Ivory Coast: Youth increases the pressure

by Katrin Gänsler

Basic data 

In 1960, Ivory Coast became independent from France. Today, it has 25 million inhabitants. Its capital is Yamoussoukro, but the economic and social center is Abidjan. Other large cities are San Pedro, Korhogo and Bouaké.The Ivory Coast borders on Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana. The Akan is its largest ethnic group. About 42% of the population professes Islam as their religion, the rest adhere to Christianity and natural religions. In addition to the official language, French, another 86 languages are spoken. The literacy rate is 57%.

Government, economy, conflicts  

The first president was Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who ruled Ivory Coast from 1960 until his death in 1993. In the following years the country became more and more unstable, until in September 2002, with the uprising of the army, a civil war began that lasted almost five years. After this, a peace agreement was signed in Ouagadougou, in 2007. Just over three-and-a-half years later, the 2010 presidential elections caused another serious government crisis, in which between 1,200 and 3,000 people died. After the runoff, both the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, and Alassane Ouattara claimed the presidency. The latter was considered the winner by the international community. After fights, Gbagbo was arrested. He was charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague with four counts of crimes against humanity, but was released in January 2019. To date, there are still numerous active politicians in the Ivory Coast who had already held leading positions during the civil war, as well as   in the 2010-2011 Ivorian Crisis. Ouattara, for example, was re-elected in 2015 after his first term, which had started in 2010. Opposition boycotted the election. Furthermore, Reporters Without Borders listed the country 71st out of 180 in the press freedom index and criticizes, among others because journalists are arbitrarily arrested and detained by the secret service. 

Ivory Coast is the  world’s number one cocoa grower and, with 1.4 million tons annually, contributes to almost 30% of global cultivation. Although processing in the country is increasing, the raw beans remain export goods. Overall, agriculture accounts for 20.1% of GDP, industry for 26.6% and services for 53.3%. In recent years, the country has been a top emerging country by numerous African observers, such as the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Gross Domestic Product rose by 7.4% in 2018, to US$43 billion. Remittances from migrants were US$363 million in 2018, accounting for 0.8% of GDP. Ivory Coast ranks 170th (out of total 188) in the United Nations Development Index. Furthermore, Transparency International ranks the country 105th out of 180 in the corruption index.

Despite currently positive economic forecasts, another crisis cannot be ruled out, especially during the next presidential election in October 2020. The electorate and the political camps have been extremely hostile since 2018. Already in the 2015 election campaign, high youth unemployment was considered a potential powder keg; it is estimated that at least every second person under the age of 25 is without a permanent job. Youth gangs called ‘microbes’ have formed in densely populated areas such as Abidjan’s district Yopougon, even though much has been invested in infrastructure in recent years. Another problem is the mutiny at the hand of the army. Soldiers mutinied several times in Bouaké and Abidjan in 2017. The reasons for this were extorted ‘special payments’ for some of the soldiers, which were not paid out later. 

Migration movements 

The Ivory Coast is currently considered a “top destination” for migrants, which has a long tradition. In particular, it is attractive for migrant workers from Burkina Faso. According to a census from 1998, the 3.4 million Burkinabe were by far the largest group of foreigners in the country. Other estimates currently assume around 1.3 million Burkinabe to be living in Ivory Coast. Many have lived in the country for decades and are often employed in cocoa cultivation. The Burkinabé are considered to be cheap workers, often less well-educated than locals. The vast majority works in the informal sector and therefore hardly have access to any rights.

At the beginning of the 1990’s, Under President Henri Konan Bédié and his concept of “Ivorité”, xenophobia increased in the country.. The current President, Alassane Ouattara, was excluded from the 1995 election because his parents allegedly immigrated from Burkina Faso. The question of nationality in the Ivory Coast remains a major problem to this day, argues political scientist Arsène Brice Bado, who works at the Center for Research and Action for Peace in the economic metropolis of Abidjan.

According to various statistics from 1998 to 2006, a total of up to 7.8 million migrants likely live in the Ivory Coast. However, the World Bank estimated only 2.4 million people in 2010 and the EU estimates currently just under 2.2 million. The United Nations Population Division (UNPD) assumes that in times of crisis, numerous migrants have returned to their home countries. The French consulate in Abidjan put the number of French nationals in the country at 19,500 (3,000 were not registered), 59% of whom were dual nationals in 2015.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 1,961 refugees currently live in the country, of whom 928, or 47.3% come from Liberia.

The city of Daloa, in the middle of the country, is considered to be the main region from where people migrate. According to various estimates, between 832,600 and 1.2 million Ivorians live abroad. Silvère Yao Konan, from the University of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, named  former colonial power France in 2009 the most important destination country for Ivorians in Europe, as it hosts 26% of all migrants from Ivory Coast. The majority of migrants, at least 65 percent,stay abroad for at least five years. According to the EU data, 80,000 Ivorians hold residence permits within the Union and 7,000 new residence permits are issued each year. Within the region, the vast majority go to Burkina Faso, estimated to be around 544,030.

The UNHCR estimated that a total of 2,348 Ivorians came to Europe via the Mediterranean in the first eight months of 2019, this excludes  arrival numbers from Spain. They make up 4.7% of all migrants crossing the Mediterranean. The Ivory Coast ranks third among African countries of origin of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The number of asylum applications from Ivorians is increasing: While there were 7,712 applications worldwide in 2015, the number of applications rose to 9,792 in 2018. The admission rate was 13.3 percent. 677 of the applications were made in Germany (acceptance rate 5.5%). In 2017, 6,795 undocumented Ivorians were issued an expulsion order from the EU. However, the return rate was only three percent.

Numerous visa applications are rejected. According to the Frontex report, around 25,000 visas for the Schengen area were issued in 2014 with a rejection rate at 28%. According to the EU, there were 56,465 applications in 2017 while 38,481 were approved, the rejection rate was at 30.5%.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) claims to have assisted 5,250 Ivorians in the past three years in their ‘voluntary’ return from the countries of Libya, Niger and Morocco. 2,000 individuals received financial support for their reintegration. The IOM also organized job training.

Since 2015, migration toward Europe has been an increasingly debated topic in the country. Europe is becoming a preferred destination because neighboring countries like Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea are not attractive to young Ivoirians. Due to the economic situation prospects  in these counties are often even worse than in the Ivory Coast itself. Young Ivorians often possess higher education, and neighboring countries do not present any employment opportunities for them. During the last years, several events have been organized to inform young Ivorians about the dangers of migration by land. This includes events organized by the General Directorate of Ivorians Abroad (DGIE, or Direction Générale des Ivoiriens De L’Extérieur), which belongs to the Ministry of African Integration and Ivorians abroad.

EU engagement and cooperation  

The fifth meeting between the African and European Union took place in Abidjan in November 2017, with refugees and migration featuring as key issues. Similar topics were already discussed during the Valletta summit in Malta, in November 2015. Five months later a meeting took place in Abidjan between Foreign Minister Abdallah Albert Toikeusse Mabri and his Dutch counterpart Bert Koenders; At the time, the Netherlands held the EU Council Presidency. According to the EU, the Ivory Coast still lacks a national strategy on migration policy. This national strategy should form the basis for a further cooperation between the EU and the Ivory Coast, as well as the the implementation of the Valletta goals.

Koenders negotiated an agreement with the Ivory Coast to combat illegal migration to the EU. The goal was to develop an effective strategy for a systematic return of migrants, back to the Ivory Coast. Migrants should furthermore be “discouraged from putting their lives at risk,” Koenders said

The eleventh European Development Fund (EDF) has earmarked a total of  EUR€273 million for Ivory Coast between 2014 and 2020. The funding is divided into three areas: strengthening the state and securing peace, agriculture, and the energy sector. With EUR€139 million, the latter area receives the proportionally highest funds under EDF. The Ivory Coast is not a priority country in the European Trust Fund (EUTF).

Ivory Coast already introduced a biometric passport in 2009. The same national company, SNEDAI, which is responsible for issuing identity cards is also responsible for issuing passports. It does this in collaboration with Zetes, which was established in 1984. Additionally, both are responsible for the biometric visa introduced in 2013, for which individuals apply and pay for online. It is issued upon entry and taped into the passport, but this is only possible on arrival at Félix Houphouet Boigny Airport in Abidjan.

Border control by land  ̶  at least with neighboring countries Liberia and Guinea  ̶  remains difficult or even impossible. During and after the election crisis at the end of November 2010, supporters of ex-President Gbagbo were able to take refuge on the Liberian side, for example. Dense forests, with limited access through paved roads lead, make the region difficult to control. Especially in the rainy season, the slopes can hardly be crossed in some places. Residents would rarely use official crossings, but would instead travel across the green border, a border guard on the Ivorian side said in October 2011.

The Ivory Coast has signed the following agreements: Refugee Convention (1961), Refugee Protocol (1970), Convention on the Rights of the Child (1991), Human Trafficking Protocol (2012). Further, the Ivory Coast cooperates with  Frontex through the African Intelligence Community.

NGOs and civil society  

Various non-governmental organizations work on migration in Ivory Coast. Mothers of migrants also publicly speak about the risks of undocumented migration, often called  land migration. Some organizations have worked there for more than a decade. In addition to discussions with families and young people considering migration, there are also conferences hosted in Abidjan on this topic, which are organized by youth organizations.

Economic interests and armaments  

Due to the stability of recent years, economic growth and infrastructure enhancements  ̶  especially in Abidjan  ̶  the Ivory Coast is increasingly regarded as an attractive business location. Ivory Coast is the second largest economy in West Africa, after Nigeria. 40% of exported goods go to the EU, with which there has been a trade agreement since 2008, in the form of APE (Accord de Partenariat Economique). Since 2016, China has been the number one importer. According to the Federal Foreign Office, Germany exported goods worth EUR€211 million in 2018. Goods amounting to 981 million euros were imported to Germany, mostly raw cocoa. 

There have been relatively few arms exports coming from Germany to the Ivory Coast in the past 20 years, but arms exports of EUR€341,896 were approved in 2016.

Migration in numbers  

2018: 9,792 asylum applications (worldwide), admission rate 13.3%

2018: 677 asylum applications (Germany), acceptance rate 5.5%

2019: 1,961 refugees in Ivory Coast

2019: between 2.4 and 7.8 million migrants in the Ivory Coast

2019: Ivory Coast is a country of migration in West Africa

2018: $363 million remittances, 0.8 percent of GDP

Formal withdrawal agreements with Italy

Frontex cooperation via African Intelligence Community

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