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Ivory Coast - SOCIETY

Ivory Coast - The Society

Ivory Coast

CULTURAL DIVERSITY is impressive in Côte d'Ivoire. Urban and agricultural workers, herders, traders, and fishermen; matrilineal and patrilineal organizations; villages and chiefdoms; and progressive and conservative political tendencies contribute to this national mosaic. Added to this indigenous variety, French, Lebanese, and African immigrants and visitors live and work throughout the country. This complex nation is changing, however, and attitudes toward change vary among and within these groups. During the 1980s, the pace of change was affected by the numerous oppositions that characterized Ivoirian society--rich-poor, urban-rural, modern-traditional, and south-north. Côte d'Ivoire was developing its own balance of these tensions, with a result far more complex than a simple combination of indigenous cultures and colonial legacies.

Religious systems have changed in ways that reflect other social trends. In this nation of "miraculous" economic development, as it is so often dubbed, with its clearly privileged elite, people have on the whole retained traditional African religious beliefs. Usually combined with Christian or Muslim precepts, or both, local religions nonetheless permeate views regarding the nature of cause and effect. The syncretisms emerging from these strains of continuity and change are, like the nation itself, unique, despite similarities with other African states.

Political systems, like religions, reflect elements of modern and indigenous values in their development, and in Côte d'Ivoire these influences were especially evident in the practice of justifying authority in personal terms. The patrimonial style of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny indelibly marked political development through the early decades of independence. He crafted, although not single-handedly, a nation that exemplified moderation in some respects, resisting political trends and social extremes. Social development was generally steady and gradual rather than abrupt or catastrophic. The resulting society was marked by a general optimism regarding the possibility of benefiting from the system. The lure of affluence fostered an individualism that was absent in traditional cultures, as materialism "caught on" but did not obliterate traditional beliefs about the nature of the universe. Alienation was moderated by the hope of participation in the nation's material growth.

Efforts to improve educational opportunities were important in this changing social environment, both for individual advancement and for social control. The government placed a high priority on schools, adapting the system inherited from France to advance local interests--but still relying heavily on French assistance. In health care service delivery as well, Côte d'Ivoire made substantial improvements in the system it inherited from colonial times, raising material standards of living, at least for some. Like many benefits of development both before and after independence, however, these advantages were most readily available to those who were already able to exploit the changing social system to their own advantage.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Population

Ivory Coast

Côte d'Ivoire's first national census in 1975 counted 6.7 million inhabitants, allowing 1987 estimates of 10.6 million. The 1987 annual growth rate was 4.1 percent. Regional variations were marked, with annual growth of only 1 percent in the far north, but throughout the country, population growth rates, which included high net immigration rates, were increasing. In the late 1980s, population projections for the year 2000 exceeded 20 million people.

Country-wide, life expectancy rose from thirty-nine to fiftyone years between 1960 and 1988, and during the same period, the average annual birth rate also increased steadily to 45.9 per 1,000 population. Fertility rates were about average for West Africa at 6.6 births per adult female. Fertility rates were lowest in Abidjan and highest in rural areas, where infant mortality also remained relatively high.

Mortality rates overall declined sharply after 1960, when onethird of all infants died before the age of five. Infant mortality in the first year of life declined to 110 deaths per 1,000 births in the late 1980s. The crude death rate was just over 14 per 1,000 population.


Population density increased steadily from twenty-one inhabitants per square kilometer in 1975 to thirty-two in 1987. This national average masked uneven distribution, however, with much of the population concentrated in the south and fewer than ten inhabitants per square kilometer in parts of the north. The southwestern corner of the country presented a low-density exception to this pattern. Population distribution reflected Ivoirian history more than physical environment. Most areas of high density corresponded to the first centers of settlement by major ethnic groups, especially the Akan and Mandé, altered in the north by nineteenth-century conquests by Samori Touré. Colonial policy moved villages nearer transportation routes in order to control the population and to provide a ready labor supply. In the late 1980s, the population was still distributed along main roads as the result of resettlements, which had continued into the 1930s in the southwest.

Ivoirian settlement patterns in the late 1980s also revealed continued southward migration from the savanna to the forest, a process first set in motion by precolonial invasions from the north and continued by colonial policies emphasizing cash crop and plantation agriculture. This migration pattern was aided by postindependence urban and industrial development, which took place primarily in the southeast.


Urbanization was rapid after 1950, as the urban population grew by an average of 11.5 percent per year until 1965 and about 8 percent per year from 1966 to 1988. As a result, Côte d'Ivoire had a high urban-rural population ratio compared with the rest of subSaharan Africa. Roughly one-half of the 1987 population lived in urban areas, defined as localities of more than 10,000 inhabitants and those of more than 4,000 inhabitants where more than half of all households depended on nonagricultural incomes. In 1988 about 20 percent of the total population lived in the capital city of Abidjan.

Foreigners--mostly West Africans--made up from 27 percent to 50 percent of the population and were more highly urbanized than indigenous groups. Foreign migrants have sought jobs in Ivoirian industry, commerce, and plantation agriculture since the beginning of the twentieth century, especially after World War II. Most have found work in urban areas, but in 1980 the number of Ivoirians who migrated from rural to urban areas was almost equaled by the 75,000 migrant farm workers from neighboring states.

Because of moderately high fertility, falling mortality rates, and labor immigration, the Ivoirian population was fairly young by world standards. About 45 percent of the 1987 population was under the age of fifteen, and the dependency ratio--the number of elderly and young dependents in relation to 100 working-age adults--was 92 nationwide. There were 110 males per 100 females, reflecting the largely male immigrant work force.


Updated population figures for Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast


Ivory Coast

Ethnic Diversity

The population of Côte d'Ivoire is ethnically diverse. More than sixty indigenous ethnic groups are often cited, although this number may be reduced to seven clusters of ethnic groups by classifying small units together on the basis of common cultural and historical characteristics. These may be reduced to four major cultural regions--the East Atlantic (primarily Akan), West Atlantic (primarily Kru), Voltaic, and Mandé--differentiated in terms of environment, economic activity, language, and overall cultural characteristics. In the southern half of the country, East Atlantic and West Atlantic cultures, separated by the Bandama River, each make up almost one-third of the indigenous population. Roughly onethird of the indigenous population lives in the north, including Voltaic peoples in the northeast and Mandé in the northwest.

In Côte d'Ivoire, as across Africa, national boundaries reflect the impact of colonial rule as much as present-day political reality, bringing nationalism into conflict with centuries of evolving ethnic identification. Each of Côte d'Ivoire's large cultural groupings has more members outside the nation than within. As a result, many Ivoirians have strong cultural and social ties with people in neighboring countries. These centrifugal pressures provided a challenge to political leaders in the 1980s, as they did to the governors of the former French colony.

Most representatives of East Atlantic cultures are Akan peoples, speakers of languages within the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Many are descendants of eighteenth-century migrants from the kingdom of Asante. The largest Akan populations in Côte d'Ivoire are the Baoulé, who make up nearly 15 percent of the total population, and the Agni (Anyi), who make up only about 3 percent of the total. Much larger Akan populations live in Ghana and Togo. Akan societies are generally organized into farming communities but have a history of highly centralized chiefdoms and kingdoms tracing descent through maternal links. In the region that is now Côte d'Ivoire, they did not form large empires like the Asante of Ghana.

Smaller groups live in the southeastern lagoon region, where contact and intermarriage between the Akan and earlier inhabitants have resulted in ways of life that reflect elements of several cultural traditions. These Lagoon cultures comprise about 5 percent of the population. They depend on fishing and crop cultivation for subsistence and are not organized into centralized polities above the village level.

Across the Bandama River, West Atlantic cultures are represented by Kru peoples, probably the oldest of Côte d'Ivoire's present-day ethnic groups. Traditional Kru societies were organized into villages relying on hunting and gathering for subsistence and descent groups tracing relationships through male forebears. They rarely formed centralized chiefdoms. The largest Kru population in Côte d'Ivoire is the Bété, who made up about 6 percent of the population in the 1980s.

In the north, cultural differences are greater than in the south. Descendants of early Mandé conquerors occupy territory in the northwest, stretching into northern Guinea and Mali. The nation of Mali took its name from one of the largest of these societies, the Malinké. In the 1980s, Mandé peoples--including the Malinké, Bambara, Juula, and smaller, related groups--made up about 17 percent of the population of Côte d'Ivoire.

To the east of the Mandé are Voltaic peoples. The most numerous of these, the Sénoufo, made up about 10 percent of the total population in the 1980s. The Sénoufo migrated to their present location from the northwest in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Both historical periods are still in evidence in two forms of social organization found in the area--one based on small descent groups and the other on more complex confederations similar to those of the Mandé.

<>Language Diversity
<>Lineage Patterns
<>East Atlantic Cultures
<>West Atlantic Cultures
<>Mandé Cultures
<>Voltaic Cultures

Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Language Diversity

Ivory Coast

French is the official language and is used throughout the country, but linguistic diversity still reflects the ethnographic mosaic of its peoples. Four of the eight major branches of the Niger-Congo language family are represented, including the Kwa, Atlantic, Mandé, and Voltaic (Gur). Language areas correspond closely, but not exactly, to the four cultural regions of the nation.

Agni and Baoulé, both Kwa languages and to some extent mutually intelligible, are the most widely spoken languages in the south. Variants of Mandé and Sénoufo are the most widely spoken in the north but are also heard in virtually all southern trading areas. Most Ivoirians speak two or more languages fluently, but no single African language is spoken by a majority of the population.

French is used in schools and commerce and is spoken more frequently by men than by women. Most publications, including government documents, are also printed in French. Vernacular newspapers are not widely available, although biblical texts and educational materials have been translated into major African languages.

Arabic is taught in Quranic schools, which are most common in the north, and is spoken by immigrants from Lebanon and Syria. Non-Ivoirian African languages are also heard, including Mossi, Gourounsi, Fanti, Ewe, Fon, and Wolof. Many Ivoirians understand English, which is taught in high school and the National University of Côte d'Ivoire (formerly the University of Abidjan), but English is not popular even among educated people.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Lineage Patterns

Ivory Coast

In Côte d'Ivoire, as in most of Africa, family relationships reflect beliefs about kinship that differ markedly from those of most Europeans and Americans. Kinship groups are relatively resistant to change through modernization, and as a result, one traditional descent group--the lineage--is so common that it can be discussed in general terms, without reference to specific Ivoirian cultures. The organization of the lineage is based on the belief that relationships traced through males and those traced through females are substantially different. Kinship terms and behavioral expectations differ accordingly.

The patrilineage, or group formed by tracing descent through male forebears to a male ancestor, is an important social unit throughout most of Africa. In eastern Côte d'Ivoire, however, many societies are organized into matrilineages, tracing descent through female forebears to one female ancestor. Each type of lineage includes both men and women, sometimes five or six generations removed from the founding ancestor, but the linking relatives are of one gender. In this way, second and third cousins within the same lineage may be considered closer relatives than first cousins in two different lineages, i.e., children of a brother and sister.

Lineages generally share corporate responsibility for socializing the young and maintaining conformity to social norms. Lineage elders often meet to settle disputes, to prescribe or enforce rules of etiquette and marriage, to discuss lineage concerns, and in general to preserve the group itself. They also serve as pressure groups on individuals, bringing nonconformists in line with socially accepted standards. Lineage rules usually require individuals to marry outside their lineage, and the resulting alliances are important sources of social cohesion. Although these practices were widely condemned by some of the teachings of early European missionaries and by colonial officials, they have been preserved nonetheless because they provide a coherent set of expectations by which people can live in harmony with the universe as it is perceived in that society.

Lineage ties serve to emphasize the unity of living and deceased relatives by descent through ritual observances and ceremonies. At times, however, lineages break apart in response to the pressure of interpersonal rivalries or when they become too large to maintain close ties. When such fission occurs, related lineages usually maintain some ties and celebrate occasions together. If they consider their alliance important enough to be preserved for several generations, the resulting confederation of lineages, usually termed a clan, may include thousands of individuals and become a powerful interest group in the regional or national context. Aside from their political potential, many aspects of lineage behavior and expectation are still important in Côte d'Ivoire, giving people their sense of history and social responsibility and serving to define the role of the individual in society.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - East Atlantic Cultures

Ivory Coast


Akan societies are best known for the large kingdom of Asante, which evolved in what is now Ghana. The westernmost Akan peoples--the Agni, Baoulé, and several smaller groups--are descendants of people who fled from Asante and now make up about one-fifth of the Ivoirian population.

Historians believe that Akan civilization evolved in stages, beginning about A.D. 1000, forming urban settlements by about A.D. 1400, and giving rise to the Asante and other large kingdoms by about A.D. 1600. They became known for their elaborate use of gold, their military organization, and their success in international trade. Military expertise probably provided the basis for their regional dominance, but their dramatic success from A.D. 1600 on also resulted from their use of slaves in gold mining and agriculture and from the spread of Islam.

Most Akan societies are organized into matrilineages (abusua). Each lineage is identified with a home village or section of a town, although lineage members may be dispersed. Lineages demonstrate their autonomy with respect to other similar groups through the ownership of a symbolic chair or stool, named for the female founder of the lineage. Possession of the ritually important stool is seen as vital to the existence of the group. Large lineages may segment into branches, each led by an elder or headman, but a branch does not possess a stool as a symbol of its social autonomy.

Despite their matrifocal center, Akan societies are dominated by men. Men occupy most leadership positions, but they succeed former leaders based on their relationship through their mothers and sisters. Thus, a leader is succeeded, and his valuable property is inherited, by his brother or his sister's son.

Matrilineal descent and inheritance produce particular strains in the social fabric under the pressures of modernization. Tensions often arise between a man's sons, who help him acquire wealth and property, and his sister's sons, who may inherit it. Similarly, a man is expected to support children of deceased maternal relatives, a demand that may conflict with the interests of his own children. Akan people used to cope with this contradiction by allowing a senior woman in the lineage to rule that a matrilineal relative had to relinquish his rights in favor of a man's son. More recently, the Ivoirian government has refused to enforce legal claims to matrilineal rights and has condemned, but not eliminated, practices related to matrilineal descent.

Agni political organization was derived from its lineage foundations, in that lineages grouped in villages were united as a chiefdom. The chief served as the guardian and protector of this domain and as priest, judge, administrator, and custodian of the sacred stool, which in the 1980s was still recognized as a symbol of unity of the entire chiefdom. An Agni chief was succeeded by a man nominated by the senior women of the lineage. This nominee, usually one of the deceased chief's matrilineal heirs, was confirmed, or on rare occasions rejected, by a council of lineage elders. Most of the chiefs' traditional political authority has been eroded or transformed by modern national law, but their ritual authority remained important in the 1980s, confirmed by their custody of the sacred stool.

The Agni were particularly successful at assimilating other groups into their political organization, with the result that many people in the southeast trace their ancestry both to Agni chiefdoms and to smaller, distinct societies that fell under Agni control. One mechanism of assimilation was grouping semiautonomous chiefdoms under an Agni paramount chief, who held ultimate authority over his subjects. In at least four regions, these polities evolved into kingdoms--Indénié, Moronou, Comoénou, and Sanwi--which still evoke strong loyalties and ethnic pride. The continuing importance of the kingdoms was demonstrated in 1959 and 1969, when Sanwi attempted to secede from Côte d'Ivoire in the hope of demonstrating Agni autonomy from Baoulé domination.

In 1988 the Baoulé constituted about 15 percent of the population, making this the nation's largest indigenous ethnic group, although the Agni population in neighboring states was larger. Baoulé society was less highly centralized than the Agni, with villages grouped into small chiefdoms. Baoulé agricultural successes were remarkable, however, partly because of careful control of land, which was held in common by an entire village and redistributed each year to those most efficient at cultivating it. Hunting supplemented agriculture.

The Baoulé were also successful in absorbing neighboring peoples into their society by political means and intermarriage. Baoulé women married freely into other societies, in part because their children inherited their lineage membership from their mother. As a result, many Baoulé still have extended kin ties reaching into other ethnic communities, and this network provides political support for Baoulé politicians. Assimilation by the Baoulé also involved the transfer of their myth of origin--which emphasized the value of agriculture, respect for authority, and individual sacrifice for society--to smaller neighboring groups.

Ivoirian president Houphouët-Boigny has used his Baoulé identity pragmatically to pursue political goals. For example, he refused to name a successor to his presidency, saying that to do so was not in keeping with tradition. At the same time, he condemned the Baoulé traditional practice of matrilineal inheritance and descent for failing to strengthen the unity of the nuclear family, which he considers the pillar of modern Ivoirian society and the mainstay of economic development.

Most influential among smaller Akan cultures of eastern Côte d'Ivoire are the Abron (Brong in Ghana), Abouré, Ehotilé, and Nzima. Together they make up only about 2 percent of the total population. All are matrilineal peoples with a heterogeneous population and mixed economy. None achieved the elaborate political centralization of the Agni nor the postindependence importance of the Baoulé.

Lagoon Cultures

Along the coastline from the nation's eastern border to the Bandama River is a series of lagoons, where fishing and trading dominate local economies. Lagoon societies include the Mekyibo, Attié, Mbato, Ebrié, Abidji, Adioukrou, Alladian, Avikam, Abbé, and others, each of which, in turn, is known by a variety of names within the region and is subdivided into smaller groups.

Residents of inland villages are subsistence farmers, and many lagoon peoples produce cash crops. Although not Akan language speakers, they speak related Kwa languages and are organized into matrilineages and chiefdoms similar to the Agni and Baoulé to the north. This cultural assimilation reflects the local history of occasional domination by Akan armies from the north. Ebrié, Attié, and Adioukrou societies are further segmented into age classes organized for warfare, mutual aid, and communal work projects. Age groups continued to operate in the 1980s, providing an important source of social cohesion.

Although the nation's capital, Abidjan, is in traditional Ebrié territory, the Ebrié made up less than 10 percent of the population of the city in the late 1980s. Many local groups have been displaced by Akan peoples and others moving into the densely populated southeast corner of the nation. Some of these survive in scattered villages; others were absorbed into the coastal economy by early French arrivals and flourished under this arrangement. As a result, this complex and heterogeneous lagoon region exhibits an eclectic variety of cultural and linguistic traits that defy simple classification.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - West Atlantic Cultures

Ivory Coast


The dominant peoples in the southwest region, where the forest zone reaches the coastal lagoons, are the Kru. Kru languages are a subgroup within the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo language family, related to those of the Akan and lagoon peoples to their east. Kru societies are found along the coast from Monrovia, Liberia, to the Bandama River in Côte d'Ivoire. They include the Bété, Dida, Guéré, Wobé, and several smaller groups.

Kru cultures generally lack the centralization characteristic of the Akan to the east. The basic social unit is the patrilineage, tracing descent through males to a common male ancestor for both men and women. The lineage, which usually coincides with a village, is further subdivided into segments or branches. Village leadership may be exercised by a council of elders, sometimes headed by a chief whose power is limited by the council. The result is an uncentralized, but not anarchic, society. Few status distinctions are recognized other than age and lineage membership, although many Krou people kept slaves from neighboring societies before the arrival of European slave traders. Villages maintain ties based on presumed common descent, reinforced by ceremonial exchanges and gifts. Unrelated villages maintained neutral relations but were rarely united into a larger polity until the colonial era.

For their livelihood, the Kru rely on farming supplemented by hunting in forest areas. Land is held collectively by members of a village but is worked by individual lineage branches or families. Age groups were traditionally assigned military and religious responsibilities, and they still organized communal work projects in the late 1980s. Women were important in the village, with responsibilities for most activity concerning crops. They also formed age groups or village councils, which were traditionally consulted before implementing political decisions, although women's councils lost influence under colonial rule.

The Bété, the largest Kru society, are probably the descendants of groups pushed southward from savanna woodland to forested areas by warfare to the north. They are divided into patrilineage-based villages, often allied with other villages by tracing descent to a common ancestor. Lineage exogamy prohibits marriage within the patrilineage and contributes to links among patrilineages through intermarriage.

Marriage is a family responsibility, as it is in many societies. The family of the groom compensates the family of the bride for their loss, a practice crudely translated as "brideprice ." This exchange legitimizes children of the marriage, who are considered members of their father's patrilineage, while their mother retains her membership in her father's lineage.

Polygyny, or plural marriage by Bété men, remained relatively common in the 1980s, although as in all societies, it was an expensive means of gaining prestige, sexual access, and children, and it was not recognized by Ivoirian law. Divorce, although not common, was socially acceptable and allowed children to retain their membership in their father's patrilineage even if they continued to live with their mother.

In the twentieth century, the Bété have been recognized for their success in cash cropping and for their widespread acceptance of Christianity. They have a strong ethnic consciousness despite these foreign influences and have been active both within the government and in antigovernment dissent groups since independence. They also have a long history of resistance to foreign domination and strong beliefs in their own cultural superiority.

Around the Bété are a number of smaller groups, including the Dida, Guéré, Wobé, Neyo, Niaboua, and several others. Most are organized into farming villages, with a greater dependence on fishing along the coast. Many villages share common basic features with neighboring groups, and most have an ethnically mixed labor force and large immigrant population. Some have adopted myths of origin of other groups to legitimize their pride in their past, and many maintain strong loyalties to the region, despite their apparent mixed origins.

The Southern Mandé

Dan and Gouro cultures of western Côte d'Ivoire share numerous culture traits in common with the Kru peoples to their south, but they speak languages related to that of the Mandé to their north. Their traditional political organization was not complex, resembling the villages of the southwest more than the highly centralized polities of the Mandé. Because of their cultural eclecticism, the Dan, Gouro, and smaller, related groups of westcentral Côte d'Ivoire are sometimes classified as Southern Mandé or "Peripheral Mandé," a label they would reject. They made up slightly less than 8 percent of the total population in the late 1980s.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Mandé Cultures

Ivory Coast

The largest cultural complex in northwestern Côte d'Ivoire is that of the Mandé peoples, descendants of renowned inventors of West African agriculture--independent of, but approximately coincident with, early crop domestication in the Middle East. As traders, artisans, and cultivators, they developed highly complex political structures. Two large empires are still remembered today--the Soninké Empire of Ghana, which dates from about the fourth to the thirteenth century, and the Malinké Empire of Mali. The Malinké, like the Soninké, extended their dominion into what is now northern Côte d'Ivoire between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. In about 1670, their Bambara subjects threw off Malinké rule and established several independent states, which were attacked by Fulani armies in the nineteenth century and subsequently fell under the domination of a Malinké conqueror, Samori Touré.

Most Mandé societies are organized into patrilineages and agricultural homesteads. Animal husbandry plays an important role in the economy, although commerce is also well developed, with large markets in both rural and urban settings.

Among the three Mandé groups that continue to dominate the northwest are the Malinké, also found in neighboring Guinea and Mali, and the Bambara, most of whom live in Mali. More recent Mandé immigrants to the region include the Juula, who are dispersed throughout the nation but are identified with the area near the city of Kong. None of these three groups retains its ancient hierarchical political structure, but each has a hereditary nobility and fairly extensive social stratification. The Malinké and Bambara group men and women according to fairly narrow age ranges, and the resultant sororities and fraternities serve to strengthen social solidarity and organize communal work projects.

Most Mandé people speak variants of a common language, sometimes referred to as Mandé-kan, and they share numerous other cultural traits. At the same time, they have different histories and myths of origin, and most important from their point of view, they have different religions.

The Bambara have retained the substance of local beliefs and practices and are known locally as pagans. The Malinké have adapted tenets of Islam to their native beliefs, creating a wide variety of Islamic and syncretic sects. The Juula are strongly Muslim--so much so that many Bambara refer to themselves as Juula if they convert to Islam. Similarly, in other areas of Côte d'Ivoire, Muslim Malinké are referred to as Juula outside their home area, in recognition of their Islamic beliefs. Non-Muslims in the northwest are often called Bambara, regardless of ethnic affiliation.

The term Juula is also a local term for a trader and is used ambiguously in the region to refer to merchants and sedentary descendants of former Juula. The lines of ethnic identity are also blurred because traders are often recognized authorities on Islamic law and may be Juula in both senses of the term.

The Juula have a history of itinerant preaching, teaching, and trading, and they won converts easily in areas characterized by patrilineal descent, patriarchal family organization, and plural marriage. The Wattara clan (jaamu) among the Juula was centered in the region of Kong, where it developed into a mini-kingdom surrounded by Sénoufo people and was destroyed by Samori Touré in the nineteenth century.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Voltaic Cultures

Ivory Coast

Voltaic cultures are found in northeastern Côte d'Ivoire, northern Ghana, and Burkina Faso. They share cultural similarities with the Mandé peoples to their west but have not influenced the political history of the region to the same extent. Northern Voltaic peoples--such as the Mossi, who are based outside Côte d'Ivoire--built large empires, but the Sénoufo and the Lobi are organized into small chiefdoms based on unilineal descent.

The Sénoufo occupy north-central Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, and Burkina Faso and are also known as the Seniambélé and Siena. Sénoufo is a Juula word meaning "speaker of Séné," but language is among the few culture traits that unify this heterogeneous group. They have several myths of origin, each popular in a different area. Several of these involve an ancestor known as Nangui or Nengué, who left the Juula capital of Kong to establish the Sénoufo city of Korhogo, which means "heritage." Sénoufo history refers to Juula traders as early as the thirteenth century, when Islam arrived in the region. The territory was raided by Samori Touré in the late nineteenth century, and the resulting decline continued into colonial times.

The Sénoufo economy is primarily agricultural. Commerce is well developed in the area, but in most cases it is conducted by Juula rather than Sénoufo traders. The close relationship between the Sénoufo farmer and the land is emphasized in religious observances and mediated through the lineage. Each lineage has a mythical ancestor, often identified with an animal that is said to have helped found the lineage. This animal, or "totem," occupies a special niche in the Sénoufo worldview, as the subject of a ritual taboo and symbol of social unity. The head of the lineage exercises moral and religious authority and is believed to propitiate local gods and ensure good harvests. Aside from the lineage head, status distinctions are relatively few, although many people kept slaves from other societies until well into the twentieth century.

Villages are unified by male age grades, uniting youths close in age within secret brotherhoods known as poro in this region and parts of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Poro societies have survived in part because they help maintain order, especially in times of social upheaval. They also serve as repositories of social customs and religious values, providing a conservative balance against the rapid acculturation in Ivoirian society as a whole.

Akan influence is fairly strong among the Sénoufo, some of whom have adopted matrilineal descent systems resembling that of the Akan. Villages were unified under the authority of an appointed chief during colonial times, a practice that drew villagers into the national system but also disrupted established channels of authority and was resisted by many of the culturally conservative Sénoufo people.

Adjacent to Sénoufo territory are the Lobi, Koulango, and several smaller Voltaic societies. They inhabit an isolated, relatively undeveloped corner of the country. They probably arrived in the area from the east and organized themselves in autonomous villages. They resisted the spread of Islam, which was brought by Juula traders and teachers over several centuries. More recently, they have rejected many aspects of European acculturation and lack the overall fascination with economic progress that characterizes much of the nation.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Foreigners

Ivory Coast

The presence of a large foreign population--estimated by some to be as high as 50 percent of the total in 1985--complicates ethnic relations in Côte d'Ivoire. The area was the scene of population migration and mobility long before the imposition of national boundaries. Many ethnic groups overlap present boundaries, placing citizenship and ethnic loyalties in conflict, and some foreigners have remained in Côte d'Ivoire long enough to feel they are Ivoirians. Official demographic and employment data often include immigrant workers and residents. Despite these complications, the government has attempted to codify the legal distinction between citizen and noncitizen, and this distinction is becoming increasingly important to many people.

In the mid-1980s, the largest single foreign minority group was the Burkinabé, most of Mossi ethnic identity, who numbered about 1.2 million-nearly one-half of the foreign population. Unlike most other foreigners, Mossi immigrants were concentrated in rural areas, where they worked as agricultural laborers. Some Mossi workers were also found in low-wage urban jobs.

Other ethnic groups represented in the foreign population included Krou peoples from Liberia, Fanti and Ewe from Ghana, and smaller numbers of Bobo, Gourounsi, Dogon, Hausa, Djerma, and Fulani from neighboring states. Lebanese immigrants, officially estimated at 60,000 but possibly numbering close to 200,000 in 1987, worked in commerce and business in many towns. The French population, once as high as 60,000, had declined to about 30,000, or the same number as at independence. Other Europeans and Africans were also found in this complex and cosmopolitan nation.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - RELIGION

Ivory Coast

Most Ivoirians practice local religions, which are sometimes infused with elements of Christianity or Islam, or both. Government estimates in the 1980s suggested that about one-fourth of the population was Muslim, and one-eighth, Christian--mostly Roman Catholic.

Islam and Christianity are practiced in a variety of forms throughout the country, as different social and spiritual problems bring forth a variety of responses. Islam has been practiced in the far north for roughly seven centuries, shifting its appeal over this time from its strength as a world religion and its basis in written testaments to its symbolic importance as an alternative to European religions. Christian missionaries arrived at the coast in the seventeenth century but did not win converts in large numbers until the nineteenth century. Christianity's appeal was strongest among educated Africans and those who sought advancement through European contact. Christian holidays are officially recognized, but Muslim celebrations are also held, and, as in many areas of national life, tolerance is the general attitude toward the practice of religion.

Religious communities generally coexist peacefully, in part because no world religion has been enthusiastically embraced by a majority of people. Conversions have been an individual matter in most cases, and many families include Muslims and Christians living together. Religious tolerance is also part of government policy. The president personally contributes to the cost of building mosques and churches, and he encourages both Muslims and Christians to assist in projects undertaken by other religious communities. Religious practitioners have also earned substantial goodwill through the services they offer their communities, especially in health and education, and by their overall contribution to social harmony.

The Constitution calls for a secular state, although this is not interpreted as strict separation of church and state. Officials often attend religious ceremonies as representatives of the state, and some mission schools receive government aid. Missionaries are generally welcomed throughout the nation, although their teachings seldom replace centuries-old systems of spiritual belief and practice that form the basis of cultural unity.

African religions have maintained their credibility because they provide effective explanations for many of life's dilemmas in ways that can only be understood in their cultural context. Local religions reassure people that they are living in harmony with the universe and that this harmony can be preserved by maintaining proper relationships with all beings. For this reason, separating religion from other aspects of life serves to distort, rather than clarify, its meaning.

According to most local belief systems, spiritual beings--a creator, ancestral spirits, and spirits associated with places and objects--can influence a person's life and luck. This is the major premise on which belief and practice are based. The distinction between the spiritual and physical "worlds," in Western secular terms, is unimportant in the face of what is interpreted as overwhelming evidence that physical events may have spiritual causes.

Lineages are also important in understanding the organization of many Ivoirian religions. The spiritual unity of the descent group transcends distinctions among the unborn, the living, and the deceased. In this context, religious differences are not based on disagreements over dogma or doctrine. Rather, groups living in different social and physical environments encounter different spiritual and physical dangers, and their religious needs differ accordingly. This diversity accounts, in part, for early missionaries in West Africa who often described the spiritual "chaos" they encountered, when they were actually observing different social groupings, each with different spiritual obligations to ancestral and other spirits, acting in accordance with common beliefs about the nature of the universe.

<>Local Religions
<>Syncretic Religions

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Local Religions

Ivory Coast

Religions of the South

Most Akan recognize a supreme being, Nyame, who created all things and from whom lesser gods derive their power. Nyame is not worshiped directly but is approached through intermediaries. These lesser gods (abosom) may inhabit lakes, streams, rivers, or trees. Below them are minor deities whose power is invoked through amulets or charms (suman) worn for protection.

Ancestral spirits (samanfo) surpass these deities in importance among most Akan peoples, as it is the ancestors who safeguard the prosperity of the lineage and provide assistance in meeting daily challenges. Ancestral spirits are often consulted, offered food and drink, and reminded that people are depending on them, in the hope that an individual will be able to act with confidence, especially in dealing with others in the lineage. Failure to perform sacrifices to ancestral spirits not only damages a person spiritually but also brings forth the wrath of the ancestor and can result in tragedy or unhappiness.

An individual's spirit, or soul (elaka among the Agni; okra among the Baoulé), is immortal and indestructible. A living individual also possesses other spiritual substances, including sunsum, which is adaptable and determines a person's character, and mogya, which determines a person's membership in a matrilineage. Through transgressions--failure to perform rituals or obey moral precepts--an individual can damage the soul or lose it entirely. Upon death, the soul (or in some areas, part of the soul) may enter the kingdom of the dead, where its existence is happy and peaceful, or it may reenter a human being to continue on its path toward fulfillment.

Akan religious practitioners include lineage heads, village chiefs (when the head and the chief are not the same individual), and priests who officiate at ritual observances for cults honoring specific deities. These priests (akomfo) undergo extensive training as apprentices to established practitioners. Priests can also act as diviners, and the most esteemed among them are believed to be clairvoyant, able to locate the source of spiritual difficulty for their clients, who consult them for a fee. They also give instructions for coping with adversity. Priests sometimes act as doctors, since many diseases are believed to have spiritual causes.

Sorcerers (obayifo) are spiritual practitioners who, in the Akan worldview, bring about evil. Their actions are believed to be motivated by envy or hatred, and, it is feared, they may be employed by one's enemies. Sorcery often consists of poisoning, which may be counteracted by a priest or detected by a diviner, but one of the hazards of dealing with the spiritual realm is that sorcerers are sometimes disguised as priests or diviners. A person may use amulets or other objects to ward off the evil effects of sorcery, but these are sometimes powerless against the anger of an ancestor.

Collective religious ceremonies are important to the life of many Akan peoples. The most important of these is the yam festival, which serves several functions. It is a memorial service for the dead and begs for their protection in the future; it is a time of thanksgiving for good harvests; and it is a ritual of purification that helps rid the group of evil influences. It also provides an opportunity to recall the discovery of the yam--now an important part of the diet of many Akan people--and to salute the Akan chief who, it is said, risked his life by tasting this unknown food before others in his chiefdom. The yam festival is considered vital to the group's survival, and it serves important social functions-- it defines the group, symbolizes its unity, and reminds people of their obligations to others.

Religion among the Kru peoples of the southwest resembles that of the Akan, with an important difference in the presence of a second powerful deity alongside the creator. This second god is an evil deity or devil, who works against the creator god, producing a duality that is an important theme in Kru culture. All individuals exhibit a balance of good and evil, in this view, and maintaining this balance is important both to the individual and to the entire universe.

Religions of the North

Northern religions contain the notion of dual deities found in the southwest, although the two often complement rather than oppose each other. Ancestral spirits are especially important, because it is believed that they can directly influence an individual's fortunes in this life.

The cosmology of the Mandé peoples of the northwest is described in their myth of origin, variants of which are retold throughout the region. The myth recounts God's creation of the universe and of four sets of twins from seeds. They were commanded to populate the earth and teach their offspring how to grow crops. They used the first music to plead for rain, and the Niger River was formed from the resulting series of floods. Each area along the river is associated with a wild animal that either prevented the sowing of seeds or protected the fields. Features of the river and surrounding terrain are also associated with activities of the first ancestors, reinforcing the bond between the group's spiritual existence and the land--a bond that has confused foreign missionaries, government officials, and development workers in recent decades.

In Lobi society in the northeast, divination is important as a means of determining the cause of death, disease, or other misfortune. Diviners do not predict the future; rather, they prescribe a course of action that emphasizes accepted social values in an effort to help people cope with present-day dilemmas. The diviner's role is similar to that of a counselor or confessor, who reminds people of the need to maintain proper relationships with all beings and provides them with a new perspective on relationships that have gone wrong.

Secret societies are found in several areas of northern Côte d'Ivoire. They serve important functions in the initiation and education of the young, and they provide vehicles for preserving beliefs about the past. Senior members are responsible for ritual instruction of new members and for the observance of funerals and ceremonies to ensure agricultural prosperity. Blacksmiths have secret societies of their own, and in some areas this occupational group is believed to have special spiritual powers. Medical and ritual specialists also undergo apprenticeships with established practitioners, thereby reinforcing their status.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Islam

Ivory Coast

Islam is a monotheistic religion based on revelations received in seventh-century Arabia by the Prophet Muhammad. His life is recounted as the early history of the religion, beginning with his travels from the Arabian town of Mecca about 610. Muhammad preached a series of divine revelations, denouncing the polytheistic religions of his homeland. He became an outcast from Mecca and in 622 was forced to flee to the town of Yathrib, which became known as Medina (the city) through its association with him. The flight (hijra) marked the beginning of the Islamic Era and of Islam as a powerful force in history, and it marked the year 622 as the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Muhammad ultimately defeated his detractors in battle and consolidated his influence as both temporal and spiritual leader of most Arabs before his death in 632.

After Muhammad's death, his followers compiled those of his words that were regarded as coming directly from God in the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam. Muhammad's teachings and the precedents of his behavior as recalled by those who knew him became the hadith (sayings). From these sources, the faithful constructed the Prophet's customary practice, or sunna which they endeavor to emulate. The Quran, hadith, and sunna form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of the faithful in most Muslim countries.

Islam came to West Africa in three waves. In the ninth century, Berber traders brought the faith from North Africa to the ancient empire of Ghana. Beginning in the thirteenth century, the Malinké rulers of the Mali Empire contributed to its spread throughout much of the savanna, a process that continued into the eighteenth century, when the Juula established a Muslim kingdom in what is now northern Côte d'Ivoire. Finally in the nineteenth century, the Malinké warrior Samori Touré contributed to the southward spread of Islam.

The central requirement of Islam is submission to the will of God (Allah), and, accordingly, a Muslim is a person who has submitted his will to God. The most important demonstration of faith is the shahadah (profession of faith), which states "There is no God but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his prophet." Salat (daily prayer), zakat (almsgiving), sawm (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) are also required.

In Côte d'Ivoire, only the most devout Muslims pray, fast, and give alms as required by strict tenets of Islam, and only the most wealthy perform the hajj. Most Ivoirian Muslims are Sunni, following the Maliki version of Islamic law. Sufism, involving the organization of mystical brotherhoods (tariqa) for the purification and spread of Islam, is also widespread, laced with indigenous beliefs and practices. The four major Sufi brotherhoods are all represented in Côte d'Ivoire, although the Qadiriya, founded in the eleventh century, and the Tidjaniya, founded in the eighteenth century, are most popular. The Qadiriya is prevalent in the west, and the Tidjaniya, in the east. The other two major Islamic brotherhoods have few adherents in Côte d'Ivoire. The Senoussiya is identified with Libya, where its influence is substantial. The Ahmadiya, a Shiite sect originating in nineteenthcentury India, is the only non-Sunni order in Côte d'Ivoire.

The significant religious authority is the marabout. He is believed to be a miracle worker, a physician, and a mystic, who exercises both magical and moral authority. He is also respected as a dispenser of amulets, which protect the wearer--Muslim or non-Muslim--against evil. The influence of marabouts has produced a number of reactions in Ivoirian society, among them a series of reformist movements inspired by Wahabist puritanism, which originated in nineteenth-century Saudi Arabia. These reform movements often condemn Sufism and marabouts as un-Islamic, but the poor see that marabouts often speak out on behalf of the downtrodden and that reform movements appear to support the interests of wealthier Muslims.

Hamallism began as an Islamic reform movement in the French Sudan early in the twentieth century and has provided a channel for expressing political and religious discontent. Its founder, Hamallah, was exiled from the French Sudan to Côte d'Ivoire during the 1930s. He preached Islamic reform tempered by tolerance of many local practices, but he condemned many aspects of Sufism. Orthodox brotherhoods were able to convince the French authorities in Côte d'Ivoire that Hamallah had been responsible for earlier political uprisings in the French Sudan. Authorities then expelled Hamallah from Côte d'Ivoire and banned his teachings.

The relative success of Islam may be related to its compatibility with many aspects of African culture--for example, plural marriage for men, which was opposed by Christian missionaries. Nonetheless, Islam was also embraced because it provided symbolic identification with successful traders and travelers throughout the world, and it was seen as an alternative to European religion. Its agents were black, and it preached on behalf of those who lacked the trappings of Western civilization. In the 1980s, about one-fourth of all Ivoirians, including most Juula and Malinké people, called themselves Muslims.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Christianity

Ivory Coast

Only about one-eighth of the population was Christian in the 1980s. In general, Christianity was practiced by the middle class and in urban centers of the south. It was most prevalent among the Agni and lagoon cultures of the southeast, least so among the Mandé of the northwest. Roman Catholicism was the largest Christian religion, but Methodist, Baptist, and a number of smaller mission churches also existed.

Roman Catholicism made a brief appearance in Côte d'Ivoire in the mid-seventeenth century and reappeared two centuries later when French missionaries began to work among the Agni. The first African Roman Catholic mission in Côte d'Ivoire was established in 1895, and the first African priest was ordained in 1934. In the 1980s, the Roman Catholic Church operated seminaries and schools throughout the country. Although Côte d'Ivoire is officially a secular state, the president expressed pride in Abidjan's large Roman Catholic cathedral and alone funded construction of a basilica at Yamoussoukro, his birthplace, by 1990. Some villages have also adopted patron saints, whom they honor on both secular and religious holidays.

The largest Protestant religion as of the mid-1980s was Harrism, begun in 1914 by William Wade Harris, a Liberian preacher who proselytized along the coast of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. Harris set an example for his followers by leading a simple life and eschewing conspicuous wealth. He condemned the use of amulets and fetishes as idolatry, and he preached against adultery, theft, and lying. His was a simple, fairly austere form of Christianity, which was open to Roman Catholics and Protestants and did not preach open defiance of colonial authority.

In 1915 Harris was expelled from the region by an uneasy colonial governor, an action that revitalized his church, leaving dozens of small "Harrist" churches along the coast. A decade later, Methodist missionaries made contact with Harris and attempted to continue his work among the lagoon peoples. Harris succeeded in part because of his ethnic background--he was African but not Ivoirian--but also because he converted women as well as men--a practice that had been scorned by earlier Christian missionaries who failed to recognize the impact of matrilineal descent on an individual's spiritual life. Harrism was subsequently recognized as a branch of methodism.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Syncretic Religions

Ivory Coast

Both Islam and Christianity have been adapted to indigenous religions in a variety of ways. Beyond these localized versions of world religions, however, are complex systems of belief and practice that incorporate many elements of more than one religion. Most widely recognized among these syncretic religions are numerous offshoots of Harrism along the coast, where new prophets, preachers, and disciples blend traditional beliefs, Harrism, and modern-day political advice to help deal with the problems of everyday life.

Syncretic religions are generally more common among minorities in a particular area or among groups that perceive themselves to be resisting political domination by their neighbors. The Agni have remained heavily Catholic, for example, whereas the neighboring Baoulé have evolved a variety of syncretisms, following prophets that promise good fortune as a reward for allegiance to them. Small groups in the far northeast have also evolved a variety of belief systems to maintain their traditions, incorporate selected aspects of Islam, and resist domination by outsiders.

Ivory Coast


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For centuries Côte d'Ivoire has been the scene of social and economic change brought about by cross-cultural contact, trans-Saharan and coastal trade, and innovation by local inhabitants. Established patterns of change were dramatically altered by the imposition of colonial rule and the transition to independence, and by the 1980s patterns of social and cultural change reflected responses to these disruptions and to the processes and policies of government.

The colonial imposition of plantation agriculture allowed the emergence of the first nontraditional African elite, when those who could claim rights to land began to employ farm laborers to produce cash crops for the colonial regime. This group of planters, as they came to be known, formed the core of the earliest Ivoirian political machine, which continued to influence the course of change in the 1980s. Alongside the rural elite, a fledgling civil servant middle class also appeared in response to the needs of the bureaucracy, as new levels of political awareness and activism surfaced throughout the region.

The African Agricultural Union (Syndicat Agricole Africain- -SAA), formed in 1944 as a union of planters, led the opposition to colonial agricultural policies. Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a Baoulé elder and French-trained medical doctor, became head of the SAA and of the preindependence movement, the Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (Parti Démocratique de la Côte d'Ivoire--PDCI), which emerged to lead the struggle. The PDCI emphasized participation through traditional ethnic group leaders and ethnic committees (comités ethniques). Ethnic committees helped channel grass-roots participation in the political process, but in 1985 they were replaced by local committees (comités de base).

From the French perspective, those who had gained wealth and prestige by exploiting new opportunities in the changing environment were considered most qualified for political decision making on behalf of the colony. Houphouët-Boigny gained a multiethnic constituency as leader of the PDCI by acting as a broker between colonial officials and emerging African elites, and especially by opposing colonial forced-labor policies. During the 1950s, the PDCI gradually adopted a strategy of collaboration with colonial officials, a strategy Houphouët-Boigny pursued successfully enough to become the nation's first president at independence in 1960.

Even as an early leader in the preindependence PDCI, Houphouët-Boigny had defined interest groups and grievances for the nation. In 1974, after a decade of moderate discontent and dissidence, he convened a series of dialogues that served the dual purpose of airing cross-ethnic grievances and maintaining the president's image as a traditional-style leader, using the analogy of the African "palaver" (palabre). Teachers, students, former students, parents of students, tenants, union members, union leaders, transporters, the military, and the party youth wing, the Movement of Ivoirian Primary and Secondary School Students (Mouvement des Etudiants et Elèves de Cô d'Ivoire--MEECI), were invited. Excluded were representatives of the growing number of unemployed and of ethnic groups, with the notable exception of the Lebanese community.

Economic modernization paralleled political and social change in the shift from colonial to African power arrangements. Spurred by the opening of the Vridi Canal to the Gulf of Guinea in 1950 and the concentration of government functions in the southeastern port of Abidjan, population migration toward the south increased, and secondary towns developed along routes to Abidjan. Modernization essentially became the process of urbanization, and the distinction between urban and rural came to symbolize the widening rift between rich and poor.

<>Urban Society
<>The Role of Women

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Urban Society

Ivory Coast

Urban ethnic associations performed important social functions, from the initial reception of new migrants to the burial of urban residents. They also served as important mutual aid networks and facilitated communication with home villages. Rapid urbanization brought together people from numerous ethnic groups, however, and these contacts contributed to changing values and produced demands that went beyond the reach of traditional leadership roles. In this changing environment, ethnic organizations lost influence as cultural and economic brokers. Most grievances arose in response to government policy choices, and because these policies were not phrased in terms of ethnic groups, neither were grievances against them. Neighborhood and citywide problems demanded broader solutions, and multiethnic associations emerged as important interest groups.

Ethnicity was further diminished as a factor in urban politics as foreigners were drawn to Côte d'Ivoire's lucrative job market and as Houphouët-Boigny maintained fairly balanced ethnic representation among political appointments, without bringing traditional leaders into top levels of administration. He encouraged the most ambitious and educated young men from different regions to participate in nation building, and to do so through his patronage.

Houphouët-Boigny's patrimonial style of governing began to shape the social landscape, as the political skills he acquired during the waning years of colonial rule--his expertise as a strategist, his nonconfrontational manner of dealing with political rivals, and his paternalistic approach to allies--helped consolidate his support. In the late 1980s, he continued to emulate the style of his Baoulé elders, softening strong leadership enough to maintain broad popular support, satisfying crucial popular demands, and co-opting potential opponents.

As a result of these factors--the urban emphasis, the relative unimportance of ethnic differences, and Houphouët-Boigny's patrimonial style of governing--a self-perpetuating elite emerged. Social relations were ordered more by access to status, prestige, and wealth than by ethnic differences, and for most people the locus of this access was the government. Wealth and government service became so closely linked that one was taken as a symbol of the other.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Elites

Ivory Coast

Access to land, housing, secondary education, jobs, and social services determined paths of opportunity and social mobility in Ivoirian society, where, for the first three decades after independence, there were clear-cut cleavages between a ruling elite and people who lacked privileged access to resources. This self-reinforcing system allowed a wealthy, urban, privileged minority to receive most of the benefits available to the society as a whole. For example, most urban land concessions were granted to people in government and administration and to their relatives and clients. In fact, political appointments were often accompanied by land concessions in Abidjan, and many Ivoirians attributed the scarcity of land and high levels of rent to this form of patronage.

Urban housing was also a fairly good measure of political status. Cabinet ministers received monthly housing allowances and lived in relative luxury. Government housing policy favored construction of expensive quarters for upper-income families. Rents were high as a proportion of income and often required deposits of several months or years rent in advance. Building a private home required "good standing" within the community in order to meet credit and permit restrictions.

Secondary education was also an important urban resource and vehicle of social mobility. Although primary schools were found throughout the country, secondary schooling was primarily an urban activity, channeling graduates into urban occupations and contributing to the rural exodus. A large proportion of pupils who entered primary school were eliminated at crucial points in the education ladder, especially through limits on secondaryschool and university admissions, but many also dropped out throughout the system. In general, students' educational attainments reflected their parents' level of education. Even when the government achieves its goal of universal primary education, access to secondary schooling is expected to remain an extremely limited, highly valued resource.

By the 1980s, employment had become the most significant indicator of social status. High-level government employees earned salaries several times the national average, and public sector salaries generally exceeded those in the private sector, although this situation was changing in the late 1980s as the government succeeded in freezing civil service pay scales. Rural wages lagged far behind those in urban areas, where the number of unemployed far exceeded the number of available jobs. In a circular fashion, those who were employed had an edge in the job market and in most other areas of social life. Social services were more readily available to those who had jobs or had just lost them, and social service organizations tended to be located in wealthier sections of town. In general, the distribution of government subsidies helped to maintain the distance between urban elites and the rural and urban poor.

The Ivoirian middle class was still a small minority, primarily traders, administrators, teachers, nurses, artisans, and successful farmers. The middle class constituted the highest social stratum in rural areas and some small towns, but the majority of small farmers were not included, nor were the many low-wage earners in urban areas. Middle-class status was, in Côte d'Ivoire as elsewhere, marked by continual striving, for one's self and one's children, to acquire the symbols of wealth. In cities, opportunities for social mobility were limited for the middle class and the poor, who continued to depend on the patronage of the elite to achieve most of their goals.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - The Role of Women

Ivory Coast

Houphouët-Boigny's political style and longevity shaped Ivoirian elites into a wealthy, male, educated social stratum. By the late 1980s, women were beginning to emerge within this group, as education and acculturation enabled them to challenge the established order. Official attitudes toward the status of women were pragmatic, like most official attitudes in Côte d'Ivoire. Beliefs about the role of women in society were partly the result of ethnic conditioning, however, and the cultural bias against equality between the sexes was embodied in customary law, where ethnic diversity and cultural conservatism slowed the pace of modernization of regulations regarding women.

Role expectations for women changed, however, altered by colonial legislation, which liberated captives throughout francophone Africa in 1903, and then by the Mandel Decree of 1939, which fixed the minimum age of marriage at fourteen and made mutual consent a formal necessity for marriage. The Jacquinot Decree of 1951 invoked the power of the state to protect women from claims to their services--by their own or their husband's family--after marriage. Moreover, it enabled women to obtain a divorce more easily and invalidated in-laws' claims to any bride-price that had been paid to a woman's family to legitimize the marriage. This decree also recognized monogamy as the only legal form of marriage and allowed couples to marry without parental consent. These changes altered popular perceptions of marriage and established the colonial government as the authority on most aspects of the status of women.

At independence, the government of Houphouët-Boigny acknowledged existing decrees affecting the status of women and went on to establish the primacy of the nuclear family, raise the minimum age for marriage to eighteen, and condemn in general terms the notion of female inferiority. At the same time, however, legislation during the 1960s established a husband's right to control much of his wife's property, and it required a woman to obtain her husband's permission to establish a bank account or obtain a job. The government also placed restrictions on a woman's right to divorce, denied legal recognition of matrilineal rights of inheritance (inheritance by a man's nephews before his sons), and finally, condemned the practice of bride-price.

In 1963 women reacted to the extent and direction of government control by forming the Association of Ivoirian Women (Association des Femmes Ivoiriennes--AFI). They also persuaded the president to establish the Ministry of Women's Affairs (Ministère de la Condition Féminine) in 1976 and to appoint AFI leader Jeanne Gervais as minister. Gervais's goals were to obtain better educational and employment opportunities for women and to establish judicial equality for women. Legislation was enacted in 1983 to allow a woman to control some of her property after marriage and to appeal to the courts for redress of a husband's actions.

The status of women, in practice and in the law, was still well below that of men through most of the 1980s, but educational opportunities for women were improving at all levels. In 1987 about one-sixth of the students at the National University of Côted d'Ivoire were women, and the number of women in the salaried work force had also increased. Women made up almost one-fourth of the civil service and held positions previously closed to them, in medicine, law, business, and university teaching.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - Social Attitudes

Ivory Coast

Despite official descriptions of their society as "classless" and egalitarian in the 1980s, Ivoirian citizens were acutely aware of the distinction between the rich and the poor. People perceived "temporary distortions" in the social fabric--as social inequities were described by the president--as continuing trends. They attributed these distortions to a variety of factors but rarely to the role of the government in maintaining and subsidizing the elite. Regional and international competition in commodity markets was cited as a source of economic recession and hardship in general. Within Côte d'Ivoire, regional inequities were often blamed on mismanagement by presidential advisers but not on the president himself. Cabinet ministers, in particular, were often blamed for poor policy decisions and implementation and were often subjected to invidious comparisons with presidential wisdom and imagination.

Ivoirians were also adept at generalizing about each other and about immigrants to their nation, placing blame for social ills on ethnic groups more often than on socioeconomic forces. The Baoulé, the president's own constituency, were "too dominant" among high officeholders, in their critics' view. The related, and rival, Agni often expressed anti-Baoulé sentiments, while the Agni themselves, because of their tradition of hierarchical organization, were criticized for elitist attitudes toward other ethnic groups. Groups that avoided centralization among indigenous polities, such as the Bété, were stereotyped, in turn, as "unsophisticated." The Lobi and related groups from the northeast were similarly stereotyped. Non-Africans, even those born in Côte d'Ivoire, were blamed for "draining the wealth from the nation." Within the foreign work force, Mossi farm laborers were looked down upon, whereas French white-collar workers were both despised and emulated. These and other social reactions served to legitimize popular views of Ivoirian society and to confirm ethnic pride.

At the same time, Ivoirian society was permeated with a sense of apathy about social development, except among those in or very close to political office. Even those who acknowledged the nation's strengths often did not feel like active participants in its development. The large foreign presence within the economy, the entrenched political machine, and the relatively unchanging living conditions among the poor contributed to this sense of alienation from the overall progress that has marked Côte d'Ivoire since independence.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast - EDUCATION

Ivory Coast

The Ivoirian education system is an adaptation of the French system, which was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century to train clerks and interpreters to help administer the colony. The education system was gradually expanded to train teachers, farmers, and artisans, but by 1940, only 200 Africans had been admitted to primary schools. In 1945 the nation had only four university graduates, despite an official policy, described as "assimilationist," aimed at creating a political elite that would identify with France and French culture. The education system was made into a department of the French national system under the jurisdiction of the minister for education in Paris in the last decade of colonial rule, but by limiting access to a tiny minority of Africans, it generally failed to supplant Ivoirian values with French ones.

Education assumed much greater importance as independence approached, leading some village elders to establish and support village schools. Primary-school enrollments increased eightfold during the 1950s; secondary-school enrollments increased ninefold. Schools began to prepare students for the university, and scholarship programs were implemented to send a select few to Europe or to Dakar, Senegal, for further study.

During the 1980s, education was an important national priority; it received nearly one-third of the national budget in 1985. Responsibility for educational development lay with the Ministry of National Education and Scientific Research, which also prescribed curricula, textbooks, and teaching methods; prepared qualifying examinations; and licensed teachers, administrators, and private educational institutions.

As a result of its emphasis on education, Côte d'Ivoire boasted a 43 percent literacy rate overall, 53 percent for men and 31 percent for women in 1988. About 15 percent of the total population was enrolled in some type of educational institution, but enrollments were still much higher in urban than rural areas.

<>The Education System

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Ivory Coast - The Education System

Ivory Coast

The education system comprised three stages: primary school lasted six years, leading to a certificate of primary studies; secondary school lasted seven years, leading to a certificate or baccalauréat. University education, available only in Abidjan, culminated in a university degree. A large number of technical and teacher-training institutions also provided postprimary and postsecondary education. There was no system of adult education, although many adults attended night courses or, in rural areas, received literacy and other instruction via radio.

Most public schools were tuition free, although students paid an entrance fee and bought uniforms. Most supplies were free, and some students received government scholarships, usually in return for a period of government employment after graduation.

In 1980 approximately 14 percent of primary schools and 29 percent of secondary schools were private. Most of these were Catholic, staffed by religious and lay teachers, with salaries partially subsidized by government funding. Catholic schools operated primarily in the south and east but were also located throughout the country. Religious instruction was not permitted in government schools. Quranic schools were common in the north and were tolerated, but not supported, by the government. Some students attended both public and Quranic schools.

The school year was divided into three terms, beginning in September and separated by short Christmas and Easter holidays and a two-month summer recess. The average week consisted of approximately thirty hours of classes, Monday through Saturday morning. Most instruction encouraged mental discipline more than analytical thinking or creativity, by emphasizing rote memorization and oral recitation.

Primary Education

Approximately 1.5 million pupils attended primary school in 1987, representing about 75 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls below age fifteen. Primary-school enrollments increased at a rate of about 7.2 percent per year from 1960 to 1980, climbing to 9.1 percent between 1976 and 1980. This rate slowed after 1980, averaging 4.2 percent from 1981 to 1984 and 2.2 percent after 1984.

Children entered primary school at the age of seven or eight and passed through six grades, divided into preparatory, elementary, and intermediate levels. In the first six months, students mastered French, the language of instruction. Classes in reading, writing, and arithmetic were taught, gradually supplemented by history, geography, natural sciences, music, art, and physical education. Rural schools also required students to work in school gardens and learn basic agricultural methods. Standard school-leaving exams led to the certificate of elementary education (certificat d'étude primaires élémentaires--CEPE) and determined entrance to secondary institutions.

Secondary Education

About 250,000 students, or about 19 percent of primary-school graduates, attended government-funded secondary schools in 1987. Most of those preparing for university attended a collège or lycée, both of which included seven years of study divided into two cycles. Significant differences between these two institutions almost disappeared in the decades following their introduction by the French, but the lycée was generally administered by the national government and the collège by the municipal government with national funding.

After the first cycle or four years of secondary school, students took exams and were awarded the certificate of the lower cycle of secondary study (brevet d'étude du premier cycle - BEPC). This qualification generally allowed them to continue at the collège or lycée, enter a teacher-training institution, or find an entry-level job in commerce or government. After the second cycle of three years of study, graduates earned the baccalauréat, which indicated a level of learning roughly equivalent to one or two years of university study in the United States. In Côte d'Ivoire, as in France, it qualified a student for university entrance.

Secondary-school enrollments grew at a rate of about 11 percent per year from 1960 to 1984, but that rate has declined since 1984. The dropout rate was especially high for girls, who made up only 18 percent of the student body during the last two years of secondary school. An average of one-fourth of all secondary students received the baccalauréat.

Complementary courses were the most common type of alternative secondary education, administered as four-year programs to improve the academic education of those who did not qualify for collège or lycée. Complementary courses were established during the 1950s, when expanding educational opportunities was a high priority, and they were located throughout the country to compensate for the urban bias in secondary education. Complementary courses often provided a combination of academic and practical training, leading to an elementary certificate (brevet élémentaire--BE) or the BEPC, and enabled some students to enter the second cycle at a collège or lycée, or a vocational training institution.

Additional secondary-level courses were administered by religious organizations, most often the Catholic Church. These courses consisted of seven years of study divided into two cycles, with a certificate of completion awarded after each cycle. Teachertraining was available, often as an alternative to academic university preparation, at a variety of postprimary levels. Secondary-level teacher training could lead to a BE certificate and admission to a normal school (école normale), which might also be attended by students who left lycées or collèges after the first four years of study.

Vocational training, attended by 47,000 students in 1982-83, was available at a variety of postprimary institutions. This training included courses in agriculture, engineering, public works, transportation management, secretarial and commercial subjects, and building trades. Graduates often worked as apprentices or pursued further training at higher technical institutes.

Higher Education

The National University of Côte d'Ivoire, which was founded as the Center for Higher Education at Abidjan in 1959 and became the University of Abidjan in 1964, had an enrollment of 18,732 in 1987. Of this number, about 10,000 were Ivoirians and 3,200 were women. Still heavily dependent on French assistance, it included faculties of law, sciences, and letters and schools of agriculture, public works, administration, and fine arts. Other institutions of higher learning, known as grandes écoles, awarded certificates of training in specialized fields in cooperation with, but not as part of, the national university.


In the mid-1980s, five classes of teachers were distinguished by their educational preparation and salary level: professors, who taught at the secondary or university level; assistant professors at the secondary level; and instituteurs, instituteursadjoint , and monitors at the primary level. Teachers' salaries were generally higher than salaries of civil servants with similar qualifications in the mid-1980s, although many people still left teaching for more lucrative professions. The government responded to teacher shortages with a variety of training programs and short courses and by recruiting expatriates to teach at the secondary and postsecondary levels.

Teachers were organized into a number of unions, most of them incorporated into the government-controlled central union federation, (the General Union of Ivoirian). The National Union of Secondary School Teachers of Côte d'Ivoire--SYNESCI and two smaller unions remained outside the UGTCI and were outspoken in their criticism of government educational policies and educational finances in particular. Despite this tradition of criticism, many government officials achieved political office through leadership positions in the teachers union.

Ivory Coast


Ivory Coast

Economic progress since independence outpaced improvements in the general health status of the population, despite substantial improvements in health conditions. As in other areas, nationwide statistics mask sharp regional and socioeconomic disparities. In the mid-1980s, life expectancies ranged from fifty-six years in Abidjan to fifty years in rural areas of the south and thirty-nine years in rural areas of the north. The resulting overall national average of fifty-one years represented a marked improvement over that of thirty-nine in 1960.

Infant and child mortality rates remained high in rural areas, where access to potable water and waste disposal systems was limited, and housing and dietary needs often remained unmet. An estimated 127 infants per 1,000 births died in their first year of life, a rate that fell steadily from 1960 to 1985. In 1987 one-half of all deaths were infants and children under the age of five. Infectious diseases--primarily malaria, gastrointestinal ailments, respiratory infections, measles, and tetanus--accounted for most illness and death in children. Unsanitary conditions and poor maternal health also contributed to infant deaths. Close spacing of births contributed to high rates of malnutrition in the first two years of life.

In 1985 the nation had a generally adequate food supply, averaging 115 percent of the minimum daily requirement, but seasonal and regional variations and socioeconomic inequalities contributed to widespread malnutrition in the north, in poorer sections of cities, and among immigrants.

Public health expenditures increased steadily during the 1980s, but the health care system was nonetheless unable to meet the health care needs of the majority of the population. Medical care for wealthy urban households was superior to that available to rural farm families, and the health care system retained its bias toward curing disease rather than preventing it. Chronic shortages of equipment, medicines, and health care personnel also contributed to overall poor service delivery, even where people had access to health care facilities. In many rural areas, health care remained a family matter, under the guidance of lineage elders and traditional healers.

Staffing policies in the health sector led to low ratios of doctors to patients and even more severe shortages of nurses and auxiliary health care personnel in the 1980s. In 1985 there were 6.5 doctors per 100,000 people, and 0.7 dentists, 10.9 midwives, 24.9 nurses, and 11.2 auxiliaries. For this same population, 158 hospital beds were available, 120 of them in maternity care centers. In the northeast, these ratios were much lower, and rural areas of the southwest also received less attention by medical planners.

Maternal Health Care (MHC) centers taught classes aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children Fund's (UNICEF) also assisted in programs to vaccinate children against polio myelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, tuberculosis, yellow fever, and measles, and to vaccinate pregnant women against tetanus.

In 1987 the government began to implement testing programs for antibodies to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). By the end of that year, it had reports of 250 AIDS cases nationwide, most in urban areas. Although this number was small in comparison with many nations of East Africa and Central Africa, it represented twice the number of reported AIDS cases one year earlier and posed a potentially serious health threat. The government neither repressed reports on the spread of HIV nor treated them lightly. With French medical and financial assistance, and in collaboration with WHO's Special Program on AIDS (SPA), it began to implement blood screening programs and to establish public information centers to meet immediate needs. By 1988, however, no medium-term program to prevent the spread of HIV was in place.

The Ministry of Public Health and Population, which bore nationwide responsibility for health care planning, lacked adequately trained personnel and information management systems, and it shared the urban bias found throughout much of the government in the 1980s. It sought private sector involvement in disease prevention and declared the improvement of health care standards a national priority. At the same time, historical, ethnic, socioeconomic, and political factors contributing to the nation's health problems continued to complicate policy making at the national level.

Social Programs

Social programs generally benefited the wealthy more than the poor, subsidizing those who had access to resources and an understanding of public services. Public housing, a high priority under successive development plans since 1960, was an example of this trend. Most available public housing was in Abidjan. It was generally of high quality, so even with subsidized rents, it was beyond the means of poorer families. The result was government assistance to relatively high-wage earners.

Some World Bank programs were helping redress this imbalance by providing funding for low-income housing and low-cost transportation programs. World Bank assistance in housing in the late 1980s was also aimed at providing low-interest loans to enable families to purchase their own homes.

Social Problems

Through the 1980s, Côte d'Ivoire shared the concerns over poverty, unemployment, and crime that plagued developing and industrial countries alike. Human resource management was complicated by the large urban-rural ratio, however, and by population growth and economic recession. The cultural expectation of assistance through the extended family helped offset problems of unemployment, but high mobility within the work force resulted in more dispersed families, and this dispersal, in turn, contributed to rising problems of poverty and unemployment.

Poverty, population mobility, and ethnic and cultural diversity contributed to rising crime rates during the first two decades of independence. During the 1980s, statistics on white-collar crime--embezzlement, fraud, and misappropriation of funds--rose at a faster rate, and urban crimes such as robbery and theft generated widespread concern. In 1987 the president declared dishonesty and fraud a public disgrace and proclaimed his intention to wage a vigorous war against them. Drug abuse--primarily involving cocaine, marijuana, and heroin--was also declared a scourge against society, but the appropriate public response to these problems was not defined.

Ivory Coast

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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