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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Cote d'Ivoire: Updates and Analysis, 1

Africa Policy E-Journal
January 9, 2003 (030109)

Cote d'Ivoire: Updates and Analysis, 1
(reposted from sources cited below)

This posting contains excerpts from a summary analysis of the current crisis in the Cote d'Ivoire, from the Global Internally Displaced Peoples Project in Geneva. Another posting today contains other shorter documents and links on the same topic.

Note: The Africa Policy E-Journal, with a principal focus on continent-wide policy issues, does not provide regular coverage of specific countries. Occasional updates such as these focus on country-specific issues of wider regional significance, and also include links to other sources which readers can consult for more frequent updates.

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December 1, 2002

The Global IDP Project of the Norwegian Refugee Council
59, chemin Moise-Duboule, 1209 Geneve
Tel:0041 22 799 07 00
Fax: 0041 22 799 07 01

[excerpts from a longer report - see website address cited above]

Many thousands of people have fled fighting, hardship and demolition of their houses in Cote d'Ivoire since a military uprising in September. Displaced civilians remain vulnerable, as the crisis looks set to deepen in the region.

Some 200,000 thousand people have fled recent fighting and worsening hardship in Cote d'Ivoire's second city, Bouake, heading mainly for the capital, Yamoussoukro, before joining families in the commercial capital, Abidjan, and elsewhere. In Abidjan, meanwhile, thousands of residents - West African immigrants, refugees and northern Ivorians - have been left homeless after their houses were demolished by government forces and their supporters following a September 2002 coup attempt. Civilians have been attacked, arrested and killed by both government and rebel forces targeting them for their ethnic origin.

United Nations agencies have launched a humanitarian appeal for around $16m to meet needs in Cote d'Ivoire and the region, while encouraging the Government to ensure protection for all affected people. The agencies have been working together to provide shelter, food, water and medicine in Abidjan, but insecurity has complicated their access to rebel-held war zones, leaving capacities strained in Yamoussoukro. Any renewed fighting could displace more people and overwhelm humanitarian capacity in this crisis-prone region.

Exodus from northern war zone

Many thousands of people have fled recent fighting and hardship in Cote d'Ivoire's second city as rebels gained control of the predominantly Muslim north of the country. The ongoing fighting and worsening humanitarian conditions caused approximately 200,000 people - about one third of the population - to flee the rebel-held town of Bouake (UNHCR, 8 October 2002; IRIN, 11 October 2002). ...

By mid-October 2002, rapidly increasing numbers of civilians were fleeing the designated 'war zones', many of them arriving in the Ivorian capital, Yamoussoukro. The city effectively became a transit town for the displaced with about 1,500 displaced people, mostly women and children, sheltered in the city's cathedral and other church buildings. Some were in a state of extreme exhaustion after walking for several days with little or no food. Church officials reported that food, accommodation and medical attention were the most pressing needs.

Most of the displaced were 'in transit' in Yamoussoukro and would be assisted to join their families in Abidjan or other major towns (IRIN, 11 October 2002). IDPs were usually spending 8-10 days in transit centres before finding transport to other parts of the country, while up to 500 were residing there on a permanent basis, either waiting for family members lost during displacement or waiting for the situation in Bouake to improve if they had no family members to take them in (UN OCHA, 14 November 2002).

For people remaining in Bouake, the humanitarian situation became increasingly difficult. They had little or no access to food, water and medicine (UN OCHA, 15 October 2002). A food security assessment by Action Contre la Faim (ACF) at the end of October 2002 showed that the urban middle-class were most vulnerable, especially as cash reserves were drying up, while for those dependant on a subsistence economy before the uprising, nothing much had changed. Many Bouake residents had reduced their food intake, and while there was no evidence of malnutrition, the situation had the potential of worsening dramatically if the conflict continued (ACF, 30 October 2002).

Abidjan residents lose homes

Thousands of Abidjan residents have also been displaced in recent weeks by attacks on their houses following the September 2002 coup attempt. The Cote d'Ivoire Government had openly accused neighbouring states of supporting the rebels, Burkina Faso in particular. This accusation apparently gave security forces and civilian supporters of the Government a green light to systematically attack and burn down Abidjan shantytowns housing West African immigrants, refugees and Ivorians accused of supporting the rebels.

In the two weeks following the attempted coup, UNHCR reported that in Abidjan more than 6,000 Ivorians, immigrants and refugees were made homeless by the demolition policy (UNHCR, 2 October 2002). Residents often received little or no notice of the demolitions, and lost all their wordly possessions as bulldozers razed their homes (IRIN, 24 October 2002). Furthermore, thousands of immigrants in Cote d'Ivoire - especially Burkinabes - returned to their home countries to escape reprisals (UNHCR, 11 November 2002). ...

Civilians attacked, arrested, killed

Civilians have been attacked by government forces and rebels, often targeted for their ethnic origin, and in some cases, arrested or killed arbitrarily. Since the military uprising on 19 September 2002, human rights abuses against civilians have been committed by both the security forces in Abidjan and rebel forces controlling parts of north and central Cote d'Ivoire, the latter subsequently calling themselves the Mouvement Patriotique de la Cote d'Ivoire (MPCI). Both parties to the conflict targeted civilians suspected of supporting the opposing side. Often, targets were identified arbitrarily on the basis of their origin or their alleged political sympathies.

Amnesty International documented wide-ranging abuses by the security forces, including extrajudicial executions of mainly foreigners, arbitrary arrests and secret detentions, the destruction of homes apparently to flush out dissidents - leading to the displacement of thousands of residents - and the harassment and intimidation of those made homeless. Civilians reported that during the raids on the shantytowns they were beaten and abused by police, who also tried to extort money from them. Human Rights Watch also interviewed numerous victims and witnesses of Government abuses, describing the assaults on neighbourhoods of Abidjan as degenerating into "a serious pattern of human rights violations, accompanied by excessive force, extortion, arbitrary arrests and destruction of property with the consequent mass dislocation of vast numbers of inhabitants" (HRW, November 2002).

In the western town of Daloa, briefly held by rebel forces, there were reports of Government soldiers rounding up residents suspected of supporting the insurgents and summarily executing them, dumping their bodies in mass graves (BBC News, 22 October 2002). Several dozen civilians - Ivorian Muslims, Malians and Burkinabes - were reportedly killed by people dressed in military uniform (HRW, November 2002).

Abuses committed by MPCI forces in Bouake included arbitrary killings of suspected government sympathisers, secret detentions, recruitment of young people including minors, and the capture of civilians (AI, 18 October 2002).

Responding, UN agencies seek $16m

In a flash appeal, launched in November 2002, the UN requested almost US$16 million to address priority humanitarian needs in Cote d'Ivoire and the West Africa sub-region from November 2002 - January 2003 (UN, November 2002). Humanitarian organizations in the country have rapidly expanded their emergency operations to meet growing needs and prepare for possibly massive population movements if the anti-immigrant backlash worsened.

In October 2002, UN agencies, NGOs, the ICRC, IOM and donors, as well as ambassadors from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), met in Ghana to discuss and agree on key elements of a flash appeal to address the pressing humanitarian needs in Cote d'Ivoire and the sub-region over coming months. They acknowledged that a total of eleven countries in the sub-region could be affected by the crisis, most particularly Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana, with immigrants seeking to return to their countries of origin and refugees in Cote d'Ivoire looking for a safer haven elsewhere in the region. ...

Insecurity and access problems

Protecting civilians and allowing safe access for relief workers to assess their needs and provide relief has been a main concern of humanitarian organizations. Such concerns are particularly acute amid the ongoing demolition of shantytowns in Abidjan, and with civilians trapped inside government-designated war zones (UN OCHA, 2 October 2002). ...

Continuing insecurity has made UN relief agencies "cautious" about a permanent presence in the war zone beyond Yamoussoukro (UN OCHA, 30 October 2002). In November, UN agencies such as WFP and UNICEF began setting up offices in central Cote d'Ivoire in order to gain improved access to vulnerable populations in rebel-held areas, while NGOs also strengthened their presence (IRIN, 8 November 2002). Assistance to address critical humanitarian needs was being provided by ICRC, the Ivorian Red Cross, MSF, WFP, CARE, ACF, WHO and UNICEF, among others (UN OCHA, 14 November 2002). Humanitarian assessment missions to rebel-held areas of the country in October 2002 had found a critical lack of food, water and medicine, but access to much of northern and central Cote d'Ivoire remained limited.

More people fleeing violence

During last year, thousands of Ivorians were displaced by political and ethnic violence. President Gbagbo failed to resolve the growing ethnic and religious divisions across the country, which in January 2001 led to an attempted coup by opposition elements within the army and continuing high political tension (HRW, August 2001; BBC News, 19 September 2002). According to the US Committee for Refugees, at least 10,000 Ivorians - and possibly far more - became internally displaced by political and ethnic violence in 2001, although it was unclear how many remained displaced at the year's end (USCR, 2002). In addition, tens of thousands of foreigners, mostly Burkinabes, fled the country following harassment and attacks by state security forces and vigilante groups. This was triggered by President Gbagbo's government accusations against nationals of Burkina Faso for involvement in the coup attempt (HRW, August 2001).

The disaffected troops who began the insurgency in September 2002, numbering about 750, said they were unhappy with their imminent demobilisation and about their treatment by the government (BBC News, 8 October 2002). They subsequently demanded a new government. These men, recruited by General Guei during his ten months in power, simultaneously attacked strategic locations in the economic capital, Abidjan, and in the towns of Bouake and Korhogo in the north. While they were overpowered in Abidjan, they succeeded in establishing themselves in the other two areas. State media reported that at least 270 people were killed and 300 injured in various parts of the country in the days following the uprising (IRIN, 23 September 2002). General Guei and the Minister of the Interior, Emile Boga Doudou, were killed in Abidjan. Alassane Ouattara's Abidjan residence was also attacked. He managed to escape and took refuge in a nearby embassy, suggesting to some observers that he had no forewarning of the coup attempt (BBC News, 27 September 2002).

Ivoirite: root cause

The fighting came on a wave of rising xenophobia and ethnic discord in Cote d'Ivoire that threatened the country's massive immigrant population, as well as 70,000 refugees, and ultimately the stability of the entire sub-region. For more than three decades after independence from France in 1960, Cote d'Ivoire was a beacon of peace and stability in West Africa. The autocratic but tactical rule of the country's first President, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, ensured religious and ethnic harmony as well as economic prosperity until after his death in 1993.

Houphouet-Boigny's successor, Henri Konan Bedie, sowed the seeds of ethnic discord in 1995 when he introduced the concept of 'Ivoirite', or 'Ivorian-ness'. This was used to deny Ivorian citizenship to his main political rival, Alassane Ouattara, and thereby exclude him from running in elections held that year. Bedie insisted that Ouattara, a Muslim from the north of the country, was actually from Burkina Faso. Since that time there has been an increasing number of attacks on people of foreign descent (HRW, August 2001). About one quarter of Cote d'Ivoire's population of 16 million are immigrants, or descended from immigrants, many from neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana and Niger.

The start of protracted political crisis was assured when the military, under the leadership of General Robert Guei, overthrew the elected government of Konan Bedie in the country's first ever coup, staged on Christmas Eve 1999. Although the coup d'etat was ostensibly prompted by soldiers' unhappiness over pay and conditions, it soon became apparent that, like Bedie, General Guei was also ready to incite ethnic and religious rivalries in order to remove political opposition. Continuing the theme of 'Ivoirite', Guei introduced even stricter eligibility requirements for the 2000 presidential elections, once again excluding Alassane Ouattara on the basis of his alleged links with Burkina Faso.

Daily life for many Ivorians became increasingly militarised. Widespread human rights abuses were committed under the new regime, principally by groups of military personnel operating a parallel justice system, including the extrajudicial execution of alleged criminals (AI, 19 September 2000).

Military rule was, however, short-lived. General Guei was forced to flee by a popular uprising after he claimed that he had won the presidential elections in October 2000. This left Laurent Gbagbo as the winning candidate. But the elections were marred by violence against civilians by all sides, and by "state-sponsored human rights violations, with a clear ethnic and religious focus" (HRW, 20 December 2000). More than 150 people were killed and hundreds more were injured. As documented by Human Rights Watch, state security forces summarily executed political protesters and other civilians in the streets, and detained and tortured hundreds of political activists and foreigners (and Ivorians whose nationality was questioned). In one incident alone, security forces massacred fifty-seven young men, who were then buried in a mass grave in Yopougon on the outskirts of Abidjan (HRW, December 2000 & August 2001).

Victims of the violence were, initially, supporters of both Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and Ouattara's Rally of the Republicans (RDR), but once Guei had fled the country the main victims were suspected members of the RDR, foreigners and Muslims (HRW, August 2001). Gbagbo, just like his predecessors, made the issue of nationality central to his political agenda. The thorny issue of Ouattara's citizenship was indicative of the political marginalisation of the mainly Muslim north (BBC News, 15 October 2002). ...

Renewed conflict could overwhelm

Tension has continued to rise in Cote d'Ivoire, increasing the risk of an all-out conflict. Despite a fragile ceasefire between the two sides that led to peace talks in Togo at the end of October 2002, and the presence of French troops to monitor the truce, there were continuing reports of violence and human rights abuses by both government and rebel forces. As of December 2002, the peace talks were stalled, leaving Cote d'Ivoire facing the possibility of all-out war. The rebels were demanding President Gbagbo's resignation, a revision of the constitution and new elections, while the government demanded that the rebels disarm. And despite the arrival in Abidjan of an advance team of peacekeepers sent by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), tension continued to build, with both sides reportedly preparing to fight (IRIN, 18 November 2002; BBC News, 14 November 2002). Then, at the end of November 2002, the western towns of Danane and Man fell to two new rebel groups, who said they were not linked with the MPCI rebels but were fighting to avenge the death of former junta leader, General Robert Guei. These troops included both Liberians and Sierra Leoneans, providing a chilling 'deja vu' of the brutal civil wars that wrecked both of those countries (BBC News, 30 November 2002).

New fighting could overwhelm rapidly overwhelm humanitarian capacities and sink Cote d'Ivoire and neighbours into deeper crisis. Observers feared that further fighting would not only destabilise the rest of Cote d'Ivoire, it would also have serious repercussions in the whole sub-region. As noted by USCR, more than 500,000 people are already uprooted throughout the region as a result of conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone (USCR, 7 October 2002). Further population movements, both inside Cote d'Ivoire and to neighbouring countries, would put further strain on already overstretched humanitarian organizations and could ultimately wreck the socio-economic development of the entire sub-region.


  1. The Global IDP Project, based in Geneva, monitors internal displacement worldwide, as requested by the United Nations in
  2. It is part of the Norwegian Refugee Council, an organization that has assisted refugees worldwide since 1953. For more information about IDPs from conflict in 49 countries, visit our website

Cote d'Ivoire researcher: Claudia McGoldrick
Tel: +41 (0)22 799 0711
Media contact:
Andrew Lawday Tel: +41 (0)22 799 0703

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Date distributed (ymd): 030109
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +security/peace+ +political/rights+

The Africa Action E-Journal is a free information service provided by Africa Action, including both original commentary and reposted documents. Africa Action provides this information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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