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Ivory Coast - Introduction

The state’s name changed from Ivory Coast to Cote D’Ivoire in 1986. The 15th- and 16th-century merchants knew the "Teeth" or "Ivory" coast, considered to stretch from Cape Palmas to Cape Three Points, between the modern states of Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Liberia. Portuguese and French merchants from the 15th century partitioned the west coast of Africa into "coasts" reflecting local economies. The Guiné de Cabo Verde, so-called "Upper Guinea", was at Cabo Verde, then Ivory Coast and then Lower Guinea. There was also a Pepper Coast, also known as the "Grain Coast", a "Gold Coast", and a "Slave Coast".

Cote d’Ivoire is an important economic hub in Africa; as well, the world’s largest cocoa producer and one of the largest U.S. trading partners in the region. Between independence in 1960 and the death of its first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1993, the Côte d’Ivoire was considered to be one of the most stable and economically successful countries in Africa. Since then, the country’s political structures weakened seriously, mainly since 1999.

The 2002 rebellion in Coˆte d’Ivoire divided the country in half, with the north controlled by the rebel Forces Nouvelles, which supported Alassane Ouattara, and the south in the hands of the government led by Laurent Gbagbo. Since then, Coˆte d’Ivoire had two governments, administrations, armies, and ‘‘national’’ leaders. Gbagbo had been the champion of many in the mostly Christian southern part of the country who see themselves as the country’s ‘original’ inhabitants (referred to as autochtones) – and the main claimants to the land – while Ouattara represented the aspirations of many northerners, mostly Muslim Malinké people from northern Côte d’Ivoire (allochtones) or neighboring Sahelian countries (allogènes), many of whom had settled and prospered in the south of the country.

In the waning days of 2010, after over a decade of coups, rebel advances, low-intensity civil war, and anemic peace agreements, Côte d’Ivoire burst afresh into the international consciousness. The sitting president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to acknowledge his defeat by his longtime rival, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, in the presidential run-off. The two men were the de facto leaders of the opposing sides in the on-again, off-again civil war that had torn Côte d’Ivoire apart since the early 2000s. As the dispute over the outcome of the ballot continued, fighting broke out around the country and was most extreme in the West and in the working class Abidjan communes of Abobo and Yopougon, Ouattara and Gbagbo strongholds respectively. The violence subsided in April 2011 when pro-Ouattara forces, mostly former nordiste (northern) rebels, backed by French troops, captured Gbagbo, who was subsequently extradited to the International Criminal Court that November. President Ouattara took the oath of office in May, announcing a platform of development, reconciliation, and the return of rule of law.

Over the decade of the conflict, the number of people killed directly in this conflict is probably a little bit on one side or the other of 10,000 people. Côte d’Ivoire is moving beyond this political turmoil and the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis that rocked the country. But the underlying issues (political engagement, youth unemployment, ethnic tensions, disputes over land ownership, access to large numbers of unregistered firearms) remain.

Impunity remains one of the dark blots on Côte d’Ivoire’s otherwise promising transition. The government has not followed up on crimes committed by its supporters during the post-electoral crisis with the same zeal as it has done for abuses committed by Gbagbo supporters. Impunity remains a real issue in the West, where former rebel commanders reportedly continue to carry out illicit farming and logging operations, on land that the Guéré consider theirs (or on government land). And corruption remains a huge issue in Côte d’Ivoire.

Côte d’Ivoire was long one of the main economic engines in West Africa, a haven of stability in a region beset by conflict and poverty. Today, despite two decades of political crisis, the civil war of the 2000s, and the destruction of the post-electoral conflict, the country still has what, by regional standards, is a well-organized civil administration, a relatively well-educated population, and strong infrastructure. Perhaps most importantly, a population that has not forgotten what it means to live in a stable nation. Côte d’Ivoire’s full transition to stability may not yet be complete, but the country remains one of the linchpins of security and prosperity in West Africa.

In terms of access, the country is easy to enter (good flight connections, straightforward visa process) and, relatively easy to get around because of good road infrastructure and sufficient security. Local authorities are for the most part constructive and welcoming, and the bureaucracy is competent. An educated, experienced work pool makes recruitment relatively easy.

The security situation in Côte d’Ivoire remained generally stable but fragile owing to the high prevalence of violent crime and insecurity near the border with Liberia. Insecurity was characterized by armed robbery, banditry and burglary, in many instances committed by elements of the Forces républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), dozos (traditional hunters) and former combatants. Intercommunal violence, particularly in the north and south-east, continued to be reported, while the activities of uncontrolled armed groups and former combatants remained a threat to stability. In February and March, demonstrations of former combatants in Man and Bouaké became violent.

The government of Côte d’Ivoire continues to make considerable progress in restoring peace and security to the country, yet serious security challenges remain. The United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) has approximately 6,900 uniformed personnel to help ensure security nationwide but will be drawing down its uniformed contingent in the near to medium term. The French also have 600 military members based in Abidjan who have been deployed as needed to other conflict areas in the region.

Côte d’Ivoire is bordered by Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. Border areas, particularly in western and northern Côte d’Ivoire are extremely porous and allow for the flow of migrants, refugees, and weapons. The security situation along the border with Liberia and Ghana remains problematic and permits the uncontrolled circulation of weapons and individuals. Although Côte d’Ivoire has made efforts to increase its security presence in border areas following violent incidents, large swathes of area remained unpoliced.

Road conditions in Abidjan continue to improve after a decade of neglected infrastructure. However, there still are large intersections with no or non-working traffic lights and little predictable organization to the flow of traffic. Road safety is a major concern, and driving is often challenging. Impatient drivers frequently disregard traffic laws, stop/turn without warning, create their own travel lanes, and routinely drive at speeds too fast for road conditions. Taxi and minibus drivers are particularly aggressive, and traffic accidents are frequent. Traffic, particularly in Abidjan, has been severely and negatively impacted by infrastructure improvement projects that force the use of alternative routes lacking the capacity to handle the increased volume. However, the opening of a third bridge crossing the lagoons of Abidjan has relieved some of these traffic issues.

Outside of Abidjan, road conditions vary from excellent to very poor. Stretches of well-paved highway can, without warning, be interrupted by large potholes and washed-out or flooded segments. Flooding of low-lying areas during the rainy season is a problem. Heavy rain presents problems with roads that are either unpaved or in poor condition, making it ill-advised to venture off main routes. There is no lighting along the majority of main roads outside of Abidjan. In 2015, there were reports of individuals being robbed along major stretches of road outside of Abidjan. Often, these crimes are for monetary gain; occasionally, they are caused by disputes between security forces and local hunters. The vast majority of victims were Ivoirians traveling at night, often in public transportation and commercial vehicles. Most armed robberies occurred at night, though some incidences happened during daytime.

Use of public transportation, including taxis, is highly discouraged. The quality of the two types of taxis, red metered taxis and various colored communal taxis, varies considerably. Many taxis often take multiple passengers, creating hazardous or confusing situations.

Transportation accidents involving large commercial or privately-owned vehicles are common along roads connecting major cities. It is common to see overturned or broken down vehicles that block throughways or create traffic situations. Often, these vehicles are overburdened with cargo and do not follow standard safety practices. Nighttime driving is hazardous due to decreased visibility and road banditry. Cars frequently travel without functioning headlights. Even in urban areas with street lights, visibility is often poor. The U.S. Embassy personnel are prohibited from traveling at night outside of Abidjan or other major cities. The presence of Ivoirian security forces on roadways upcountry at night is limited to non-existent.

Uniformed security checkpoints are common on major roadways throughout Côte d’Ivoire and often increase in number and intensity following security incidents. There are many official and unofficial roadblocks/checkpoints on the major routes outside of Abidjan. Knowing who is manning a checkpoint is difficult given the wide range of uniform styles. Criminals, rogue security forces, and suspected ex-combatants have profited from the confusion by erecting illegal roadblocks to shake down or rob travelers. Even legitimate checkpoints may be run unprofessionally by personnel who are poorly trained and resourced.

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