituted the Federation of French West Africa, Ivory Coast achieved independence on Aug. 4, 1960. It has maintained close economic relations with France and has played a leading role in encouraging regional cooperation among African states. Yamoussoukro was officially designated as the capital in 1983, but most government functions remained in the former capital, Abidjan.
Ivory Coast, situated on the northern shore of the Gulf of Guinea, has an area of 124,503 square miles (322,463 sq km). The relief of the country is relatively flat. The only mountainous areas are in the regions around Man and Odienné in the western part of the country, where elevations reach nearly 6,000 feet (1,800 meters).
Topographically, Ivory Coast is divided into two sharply contrasting zones: the forest area in the south and the savanna area in the north. In the southern zone lie the great rain forests and fertile areas, which produce timber, cocoa, and coffee. There the climate is tropical and intensely humid. Rainfall averages over 80 inches (2,000 mm) annually. North of the city of Bouaké lies the savanna region, where the climate is much drier. Here the great forests have given way to scrub growth. The harmattan, a dry, parching wind, blows over the region from the Sahara far to the north in neighboring Mali.
Four important rivers—the Comoé, Cavally, Bandama, and Sassandra—traverse the country from north to south. Flowing nearly parallel, all ultimately empty into the Gulf of Guinea. The country's rivers are broken by rapids and cannot be widely used for communication.
The main natural resources are cocoa, coffee, timber, bananas, palm oil, pineapples, and coconuts. Petroleum and natural gas were discovered offshore in the 1970s; new discoveries led to expanded production in the mid-1990s and again in the early 2000s. Onshore, diamonds and gold are mined. Important reserves of iron ore, bauxite, tungsten, and manganese have remained largely unexploited.
Ivory Coast has an ample water supply in the south, provided by the heavy rainfall, the four major rivers that traverse the country, and the numerous smaller rivers that intersect it. Dams and hydroelectric plants have been constructed on the Bia River, forming Lake Ayamé in the eastern part of the country; on the Bandama River, forming Lakes Kossou and Taabo in central Ivory Coast; and on the Sassandra River, forming Lake Buyo in the west. Hydroelectric production suffers during drought years, and there has been a growing emphasis on thermal power plants for the production of electricity. Many regions still remain without electric power.
Agriculture remains the backbone of the Ivorian economy. Farming accounts for nearly half of all employment and for more than a quarter of gross domestic output. Cocoa and coffee are the principal cash crops. Others are cotton, rubber, bananas, and pineapples. Principal subsistence crops include millet, corn, rice, manioc, and yams.
Rain forests, which once covered nearly half of the total land area of Ivory Coast, had been reduced to less than a fifth by the end of the 20th century. The export of tropical woods had been one of the nation's traditional sources of revenue, but overexploitation led to a decline in that sector starting in the 1970s.
Ivory Coast has enjoyed a significant expansion of its industrial plant. Commercial and industrial expansion was initially facilitated by the opening of the Vridi Canal through the barrier island south of Abidjan in 1950, which made possible the construction of a deepwater port at that city, and later by a liberal investment code designed to attract private capital. Ivory Coast has its own oil refinery, automobile assembly plant, breweries, sawmills, and textile mills, as well as a host of smaller industries that produce chemicals, fertilizers, plastics, and other products. The government initiated a privatization program in the 1990s.
The country has consistently enjoyed a favorable balance of trade with the outside world. It was one of the first African states to become associated with the European Common Market (later, the European Union). France is its principal trading partner. Major exports are cocoa, petroleum products, and coffee.
Extensive efforts have been made to improve communications within the country since 1960. An ambitious road-building program was launched with the ultimate aim of connecting all major towns and villages with one another as well as with Abidjan, by hard-surface, all-weather roads.
Ivory Coast's major ports are Abidjan and San-Pédro, both on the Gulf of Guinea. Abidjan, the largest port in West Africa, is the chief entrepôt for the nation's imports and exports and a principal port of entry for goods destined for Burkina Faso and Mali. San-Pédro, located near the Liberian border, was developed by the government to be the principal port for the southwestern part of the country. A third port, Sassandra, is used mainly for the loading and export of local agricultural products and hardwoods.
The country has international airports at Abidjan, Bouaké, and Yamoussoukro. Abidjan is the hub for the multinational airline Air Afrique. Air Inter Ivoire and Société Nouvelle Air Ivoire provide regular service on domestic and regional routes. An extensive and interconnecting system of lagoons in the south also offers a ready means of transportation and communications by seaplanes between the towns in the coastal region.