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Reconciliation in the Land of Cocoa and Coffee

Cote d’Ivoire remains anonymous for many; but for those who are well-versed in geography and world history, the country is known as a prosperous nation exporting cocoa, coffee and palm oil globally. It has a diverse culture and a unique craft of producing masks. Cote d’Ivoire’s was at its peak in the 1960-1970s, crumbled down during the 1980-1990s, started to recover in 2007. A Glimpse of Ivory: General Information The Republic of Cote d’Ivoire is a small country found in Western Africa. It is bordered by Mali and Burkina-Faso on the north; Liberia and Guinea on the west; and Ghana on the East.

The country’s citizens are called Ivoirians and the official language is French. The present population as of 2007census, as cited by the United Nations, is 19. 3 million. Life expectancy for men is 48 years and for women, 49 years. The population adheres to three religions: Islam, Christianity and indigenous beliefs or animism. The recognized capital is Yamoussoukro but the administrative and power center is Abidjan (also the largest city). T The country’s climate is tropical along the coast and semiarid in far north.

It has three seasons: warm and dry from November to March, hot and dry from March to May, and hot and wet from June to October. It is one among the affluent African countries due to its economic ties with West. However, political turmoil in the recent years did not shield its economy from crashing. Until September 1985, the country’s English name, Ivory Coast, was originally used. The government declared that the country must be known in its French name, hence, Cote d’Ivoire. Uniqueness in Diversity: Culture

According to the Africa Guide, a website promoting African heritage, this small nation boasts of 60 ethnic groups; the primary groups are: Baoule in the center; Agri in the east; Senoufo in the north; Dioula in the northwest and west, Bete in the center-west and Dan-Yacouba in the northwest. Cote d’Ivoire is much known for its various masks. One of its celebrated and highlighted festivals is the Fetes des Masques (Festival of Masks). During the time of festivities, small villages conduct contests to pick out the best dancers and honor the forest spirits who are represented in different and elaborately designed masks.

The Baoule, Dan and Senoufo tribes are also best known for their wooden carvings and they carve masks specially dedicated to important persons. Masks symbolize the souls of those who died and lower deities. Pagne, a very precious fabric, has high demand market. Pagne has striking ethnic designs of wax-printed cottons. This fabric can be found in the fashion capital, Paris and also in New York. In Cote d’Ivoire, a young woman would not consider herself engaged unless she has at least four pieces of it. When a woman dies, her worth is measured by the number of pagne which she possessed while alive.

These are kept in a trunk after her burial. Treading the Past: History The Cote d’Ivoire’s ancient history is unknown. Portuguese ships began docking in its coastal line in the 15th century. Back then, three people groups inhabited the country, namely: Kru people from Liberia; Senoufo and Lobi peoples from Burkina-Faso. The 19th century saw the invasion of two Akan groups, including the Baoule. Around 1843-1844, the country became a protectorate of France and was subsequently transformed as one of its colonies.

Naval bases for France were constructed to establish control of the trading harbors. The Cote d’Ivoire is gifted agriculturally and the French banked on its potential to produce coffee, cocoa and palm oil. To further increase the production of these crops, plantations were established in the country. Most of these plantations were owned and managed by the French. Unlike neighboring countries, Ivoirians were not so much shipped to other countries for slave trading. However, they were converted as slaves in their own country due to the forced-labor system.

The Ivoirians felt the brunt of the colonial economic policy and struggled to change the system. One Baoule, by the name of Felix Houphouet-Boigny founded the country’s first agricultural trade union for African cocoa planters. His venture brought him fame and soon, he claimed prominence. He was elected to the French Parliament in a year. In 1945, France abolished the forced labor. Houphouet-Boigny worked closely with the French government. Cote d’Ivoire became autonomous in 1958. After two years, in 1960, the nation gained its independence from France.

Houphouet-Boigny was elected as the first president. His government advocated fair trade, allowing farmers to sell their products in good price. The nation’s economy prospered during his administration, capturing 40% of export shares in the West African region. Its economic ties with France and other countries in the West fro which it exported coffee; cocoa and palm oil catapulted Cote d’Ivoire to economic prosperity. It became the world’s third largest producer of coffee, lagging behind Brazil and Colombia. By 1979, it topped the list of global cocoa producers.

Cote d’Ivoire enjoyed a 20-year economic growth of nearly ten percent; the highest rating among Africa’s non-oil exporting nations. Another factor that contributed to its economic growth was the influx of European nationals in the country. The French community alone reached to 50,000; majority of them were professionals such as teachers and advisors. Houphouet-Boigny’s administration encouraged and was warm to foreign residents. During that period, Europeans and other foreign nationals were secure in the land. Houphouet-Boigny’s rule was firm and paternal.

Press freedom was very low and no opposition existed as only one party, his own party, was allowed. He poured great amount of funding to projects, especially to his home village, Yamoussoukro- which became the country’s capital/ The world took a sudden turn and a global recession in the 1980s shook the country’s economy. The country’s outside debt increased three-fold. A decade after, government servants and students went on strike, lambasted corruption and called on the government to come up with a multi-party democracy. Houphouet-Boigny died in 1993 and Henri Konan Bedie succeeded his leadership.

Bedie held on to his political power and sent his opponents to prison. The economy improved slightly, though. He took one great decision, and that was, to stress “Ivority” citizenship. He did it to crush his political rival of foreign descent from pursuing his position. His course of action ignited tensions among ethnic groups and excluded many immigrants from neighboring countries from Ivoirian nationality. His policies made him unpopular and in stark contrast to Houphouet-Boigny, who was keen on maintaining relationships between various ethnic groups.

A disgruntled and unsatisfied military overthrew Bedie’s government in December 1999 through a coup. According to the CIA World Factbook, the coup was the very first ever in the country’s history. The military positioned General Robert Grue in office. Bedie sought refuge in France. A presidential election was held in 2000 but Grue declared himself as the winner. This sparked protests among the Ivoirians. In one protest event, 180 people were killed; Grue was forced to relinquish the position and Gbagbo took over.

Another coup attempt was launched but failed in September 19, 2002. Troops attacked several cities but government troops had secured Abidjan by lunchtime. Gbagbo, who was then in Italy, flew back and announced that some of the rebels were hiding away in the shanty areas where migrants lived. What followed was a series of attacks and burning of thousand of homes, affecting much the residents. The 2002 uprising split the country into two. The rebel forces were in control of the northern part of the country while the Gbagbo’s government was at the helm in the southern region.

A ceasefire ensued and soon, a peace accord, the Linas-Marcoussis, was signed. This created a united government and granted ministerial positions to the rebel forces. Unfortunately, the unrest continued and the main problem was unresolved. Gbagbo and rebel forces (which adopted the name New Force) implemented the peace accord in December 2003, after it went stale for three months. Critical issues such as citizenship and land reform were not addressed; sparking another civil war. Over 120 people were killed in a rally, prompting foreign residents to flee.

The United Nations responded by drawing a Zone of Confidence between Gbagbo and the New Force. In March 4, 2007, Gbagbo and New Force leader Guillaume Soro signed another peace treaty- the Ougadougou Peace accord. This resulted to Soro’s appointment as Prime Minister, joining Gbagbo’s government. Part of the treaty were the following: to work together for the reunification of the country by dismantling the Cone of Confidence; to integrate the rebel forces into the national armed forces; and to hold elections.

Joining them in their peace endeavors were French and West African troops which remained in the country for the rehabilitation process. Bringing the Glory Back: Conclusion The country started well right after its independence. Sadly, the circumstances deteriorated fueled by economic recession and political feuds. Presently, the country is slowly recovering. It is hoped that in the midst of political and ideological differences, the unified government would really work hard to bring back the glory days of Cote d’Ivoire.

The present government is expected to bring reconciliation to the northern and southern regions. The two regions must be bridged and connected again to consolidate resources so that in the near future, prosperity will again flow in the land of cocoa and coffee.

Works Cited

Africa Guide. Accessed 06 February 2008. <http://www. africaguide. com/country/ivoryc/culture. htm> CIA-World Factbook. Accessed 06 February 2008. https://www. cia. gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/iv. html

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