Constitutional reform in Cote d'Ivoire is on the way in 2017

Côte d’Ivoire operates a presidential political system, under which the president is the head of state and holds extensive executive power. He or she appoints a prime minister, who in turn selects the Cabinet. The president is also head of the armed forces and initiates most legislation, though parliament can also do so. The head of state is entitled to appoint the seven members of the country’s constitutional court, which evaluates the constitutionality of legislation and the eligibility of electoral candidates.

The president is directly elected via popular vote for a five-year term; in the event that no candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round of voting, a second round run-off between the two candidates with the most votes takes place. The National Assembly acts as the legislature. The new constitution reduced the term for members from five to four years, with the most recent parliamentary elections taking place in December 2016.

Local Government

There are 19 regions, which are divided into a total of 90 departments and further into 196 communes. Regions and departments are administrated by a centrally appointed prefect, while communes elect mayors. Abidjan, the largest city, has 10 districts, each of which elects a mayor.


As a former colony, Côte d’Ivoire’s legal system was founded based on the French constitutional organisation, but has evolved since independence. The legal system embraces “uniqueness of jurisdiction,” requiring judges to be knowledgeable in all subjects of law and natures of disputes, including administrative, civil, commercial and penal.

Political Parties

While there is a loose correlation between particular parties and different social divisions, ties are not particularly strong and the nation’s political parties represent a modest variety of viewpoints, often sharing similar perspectives on a number of cross-cutting issues. The party of President Alassane Dramane Ouattara, Rally of the Republicans (Rassemblement des Ré publicains, RDR), is the current governing party and is considered to be economically liberal. The Ivorian Popular Front (Front Populaire Ivoirien, FPI), which is affiliated with former president, Laurent Gbagbo, identifies more with democratic-socialist values.

The third major party is the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire, PDCI), which has similar economic views to the RDR’s, but disagrees with the latter on issues such as land reform, where the RDR sought to relax constraints on foreigners’ ability to own rural land.

Recent Elections

In 2011 the return to political stability continued with successful parliamentary elections. The RDR obtained an absolute majority, winning 122 seats out of 225, while the PDCI — which subsequently joined the RDR in a ruling coalition — won 76 seats. The parliamentary election was followed in April 2013 by the country’s first municipal elections in over a decade.

In October 2015 President Ouattara sought re-election. The FPI fielded Pascal Affi N’Guessan – a former prime minister under Gbagbo – as its candidate. Turnout was below that of the 2010 elections – unsurprisingly, given that four-fifths of registered voters had participated in that closely contested poll – but still saw 54% participation, with 10 candidates on the ballot. The elections were declared over after the first round, with Ouattara winning more than 80% of the total vote. In the most recent parliamentary elections in December 2016, the presidential coalition – known as the Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace, and composed of the RDR, the PDCI and some smaller parties – won more than half the seats in the National Assembly.

Constitutional Reform

Ouattara’s campaign platform involved supporting an overhaul of the constitution, which had been in place since 2000, and replaced Côte d’Ivoire’s founding 1960 document. The first two versions saw power centralised in the office of the president – reflecting the French influence – with a unicameral national assembly. In June 2016 Ouattara convened a panel to begin studying possible revisions to the constitution, as well as exploring the possibility of completely replacing the 2000 document, which many considered to have contributed to the unrest of previous years. The panel opted for the latter option, and a draft for a new constitution was presented to the National Assembly for consideration in October 2016.

Draft Proposals

The draft proposed significant changes to both the legislature and the executive branch. One of the most notable was the creation of the office of vice-president, who will assume the powers of the presidency in the event the president is incapacitated. The proposed constitution also stipulates that future presidential elections must involve the president and vice-president running on a joint ticket, similar to the US format. The draft changed the age requirements for candidates seeking the office of president, reducing the minimum age to 35 and removing the maximum age, which had previously been 75. The requirement for candidates to be born of two Ivorian parents was also deleted.

Another change comes in the creation of a second legislative house. Under the draft’s provisions, the Senate will represent larger geographic constituencies, as well as Ivorians living abroad, and will share legislative responsibilities with the National Assembly, though in any stand-off between the two, the president can call on the lower house to decide. Two-thirds of the senators will be elected to a five-year term by direct universal suffrage, with the remaining third appointed by the president.


A number of other amendments in the draft suggested major changes in the political scene in the future. It enshrined a bill of rights that covered a range of social objectives, including protection of vulnerable groups, the banning of child labour and the assurance of equal employment rights for women. The proposed draft formalised the role and profile of the National Chamber of Kings and Traditional Chiefs, a body that advises on policy and which had previously existed but not been provided for in the constitution.

The draft also changed the process through which future constitutional revisions could be made, removing the necessity for a public referendum and making them possible solely through a parliamentary vote. The draft was approved by the National Assembly, with the support of most parties and independents, although against strong opposition from the FPI. A referendum to approve the new constitution was held in November 2016, and passed with over 90% of the vote, with a turnout of 42%.

National Identity

A key factor fuelling the unrest of the past decade has been the debate over national identity. In the 1990s the government upheld a definition of an Ivorian as someone whose parents were both nationals born in Côte d’Ivoire.

Since 2011 the Ouattara government has supported a more expansive concept and 140,000 residents have been given citizenship. The new interpretation of nationality was formalised in August 2013 by parliament in a law that updated the regulations for granting citizenship. The new constitution reflects the Ouattara government’s approach, relaxing the requirement for presidential candidates to be born to two Ivorian nationals, instead simply calling for them to be Ivorian citizens born to a father or mother of Ivorian nationality.

Foreign Policy

Recent years have seen Côte d’Ivoire play an increasing visible role in the diplomatic sphere, with government officials working to strengthen ties with major global powers.

One of the closest bilateral relationships the country has is with France. Similarly to many francophone African countries, the strength of Côte d’Ivoire’s relations with France has fluctuated significantly over recent decades. During the lengthy administration of the first Ivorian president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Côte d’Ivoire sought to maintain close economic, political, diplomatic and cultural links to France, a bilateral relationship that was replicated more broadly by the presence of a large French expatriate community in Côte d’Ivoire.

The involvement of France in attempting to help maintain peace during the height of the civil war – including the presence of several thousand soldiers and the destruction of the Ivorian air force – led to severe popular discontent against France. However, since the cessation of hostilities in 2011, France and Côte d’Ivoire have gone through a renaissance in relations under the administration of President Ouattara. France is a key trading partner to Côte d’Ivoire and a leading source of foreign direct investment (see Economy chapter).


The EU also has close ties with Côte d’Ivoire, with the European bloc its single biggest trading partner and its largest source of inbound investment. Much of the economic ties between the two were governed until 2014 under the 2005 Cotonou Agreement, which provided preferential access to the European market for African, Caribbean and Asian and Pacific Island economies.

The Cotonou Agreement was replaced three years ago with an economic partnership agreement between the EU and West Africa’s 15-state economic bloc ECOWAS, of which Côte d’Ivoire is a member. In addition to the bilateral agreement between the two regional bodies, Côte d’Ivoire ratified a “Stepping Stone” economic partnership agreement with the EU in 2016, which paves the way for the eventual implementation of the broader trade accord.

The EU is also a major donor, with a planned budget of €280m set aside for supporting Côte d’Ivoire’s development objectives over the 2014-20 period. Among the biggest recipients is the energy and power sector, where EU funding is supporting electrification and power generation efforts throughout the country (see Economy chapter).


Despite a period of strained relations during the decade of conflict, Côte d’Ivoire also enjoys cordial ties with other Western nations, including the US, with which it has a security agreement that has supported the professional development of Ivorian army officers. It also benefits from preferential trade access to the US market under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.


Côte d’Ivoire is particularly interested in establishing strong economic ties with China, which has become a major player in financing and constructing infrastructure and development projects. In 2013 the Chinese government announced its commitment to provide $10bn over six years to finance large-scale infrastructure programmes, including the expansion of the Port of Abidjan. Interest rates for the funding were set below market rates in exchange for favourable terms on natural resource purchases. Coordination in agriculture is seen as a strategic move, due to China’s appetite for Ivorian products such as rubber and cotton.


In June 2016 Pranab Mukherjee, India’s president, visited Côte d’Ivoire looking to boost the trade relationship between the two, which may have reached $841m in 2015 – more than doubling since 2009 – including 80% of Côte d’Ivoire’s cashew nuts going to Indian consumers. The Ivorian leadership is seeking Indian private sector investment in its cocoa industry. Moreover, India has announced plans to invest further in Côte d’Ivoire’s infrastructure, and reopened its export-import bank in Abidjan in June 2016, which closed in 1992. The Indian government has also actively supported Indian firms looking to export and invest in the African country, issuing a $113m loan for Côte d’Ivoire to purchase 500 buses from India for use in public transport in Abidjan.


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Cover of The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2017

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