Ivory Coast's Sweet Revolution: Colonial Legacy & the $100B Chocolate Battle

French Colonial Legacy: Ivory Coast's Complex Colonial Past

Ivory Coast, or Côte d'Ivoire, is a captivating West African country that captivates visitors with its cultural richness, diverse population, and economic promise. With a blend of indigenous traditions and colonial influences, Ivory Coast has established itself as a nation of vibrant cultures, stunning landscapes, and burgeoning industries. It offers a harmonious fusion of coastal beauty, modernity, and tradition, making it a truly exceptional destination within Africa. Moreover, Ivory Coast boasts UNESCO World Heritage sites and breathtaking beaches that further enhance its allure.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit the area, followed later by other European explorers. The Ivory Coast was colonized by the French. Initially declared as a protectorate in 1842, formal French colonial rule began in the 1880s during the scramble for Africa. By 1893, it became a French colony. It remained part of French West Africa until gaining independence in 1960.

The first encounters between Ivory Coast's indigenous population and European powers, particularly the French, took place in the 17th century. However, it was during the late 19th century that France began asserting its dominance over the region. Formal colonization began in 1893 when Ivory Coast became part of French West Africa, a federation of French colonies in the area.

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Image Source: French West Africa governor Louis-Gustave Binger in 1892

French colonization in Ivory Coast was driven by the exploitation of the country's abundant resources. Its fertile land provided an ideal environment for cultivating valuable commodities such as cocoa, coffee, and palm oil. French companies and European settlers established plantations to extract these resources, leading to an economic system centered around cash crops.

To support the growing plantation economy, French colonial authorities heavily relied on forced labor. Workers were recruited from other West African regions, resulting in a diverse ethnic composition within Ivory Coast. This influx of laborers played a significant role in shaping the country's demographic makeup and cultural diversity. 

French Influence in Ivory Coast: Politics, Economics, and Culture

French colonization in Ivory Coast brought about a process of cultural adaptation. The French administration introduced Western education, language, and legal systems, encouraging the indigenous population to adopt French customs and language. This led to a division between those who embraced these changes and those who clung to their traditional ways.

As the 20th century progressed, a growing sense of Ivorian identity started to take shape. Intellectuals and cultural figures sought to celebrate local languages, traditions, and histories, countering the dominant French cultural influence. This evolving identity fueled the desire for greater autonomy and self-governance.

Image Source: Google, Louis-Gustave Binger of French West Africa 

For several decades, Ivory Coast remained under French colonial rule, with French influence deeply ingrained in various aspects of society, including politics, economics, and culture. However, as the wave of change swept across the globe, the people of Ivory Coast began yearning for self-determination and autonomy.

In contrast to some other African nations, Ivory Coast's path to independence was characterized by diplomacy and negotiation. Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a prominent leader in the struggle for independence, utilized his diplomatic skills to negotiate with the French colonial administration. Through constitutional changes and negotiations, Ivory Coast gradually obtained self-governance.

In the mid-20th century, a powerful wave of nationalism surged across Africa, and Ivory Coast was caught in its transformative tide. The Ivorian people, fueled by a growing sense of pride and self-determination, became increasingly vocal in their demands for independence and the right to govern their own land. During this time, visionary leaders emerged, driven by an unwavering determination to guide their nation towards freedom.

Image Source: Google, President Félix Houphouët-Boigny with President John F. Kennedy

A Landmark Moment: Ivory Coast's Journey to Independence

In 1960, after years of negotiations and discussions with the French government, Ivory Coast achieved a significant milestone by gaining its long-awaited independence. This historic event on August 7, 1960, marked the official declaration of Ivory Coast's freedom from French colonial rule, setting the stage for a new era of self-determination and nation-building.

Under the leadership of its first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Ivory Coast embarked on a transformative journey to establish a stable and prosperous nation. The struggle for independence left a powerful imprint on the nation's history, serving as a testament to the resilience, determination, and indomitable spirit of its people.

While the legacy of colonization brought enduring challenges and complexities, Ivory Coast's history of colonial rule by France stands as a testament to the strength and fortitude of its citizens. The fight for independence serves as an enduring inspiration, reminding future generations of the significance of preserving and protecting the hard-fought freedoms that were won through unity, determination, and peaceful negotiation.

Challenges and Progress: Ivory Coast's Post-Colonial Journey

Following its hard-fought independence, Ivory Coast confronted a series of challenges as it embarked on the path of nation-building. The post-colonial era brought forth complexities stemming from ethnic diversity, economic disparities, and the imperative to establish effective governance.

Under the leadership of President Houphouët-Boigny, Ivory Coast experienced a period marked by economic growth and stability. The country's focus on agricultural exports, notably cocoa, played a pivotal role in driving its economic development. President Houphouët-Boigny's policies aimed at fostering unity and reconciliation played a significant part in maintaining internal harmony amidst the diverse ethnic composition of the nation.

While the achievement of independence was a momentous occasion, Ivory Coast faced numerous challenges in the post-colonial era. The task of nation-building was not without its hurdles, including ethnic diversity, economic disparities, and the need to establish functional governance.

Under President Houphouët-Boigny's leadership, Ivory Coast experienced a period of economic growth and stability. The country's focus on agricultural exports, particularly cocoa, contributed to its economic development. The president's policies aimed at unity and reconciliation also played a crucial role in maintaining internal harmony.

Despite Ivory Coast standing as one of West Africa's largest economies, the majority of its population does not benefit from its economic prosperity. Approximately 40% of its nearly 27 million inhabitants live below the national poverty line, with over 40% experiencing food insecurity.

Impactful Conflicts: Ivory Coast's Civil Wars and their Lasting Effects

Ivory Coast has been profoundly shaped by two civil wars that had far-reaching and enduring consequences for the nation. The initial civil war, which erupted in 2002, emerged from political and ethnic tensions, leading to widespread violence and displacement. This conflict revealed deep-seated divisions and posed significant challenges to the country's stability.

The second civil war in 2010, triggered by disputed elections, further undermined Ivory Coast's stability, resulting in escalated violence and the intervention of the international community. Both conflicts left indelible scars on the social fabric, economy, and political landscape of the nation, underscoring the urgent need for reconciliation and long-term stability.

Image Source: Google, FAFN rebels

From Beans to Billions: The Economic Impact of Ivory Coast's Cocoa Production

Chocolate is important to the Ivory Coast because it's the largest producer of cocoa in the world, making over 2 million tons a year. It makes 45% of the world's cocoa beans but gets only about 4% of the chocolate industry's estimated annual worth of $100bn.  

In 2024, the revenue generated from cocoa sales within Ivory Coast, like in supermarkets and convenience stores, is about US$11.4 million. It's expected that this revenue will increase each year by around 6.60% until 2028.

About 75 percent of the land in the Ivory Coast is suitable for growing crops, and almost half of its citizens work in agriculture, including many children. 

Measures have been taken to combat child labor, with initiatives launched to identify victims and investigate cases. Policy reforms in 2011 aimed to increase cocoa production and ensure farmers could earn a living, with farmers guaranteed a minimum price, although lower than international prices. 

However, deforestation rates remain high, with the country losing about 3 percent of its forests each year since 1960, raising environmental concerns.

Despite this challenge, the country's economic landscape extends far beyond its agricultural prowess. Ivory Coast boasts a diverse industrial sector, with numerous factories contributing significantly to its overall economic activity.

Moreover, Ivory Coast's economic strength is not limited to agriculture and manufacturing alone. The nation's trading dynamics reveal its remarkable potential in the oil sector as well. Notably, Ivory Coast stands out as an energy exporter, surpassing its oil import volumes. This highlights the country's authentic capacity to contribute as an oil exporter in the global market.

Furthermore, Ivory Coast's economic achievements have positioned it as the leading economy among a group of West African countries that share the same currency. This status reflects the country's robust financial standing and its ability to drive economic growth within the region.


Ivory Coast's journey to independence stands as a remarkable testament to the indomitable spirit of its people and the visionary leadership that guided them. Overcoming multifaceted challenges, the nation asserted its right to self-determination and emerged as a sovereign state. However, the echoes of its colonial legacy continue to resonate, particularly in the $100 billion battle within the chocolate industry.

Being responsible for nearly half of the world's cocoa production, Ivory Coast's cocoa farmers find themselves in a stark disparity. Despite their vital contributions, they receive a mere fraction—approximately four percent—of the chocolate industry's annual worth. The plight of these millions of cocoa farmers, surviving on an average of just $0.78 a day, is a poignant reminder of the persistent inequality and economic challenges that persist.

For Ivory Coast to truly flourish, it requires a harmonious blend of advanced democratic governance, equitable trade practices, and fair distribution of wealth. Recognizing the immense value of its cocoa industry, it is crucial that efforts are made to ensure that the farmers who toil the land receive just compensation for their labor.