Freedom in the World 2022: Côte d’Ivoire, Freedom House, 2022

Freedom in the World 2022: Côte d’Ivoire, Freedom House, 2022

Organization: Freedom House

Type of publication: Report

Site of Publication:  Freedom House

Date of the publication: 2022

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Côte d’Ivoire continues to recover from an armed conflict that ended in 2011. Several root causes of the country’s violent conflict remain, including ethnic and regional tensions, land disputes, corruption, and impunity. While civil liberties had been better protected in recent years, an outbreak of election-related violence in 2020 brought significant setbacks. Improved electoral conditions in 2021 allowed opposition groups and civil society to operate more freely than during the previous year.

Political Rights

  1. Electoral Process

Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?

The October 2020 presidential election was neither free nor fair. Former prime minister and presidential candidate of the Rally of the Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace RHDP Amadou Gon Coulibaly died unexpectedly in July 2020. President Alassane Ouattara, who had spent two five-year presidential terms in office, reversed his previous decision not to run and was nominated in August by the RHDP, which claimed Ouattara was eligible for two more terms because the 2016 Constitution’s two-term limit was adopted after Ouattara’s second election; some critics charged that Ouattara had moved forward with the new constitution to enable his third term. His nomination was met by major protests from opposition parties.

The Constitutional Council rejected 40 of the 44 candidates for the presidential election and validated the candidacy of only four individuals: Alassane Ouattara, Henri Konan Bédié, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, and Bertin Konan Kouadio.

Rejected candidates were unable to appeal the Council’s decisions, and the government ignored a ruling from African Court of Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) to allow prominent opposition leader Guillaume Soro and former president Laurent Gbagbo to run. Several leading opposition parties, including those of Soro and Gbagbo, refused to participate in the polls and called for a boycott of and protests against the election. The government banned all public demonstrations throughout the election period, and those that occurred were met with violence. The campaign period itself was marred by instances of violence between progovernment and antigovernment supporters, resulting in dozens of deaths.

The opposition boycotted the October election outright, while many would-be voters were prevented from casting ballots due to security concerns. Ouattara won the poll with 94 percent of the vote, according to the government, which put turnout at 54 percent. These numbers were contested by independent observers from the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), which reported that only 54 percent of polling stations opened and only 41 percent of voter cards were distributed before the vote. The group also said the electoral roll had issues with the comprehensiveness of its data, and included a large number of deceased individuals, and that the election commission lacked transparency and heavily favored the ruling party in administering the election.

The Constitutional Council rejected 40 of the 44 candidates for the presidential election and validated the candidacy of only four individuals: Alassane Ouattara, Henri Konan Bédié, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, and Bertin Konan Kouadio

The prime minister is the head of government, is appointed by the president, and is responsible for designating a cabinet, which is also approved by the president. In March 2021, Patrick Achi was appointed prime minister following the death of former prime minister Hamed Bakayoko.

Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?

The bicameral parliament consists of a 255-seat lower house, the National Assembly, and a 99-seat Senate, which was envisaged by the 2016 constitution and seated in March 2018. National Assembly members are directly elected to five-year terms. Of the Senate’s 99 seats, 66 are indirectly elected by the National Assembly and members of various local councils, and 33 members are appointed by the president; all members serve five-year terms.

In March 2021, the members of the National Assembly were elected in transparent, credible, and peaceful elections. The parliamentary elections were contested by candidates from several opposition parties and coalitions, including most of those that had boycotted the October 2020 presidential elections. However, the Generations and People in Solidarity (GPS) party, led by former prime minister Guillaume Soro, did not take part in either the presidential or the parliamentary elections.

President Ouattara’s RHDP won an absolute majority in the parliament, taking 137 of 255 seats. A coalition between two leading opposition parties, the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire-African Democratic Rally (PDCI-RDA) and the pro-Gbagbo Together for Democracy and Solidarity (EDS), won 81 seats.

Despite the peaceful nature of the parliamentary elections and the return of several leading opposition parties, voter turnout remained low: only 37.8 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2021 elections.

Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?

In 2016, the ACHPR ruled that the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) was biased in favor of the government and ordered amendments to the electoral law. President Ouattara conceded to the CEI’s reorganization, increasing the number of civil society members in the CEI from four to six by parliamentary amendment in 2019. Civil society criticized the reforms, warning that the government would still exert influence due to its continued ability to nominate members, and changes that could make the body more independent were only partially implemented. Recent allegations of irregularities in CEI appointment and other procedures and related changes in staff, as well as opposition boycotts of staffing processes for district-level posts, have left the CEI mostly run by members of the ruling party.

In April 2020, the government amended the electoral code by emergency executive ordinance—enabled because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s state of emergency measures—without consultation with the election’s participants. The updated electoral roll was opaque and regionally unbalanced, and the CEI refused to report detailed data and submit to an independent audit. In July 2020, the ACHPR ruled that Côte d’Ivoire must take steps to further reform the CEI, including reforming the process for nominating members to the CEI in order to reduce potential government influence over the nominations. Following the ruling, opposition groups called for all CEI local electoral commissions to be dissolved in preparation for new elections.

Despite remaining weaknesses in the electoral framework and dissatisfaction with recent electoral reforms among opposition parties and civil society groups, the reforms that have been implemented since 2016 have improved electoral competition. In 2021, opposition groups were able to participate in the CEI’s central commission after reforms allowed seats in the commission to be assigned to parties with significant parliamentary representation. Opposition candidates were also able to participate in the March 2021 parliamentary elections without facing arbitrary rejection by electoral administration bodies.

  1. Political Pluralism and Participation

Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?

The Ivorian constitution permits multiparty competition, and recent presidential and legislative elections have been contested by a large number of parties and independent candidates. The ruling RHDP, dominated by Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans (RDR), holds a virtual lock on political power, but has faced increased competition in recent years. In 2018, the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) of former president Henri Konan Bédié split with the coalition after disagreement over the RHDP’s 2020 presidential nominee; a faction of PDCI candidates ran against the RHDP in the 2018 municipal elections. In February 2019, former rebel commander and former premier Guillaume Soro resigned as National Assembly speaker. He later formed the Generations and People in Solidarity (GPS) party, and declared his presidential candidacy in October 2020.

In contrast to the 2020 presidential elections—which had been boycotted by several leading opposition parties—party competition improved in 2021. Multiple opposition parties, including many of those that had boycotted the 2020 presidential elections, contested the March 2021 parliamentary elections, increasing the competitiveness of the election and winning a combined 117 of 255 seats in the National Assembly.

In June 2021, former president Laurent Gbagbo returned to Côte d’Ivoire after ten years, following his acquittal by the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity. In October, Gbagbo officially launched a new left-wing pan-African party, the PPA-CI. Gbagbo’s former party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), which he founded in exile in 1982, remains a leading opposition party, and is now led by former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan.

Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?

Opposition parties have little chance of gaining power without reforming the electoral framework, which favors the ruling party. The ruling RHDP has an absolute majority in the National Assembly, limiting the opposition’s ability to pursue such reforms.

In August 2020, the Constitutional Council rejected the candidacy of 40 of the 44 parties and individuals who submitted a nomination for the presidential election, including Soro and former president Gbagbo. International observer missions noted there was no appeals process for the rejected candidates to have their candidacy recognized, and that the election was not genuinely competitive. The government ignored the ACHPR’s ruling to accept Soro’s and Gbagbo’s candidacies.

The opposition largely boycotted the October 2020 presidential elections. After election day, security forces arrested and detained opposition figures, and some were prevented from contacting a lawyer or their families. Opposition leaders including N’Guessan and dozens of opposition party members were detained at the house of Henri Konan Bédié, allegedly for “conspiracy” and “sedition.” N’Guessan was detained and held incommunicado for over 60 hours. Between August and October 2020, police arrested over 40 political dissidents, mainly for their participation in protests.

After Ouattara began his third presidential term, opposition leaders and former presidents Gbagbo and Bédié called for the release of over 100 detainees, who Gbagbo labeled political prisoners. In August 2021, the government announced the release of nearly 80 people who had been arrested during the 2020 presidential elections.

Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?

Individuals faced intimidation, threats, and physical violence when participating in the 2020 presidential election. Opposition parties boycotted the polls and staged multiple marches, sit-ins, and demonstrations leading up to election day in October 2020, despite the government’s ban on all protests from August through October. Security forces used violence to disperse protesters, killing several demonstrators during the campaigning period. Members of leading civil society institutions, like academics, suggested that participating in public debate about the elections would be seen as protest by their superiors.

Supporters of the opposition faced threats from the police and the military, who further failed to keep citizens safe during and after election day. More than 50 people were killed by militia members who attacked citizens with impunity. Opposition and government supporters clashed on the streets with machetes, clubs, and hunting rifles in Abidjan and at least eight other towns.

Such violence was not repeated during the March 2021 legislative elections; observers from the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) found the elections to have taken place in an inclusive, peaceful, and generally transparent atmosphere. Despite the improved atmosphere, however, voter turnout remained low, at 37.88 percent.

Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?

Citizenship has been a source of tension since the 1990s, when Ivorian nationalists adopted former president Bédié’s concept of “Ivoirité” to exclude perceived foreigners, including Ouattara, from the political process. A law relaxing some conditions for citizenship went into effect in 2014 but its application remains uneven. Hundreds of thousands of individuals, mostly northerners, lack documentation.

Women are poorly represented in the parliament, holding 14.2 percent of seats in the National Assembly and 19.2 percent in the Senate in 2021.

A north-south, Muslim-Christian schism has been a salient feature of Ivorian life for decades, and was exacerbated by the 2002–11 crisis. However, the schism has since receded, and the current government coalition includes Muslims and Christians. Political parties are not ethnically homogenous—Côte d’Ivoire comprises people from more than 60 ethnicities—though each tends to be dominated by specific ethnic groups.

  1. Functioning of Government

Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?

Though defense and security forces are nominally under civilian control, problems of parallel command and control systems within the armed forces, known as the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), remain significant. In 2016, the government instituted a law meant to reduce the size of the officer corps and refine the military’s command structure, but these changes have largely gone unimplemented. Nonstate armed actors and former rebels enjoy significant influence, especially in the north and west.

Academics faced threats and intimidation if they addressed or critiqued the ruling party and other politically sensitive topics during the 2020 election cycle. Legal scholars were unable to organize a public debate on the constitutionality of President Ouattara’s third term, as many feared their participation would be considered a form of illegal protest. Individuals at institutions with leadership that support the ruling party engaged in self-censorship

Additionally, after several years of relative calm, military mutinies in 2017 exposed the fragility of the civilian government’s control over the state armed forces. Civilian control was tested again in September 2019, when special forces members scuffled with Abidjan police in an effort to free an arrested colleague; this incident ended without violence, however.

Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?

Corruption and bribery remain endemic, and particularly affect the judiciary, police, and government contracting operations. Petty bribery also hampers citizens’ access to services ranging from obtaining a birth certificate to clearing goods through customs. A public anticorruption body, the High Authority for Good Governance (HABG), was established in 2013, but is considered ineffective. Perpetrators at all levels seldom face prosecution.

Does the government operate with openness and transparency?

The government generally awards contracts in a nontransparent manner. Access to up-to-date information from government ministries is difficult for ordinary citizens to acquire, although some ministries do publish information online. In 2013, the National Assembly passed an access to information law, but enforcement has been inconsistent. The HABG requires public officials to submit asset declarations, but this is not well enforced.

Civil Liberties

  1. Freedom of Expression and Belief

Are there free and independent media?

Conditions for the press have improved since the end of the 2010–11 conflict, and incidents of serious violence against journalists are rare. However, journalists face intimidation and occasional violence by security forces in connection with their work. Most national media sources, especially newspapers, exhibit partisanship in their news coverage, consistently favoring either the government or the opposition. Many journalists were arrested, detained, and beaten by police while covering protests and violence during and after the 2020 election period.

Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?

Public universities were closed and used as military bases during the 2010–11 conflict, and now suffer from a lack of adequate resources and facilities. Classes were disrupted when teachers and university lecturers launched a nationwide strike over salaries, bonuses, and housing aid in late January 2019; the strike was suspended that March when unions held talks with the government.

Academics faced threats and intimidation if they addressed or critiqued the ruling party and other politically sensitive topics during the 2020 election cycle. Legal scholars were unable to organize a public debate on the constitutionality of President Ouattara’s third term, as many feared their participation would be considered a form of illegal protest. Individuals at institutions with leadership that support the ruling party engaged in self-censorship.

  1. Associational and Organizational Rights

Is there freedom of assembly?

Freedom of assembly was restricted by June 2019 criminal code revisions, which include one- to three-year prison sentences for organizing “undeclared or prohibited” assemblies and a vague definition of “public order” that can be broadly interpreted by authorities.

President Ouattara banned public demonstrations and protests throughout the 2020 election period. Police violently dispersed protests and other acts of civil disobedience that stemmed from the opposition’s election boycott; more than 50 people were killed because of violence at public demonstrations.

In 2021, fewer political demonstrations and protest marches took place than in the previous year; those that did occur were largely peaceful, and were not subjected to police violence or interference.

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because protesters faced fewer physical threats than in the previous year.

  1. Rule of Law

Is there an independent judiciary?

The judiciary is not independent, and judges are highly susceptible to external interference and bribes. Processes governing the assignment of cases to judges are opaque. The courts generally adjudicate cases in accordance with the ruling party’s political interests, and the judiciary was fully mobilized to support President Ouattara’s third term.

Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?

Physical violence against civilians in the form of extortion, banditry, and sexual violence, sometimes perpetrated by members of the state armed forces, remain common. Disputes over land use and ownership between migrants, and those who claim customary land rights, sometimes turn violent. The country’s prisons are severely overcrowded, and incarcerated adults and minors are not always separated.

In November 2020, the United Nations reported that over 3,000 people fled Côte d’Ivoire because of postelection violence. Many of those who fled returned to Côte d’Ivoire in 2021

Concerns about impunity, victor’s justice, and reconciliation have persisted after the close of the 2010–11 conflict. To date, only a handful of individuals have been put on trial for crimes committed during that period, and most prosecutions have focused on figures associated with Gbagbo. In 2018, Ouattara pardoned 800 people accused or convicted of committing violent acts during the 2010–11 conflict, including former first lady Simone Gbagbo, ostensibly to foster reconciliation. In January 2019, the ICC acquitted former president Gbagbo of crimes against humanity during the 2010–11 conflict, and Gbagbo was conditionally released. The acquittal was upheld in March 2021, and Gbagbo returned to Côte d’Ivoire in June.

In November 2020, the United Nations reported that over 3,000 people fled Côte d’Ivoire because of postelection violence. Many of those who fled returned to Côte d’Ivoire in 2021.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, numerous terrorist attacks occurred in the north of country, along the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali. In February 2021, the head of French intelligence warned that terrorist groups were planning to expand their operations in Côte d’Ivoire and in December, the government increased its budget for antiterrorism programs in the north.

  1. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?

Women suffer significant legal and economic discrimination, and sexual and gender-based violence are widespread. According to a 2019 survey carried out by Citizens for the Promotion and Defense of the Rights of Children, Women and Minorities (CPDEFM), an Ivorian NGO, more than 70 percent of women in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s largest city, have been victims of domestic violence. The spread of COVID-19 has also been linked to an increase in violence against women; during a COVID-19-related lockdown between March and May 2020, cases of domestic violence rose by 52 percent.

Legal protections from gender-based violence are weak and are often ignored. Impunity for perpetrators also remains a problem, and when it is prosecuted, rape is routinely reclassified as indecent assault. Costly medical certificates are often essential for convictions, yet are beyond the means of victims who are impoverished.

Child marriage is historically widespread, though the July 2019 marriage law set the minimum age for marriage at 18 for both sexes. Customary and religious marriages, more common outside urban areas, were not affected by the law. The July 2019 law also banned same-sex marriage.

Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?

Despite efforts by the government and international industries in recent years to counter the phenomenon, child labor is a frequent problem, particularly in the cocoa industry. Human trafficking is prohibited by the new constitution, but government programs for victims of trafficking—often children—are inadequate.