Ivory Coast – a coastal West African country – is filled with lively cities and vast rain forests, impressive churches and green hills. Its diverse culture is exemplified by a multitude of ethnic groups, events, festivals, music, and art.
As part of our ongoing Illume Guide featured blog posts, we interviewed Toti from the Ivory Coast to help us understand more about its culture.
Hi Toti! Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from, how old are you and what are you passionate about?
Hello! I’m 36 years old, from the Ivory Coast and currently based in Abidjan. After finishing studies in Humanity at the University of Cocody-Abidjan, I’ve been volunteering in my local community. After eight years’ experience in serving my community, I started a social volunteer school that provides more than 300 children coming from poor backgrounds and orphans the opportunity to access education. I dedicate most of my time to this organisation and really hope that we can make a difference to the next generation here in Ivory Coast.
What is EEFY about and why do you start it?
Education and English for You is a non-profit organisation that’s been part of the United Nations Civil Society Organisations since 2019. I have a disability in my leg, so I’m very aware about the importance of helping others and empowering ourselves through education. In 2013, I launched EEFY with the goal to foster childhood education and reduce the level of illiterate people in Ivory Coast.
I also want to promote gender equality to support less privileged girls in our community and give them more chance to succeed in life because most African societies tend to give more opportunities to boys than girls. EEFY also focuses our mission on promoting the English language through a free programme of English language teaching. We believe learning an international language will bring more opportunities for these kids.
How would you describe Ivory Coast culture to somebody who is not from there?
Culture here is very diverse. There are more than sixty ethnic groups each with its own traditions and values. The four major cultural regions are the East Atlantic (primarily Akan), West Atlantic (primarily Kru), Voltaic and Mandé. Apart from locals, there are many immigrants living here as well, most from neighbouring African countries like Nigeria and Ghana. In recent years, many people from the West have come here for travel or short-term work, making our culture even more diverse.
Ivory Coast is home to many different religious beliefs. Christianity dominates in the South and the Centre, where there are more forests and job opportunities. Islam is predominant in the North, which contains more desert and a lower population; and indigenous beliefs are present throughout the land. Both Islam and Christianity have been adapted to indigenous religions in a variety of ways, and many Ivoirians who have converted to Christianity still follow rituals that worship the spirits of their ancestors. Most people with different religions live peacefully together.
How would you describe people from the Ivory Coast?
People put great value in their tribe culture. The way we dress reflects the tribe we are from, and our lifestyles are connected to tribal traditions. There are many festivities and social events belonging to each tribe as well. Family and community are hugely important. It’s common for people to live together with extended family. Everyone looks after and gives financial support to each other. People who live in the same community usually know each other very well, and will try to help when someone is in need.
People are very kind and welcoming. We really value the idea of ‘fellowship’. No matter where you are from, if you visit and live here, we live like brothers and sisters. Everyone unites together as a big family.
Have you noticed any changes more recently in terms of the way people think?
Through my work, I definitely notice people are focusing more on education. Parents want their kids to get a good education and learn English so they have better future job prospects to support the family. Parents also encourage kids to develop extracurricular hobbies. One example is the increased interest in football. Sport is a great opportunity for young people to change their life in the future.
Western culture has a great influence on our younger generation. They have more access to the internet taking inspiration from other parts of the world and follow the latest fashion and cultural trends from Western countries. Now, young people tend to move to urban cities and are less willing to work on farms like their parents. They are looking for a change. But jobs in the city are becoming harder to get which is making them think about creating their own business start-ups.
What makes you proud of the Ivory Coast? Is there anything you are less proud of?
The thing I’m most proud of is the solidarity between people. Compared to Western countries, our economy is struggling, so people need to unite. When confronting difficulties, people work extra hard together. We are all united as one. This solidarity has nothing to do with politics. For example, during football matches, everyone supports our team together. I love that feeling!
In terms of things that we could improve as a country, our technology is still quite underdeveloped. There are still many people who cannot access the internet. We need better facilities to raise our international profile.
What are common consumer habits in the Ivory Coast?
Price is the most important thing. People with an average income tend to shop in open markets where they feel more comfortable and can negotiate price. There’s a preconception that supermarket prices are more expensive, even though that’s not always the case. It’s thought shopping malls are for rich people. International brands wanting to target Ivorian people will need to instill confidence in their product for us to buy anything.
What are your hopes for the future of your country?
Ivory Coast is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa beans. Our economy depends on it and thanks to this industry, people enjoy a relatively higher level of income compared to other countries in the region. Nevertheless, the poverty here is still seriously bad. There are cocoa farmers who have never tasted chocolate in their lives. I really hope that the industry will keep growing and people can make a good living out of it.
It has been a peaceful country for years until the civil wars since 2002. People have been suffering a lot and now what most of us want is a peaceful future. We will have a new election this year and people have been talking about it a lot. We hope a new government will bring a better political future for us. Peace is the number one thing we want for now.
We have great natural resources here in the Ivory Coast, and our tourism industry has been growing a lot in recent years. Even though we’ve been colonised by France once, our own culture hasn’t been influenced much. I really hope that people can focus on our own culture, preserve it and develop it, rather than taking all influence from the West. We need to innovate through our own culture, and that will make our nation affluent. When international tourists come to visit, they want to see our cultural traditions not versions of Westernised cities.