October 14, 1985 – Ivory Coast Changes its Name to “Côte d’Ivoire”

Originally, Portuguese and French merchant-explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries divided the west coast of Africa, very roughly, into four “coasts” reflecting local economies. The coast that the French named the Côte d’Ivoire and the Portuguese named the Costa Do Marfim —both, literally, mean “Coast of Ivory”— lay between what was known as”Upper Guinea”, and Lower Guinea. There was also a Pepper Coast, also known as the “Grain Coast” (present-day Liberia), a “Gold Coast” (Ghana), and a “Slave Coast” (Togo, Benin and Nigeria). Like those, the name “Ivory Coast” reflected the major trade that occurred on that particular stretch of the coast: the export of ivory.

In 1842 the French declared the area their protectorate. Formal French colonial rule was introduced in the 1880s following the scramble for Africa. In 1904, Ivory Coast became part of French West Africa until August 7, 1960 when the country regained independence from France.

It’s first leader after independence was Prime Minister Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who received a letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower on the same date recognizing the Republic of the Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast in West Africa

By decree dated on October 14, 1985, this day in history, the Ivoirian government decided to name the country “Côte d’Ivoire” and to no longer accept translations of this French name. According to Prof. Boubacar N’Diaye writing in “Not a Miracle After All… Côte d’Ivoire’s Downfall: Flawed Civil-Military Relations and Missed Opportunities,” in Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies, Vol 33, Nr 1, 2005, the decision revealed the “special” relationship between the country’s elites and the French language.

Several coups were attempted beginning in 1999, ushering in years of rebellion and disputed elections. In 2015, Cote d’Ivoire held very successful presidential elections and President Ouattara peacefully won reelection. President Ouattara introduced a new constitution in 2016, approved in a nationwide referendum.

According to the U.S. State Department:

U.S.-Ivoirian relations have traditionally been friendly and close. . . . The U.S. Government’s overriding interests in Cote d’Ivoire have long been to help restore peace, encourage disarmament and reunification of the country, and support a democratic government whose legitimacy can be accepted by all the citizens of Cote d’Ivoire.”

Ivory Coast overtook Ghana and other West African countries as the world’s leading producer of cocoa beans used in the manufacture of chocolate in 1978, supplying approximately 38% of cocoa produced in the world. Today the country is highly dependent on the crop, which accounts for 40% of national export income.

Ivory Coast and other West African cocoa producing nations have come under severe criticism in the west for using child slave labor to produce the cocoa purchased by Western chocolate companies. The bulk of the criticism has been directed towards practices in Ivory Coast.

A BBC article, for example, claimed that 15,000 children from Mali, some under age 11, were kidnapped and sold into slavery to work in cocoa production in Ivory Coast plantations:

In all, at least 15,000 children [from Mali] are thought to be over in the neighbouring Ivory Coast, producing cocoa which then goes towards making almost half of the world’s chocolate. Many are imprisoned on farms and beaten if they try to escape. Some are under 11 years old.”

A child rests with a machete at an Ivory Coast cocoa plantation. Children as young as 7 routinely work under dangerous conditions to harvest cocoa there, via U of Berkeley Law School

A 2018 article by journalist Oliver Balch in the online magazine Raconeur argues that the use of child slave labor has one simple cause: poverty. The author explains:

On average, cocoa-growing households earn $0.78 a day, less than one third of what the Fairtrade International defines as a living income of $2.51.”

The Washington Post adds:

The scope and scale of the problems in cocoa are staggering: An estimated 2.1 million children are engaged in hazardous work in the fields of the Ivory Coast and Ghana alone. The average cocoa farming household in the Ivory Coast earns just 37 percent of a living income. The average age of farmers in Ghana — the second-largest cocoa producer — is 52, and few young people see farming as an attractive vocation.

Still, our research showed that cocoa continues to be the best among few options for millions of small farmers. In the Ivory Coast . . . there simply aren’t alternatives that provide farmers with comparatively stable incomes and a certain level of land security.”

Fortune Magazine journalists also investigated the issue, writing:

For a decade and a half, the big chocolate makers have promised to end child labor in their industry—and have spent tens of millions of dollars in the effort. But as of the latest estimate, 2.1 million West African children still do the dangerous and physically taxing work of harvesting cocoa. What will it take to fix the problem?

Apparently greed is an insuperable barrier. The Washington Post reports that the world’s largest chocolate companies promised to eradicate the epidemic of child labor nearly 20 years ago. But they missed deadlines to uproot child labor from their cocoa supply chains in 2005, 2008 and 2010.

In February, 2020, human rights advocates petitioned U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop some of the world’s largest chocolate companies, including Nestlé; Mars; Hershey; Mondelez, the owner of the Cadbury brand; and other companies, from importing cocoa from Ivory Coast unless they could show that the chocolate was produced without forced or trafficked child labor.

A young boy from Burkina Faso, working in Ivory Coast cocoa fields, follows other children as they leave the cocoa farm where they work, via Washington Post

The U.S. State Department has indicated, however, that Ivory Coast appears ill-prepared to police child trafficking, saying the budget for the anti-trafficking program is “severely inadequate.” As State Department officials noted in a 2018 report, the primary police anti-trafficking unit is based in the nation’s economic capital, Abidjan, several hours away from the cocoa-growing areas, and its budget was about $5,000 a year.

Richard Scobey, President of the World Cocoa Foundation industry group, was opposed, out of concern, needless to say, for the poor people:

This irresponsible call for a U.S. ban on cocoa imports from Côte d’Ivoire will hurt, not help. It could push millions of poor farmers deeper into poverty, even though the vast majority of them are innocent of such practices, and threatens to damage the economy and security of a vital U.S. partner in West Africa.”

In the final analysis, chocolate companies do not want to give up their profits, and consumers do not want to give up their candy bars.

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