A French colony since 1893, Ivory Coast became independent in 1960. Rich in cocoa and coffee, the country enjoyed economic and political stability under its first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who remained allied to the west while many other African countries flirted with Marxism or experienced violent changes of power. He was always careful to calm tensions between the country’s more than 60 ethnic groups. It also has a sharp religious divide, with a Christian south and a Muslim north.
He died in 1993, and his successor, Henri Konan Bédié, was less focused on avoiding tensions. Unlike Houphouët-Boigny, who welcomed in millions of immigrants from neighbouring countries, Bédié stressed the concept of “Ivority”. This was mainly to hurt his rival, Alassane Ouattara, whose father was from Burkina Faso.
In 1999, disgruntled soldiers under General Robert Guéï toppled Bédié in a coup. After a year of military rule, Guéï and Laurent Gbabgo, below, contested an election, with Ouattara again excluded from the ballot over nationality claims, much to the anger of his supporters in the north.