By Dodds, Klaus
Geographical , Vol. 83, No. 3
At the centre of the unfolding drama in the world's leading cocoa producer, the Ivory Coast (or to give it its official name since 1985, C6te d'Ivoire), is a hotel. At the time of writing, the Hotel Golf in Abidjan is playing host to presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara and his team. Ouattara's opponent, the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who has been in power since 2000, disputes the result of run-off elections and has refused to relinquish power. The result is an uneasy standoff that has ended the country's recent return to relative stability.
The Ivory Coast shares borders with Liberia, Ghana, Mali and Burkina Faso in West Africa. Similar in area to Poland, it has a population of about 20 million - mostly people of African descent, but also a small community of non-Africans, including French, Lebanese and Vietnamese. And as with other states in the region, the two main religions are Christianity (32 per cent of the population) and Islam (38 per cent).
Although the central city of Yamoussoukro is the country's official capital, the port of Abidjan is its main administrative and financial centre. Economically, the country's agricultural base is key, in particular the export of cocoa and coffee. Its GDP is estimated to be close to US$40billion and its per capita income is comparatively high in the region. As one of the stronger regional economies, it also has an immigrant worker population, in the main hailing from neighbouring states.
Ivory Coast became a French colony during the 1890s and gained its independence in 1960. For the first three decades of its existence, it was led by Felix Houphouet-Boigny, enjoying comparative stability and maintaining a close relationship with its former colonial power.
During the 1990s, the country entered a more difficult period, characterised by a coup d'etat in 1998. In 2002, it descended into a north versus south civil war triggered by ethnic, geographical and religious differences, and in large part provoked by the president, Henri Bedie, during the late 1990s. …