San José State University
Department of Economics

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Thayer Watkins
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THE ECONOMIC HISTORY AND
ECONOMY OF CÔTE d'IVOIRE
IVORY COAST

THE ECONOMY OF IVORY COAST

The Ivory Coast Miracle

In contrast to Ghana, its neighbor to the east, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) achieved sustained economic growth and prosperity after independence. This success is largely due to the policies of its president, Félix Houphouet-Boigny (ou-fwoo-ay boin-yi).

Félix Houphouët-Boigny

Houphouet-Boigny, who died in 1993 at the age of 88, was born in 1905 in Ivory Coast when it was part of French Colonial West Africa. He belonged to a family of a tribal chief but became a doctor and a planter before going into politics. In 1944 he helped found the Syndicat Agricole Africain (Union of African Farmers) and in 1945 was elected to the French Assembly. In 1946 he was reelected to the French Assembly and formed a political party, Parti Democratique de la Cote d'Ivoire (Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast). His party was affiliated with the French Communist Party, which at that time was part of coalition governing France. In 1950 the French Communist Party left the ruling coalition and Houphouet-Boigny severed his ties with it. He rose in power and prestige. In France he was a member of the National Assembly and a cabinet minister and in Ivory Coast he was president of the territorial assembly and also the mayor of Abidjan. When French West Africa was offered independence, either as separate nations or as members of a federation, Houphouet-Boigny campaigned for self-government of Ivory Coast within the French Community. In 1960 he became president of Ivory Coast, a position he held throughout the rest of his life. He ran an autocratic, one-party state but he brought his opposition into the party rather than persecuting them. This process he called reconciliation.

Upon independence Houphouet-Boigny encouraged French technicians to stay and help develop Ivory Coast and about 50,000 did so. This was in contrast to Africanization programs carried out in other African countries which lost the trained and experienced technical personnel which were desperately needed in the years after independence. Also in contrast to most other newly independent nations Ivory Coast did not pursue some unrealistic industrialization program. Furthermore Houphet-Boigny remarked

Don't make the mistake of thinking that socialism will feed the people.

Instead Houphet-Boigny promoted a private economy which took advantage of Ivory Coast's comparative advantage in agricultural products and developed prosperous export industries in such things as coffee, mangoes, avocados, pineapples, and cacao (the pods from which cocoa and chocolate are made). Small technical developments such as plastic cones to cover plants during their early growth when they would be vulnerable to intense sunlight improved productivity.

Taxes were kept relatively low and government regulations held in check. As a consequence economic activity migrated to Ivory Coast from other regions in West Africa. Sometimes this took the form of migration and Ivory Coast's population grew from three million in 1960 to nine million in 1984 and 14 million in 1993. Production in high tax countries such as Ghana was smuggled into Ivory Coast to be marketed. This was especially true of cacao.

As a consequence of its successful policies Ivory Coast grew rich and stable. Ivory Coast's neighbors, such as Ghana, Guinea and Liberia, which were richer in 1960, stagnated and suffered from tyrannies. Houphouet-Boigny was autocratic but attempted reconciliation in his governance and limited state intervention in the economy. After Houphet Boigny's death the economic policies drifted from the successful strategy he had pursued.


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