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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Côte d’Ivoire 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Côte d’Ivoire. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s country-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Côte d’Ivoire at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution in Côte d’Ivoire due to crime and terrorism. Reconsider travel to the northern border region due to terrorism. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Abidjan as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The majority of crimes against foreigners are economically motivated and opportunistic (e.g. smash-and-grabs, threat-of-force muggings, pickpocketing, and theft of unattended possessions). The risk of petty crime is often higher in areas of congregation, particularly markets and popular sports/soccer matches. Hotel rooms are occasional targets for theft of valuables. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Certain sections of Abidjan continue to experience crimes of opportunity committed by small groups of disaffected teenagers and young adults. These youth usually operate in the more densely populated neighborhoods, engaging in flash mobs, roughing up pedestrians, and stealing valuables. One such youth killed a gendarme in Abidjan in 2018; police have conducted mass detentions of street youth in response.

Property crime (e.g. burglaries of residences, car theft) and violent crime (e.g. carjacking, armed residential/street robberies) are ubiquitous. Illegal firearms are readily available throughout the country. There continue to be numerous incidents (during both day and night) of highway banditry and other violent crimes in the countryside. During holiday seasons (including major Muslim and Christian holidays), there is typically an increase in stick-ups and opportunistic crimes such as burglaries of cars and homes. Criminals seldom harm victims of street crime if they comply with demands. Assailants will follow through on violent threats if victims refuse to hand over valuables. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Avoid travel to the Abidjan areas of Yopougon, Abobo, Banco Forest, Adjame, and Koumassi, except for specific business purposes during daylight hours, due to crime. Avoid walking across the Charles de Gaulle and the Houphouet Boigny bridges connecting the Plateau and Treichville neighborhoods.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens outside of Abidjan. Embassy personnel may not drive outside major cities after dark, to include Abidjan, Grand Bassam, and Assinie. Plan and coordinate any travel outside of Abidjan with family, friends, or colleagues. The U.S. Embassy generally does not restrict travel, other than to the aforementioned Abidjan neighborhoods, for its personnel.

Côte d’Ivoire’s borders are porous, enabling the unregulated circulation of weapons, illicit goods, and individuals. Minimize road travel near Côte d’Ivoire’s border regions. Travel to the northern and western border areas presents some risks due to nighttime banditry along the roadways. Security along Côte d’Ivoire’s northern borders with Mali and Burkina Faso is a concern, given increasing instability in those countries and the potential for cross-border criminal and terrorist activity from Mali- and Burkina-based groups. The security situation along Côte d’Ivoire’s border with Liberia is also problematic, due to occasional local land disputes that can escalate into violence on the Ivoirian side of the border.

Cybersecurity Issues

Financial and internet-based scams are proliferating in Côte d’Ivoire. The country has developed a reputation in West Africa for cybercrime. The U.S. Embassy receives multiple inquiries per week about scams. Scams typically target Francophone internet users but occasionally target Anglophones. Internet romance and financial scams are prevalent in Côte d’Ivoire. Scams are often initiated through Internet postings/profiles or by unsolicited emails and letters. Scammers almost always pose as U.S. citizens who have no one else to turn to for help. Common scams include Romance/online dating; Money transfers; Lucrative sales; Gold purchase; Contracts with promises of large commissions; Grandparent/relative targeting; Free trip/luggage; Lotteries; Inheritance notices; Work permits/job offers; and Bank overpayments. The U.S. Embassy is not able to assist victims of scams. For more information on scams in Côte d’Ivoire, see the U.S. Embassy’s webpage.

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road safety is a major concern in Côte d’Ivoire. Impatient drivers frequently disregard traffic laws and drive recklessly. Cars frequently travel without functioning headlights. Visibility is often poor, even in developed areas with streetlights. Roadway 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 routes and create traffic congestion. Transport vehicles often overload their cargo and rarely follow standard safety practices.

Improving road and bridge infrastructure and traffic flow in Abidjan is a government priority. New bridges and thoroughfares connecting growing residential areas are helping. Nevertheless, there are large intersections with non-working traffic lights and chaotic traffic. Infrastructure improvement projects and temporary road closures often have a severe impact on traffic, particularly in Abidjan.

The addition of traffic lights within Abidjan has created a perverse hazard for pedestrians and increased the risk of drivers hitting pedestrians. Although the streetlights (when respected) control vehicular traffic, there are few walk lights for pedestrians, many of whom use “zebra” crosswalks even when the traffic light gives vehicles the right of way.

Outside of Abidjan, road conditions vary, and many roads suffer from years of neglect and little maintenance. Large potholes and washed-out or flooded segments can interrupt stretches of well-paved highway. While sizable potholes are common within and outside of Abidjan, heavy rains often wash out heavily trafficked dirt roads in outlying areas. Heavy rain can make unpaved roads impassable. There is no lighting along most of the main routes outside of Abidjan.

U.S. Embassy personnel may not travel on roads at night outside of Abidjan or other major cities. The vast majority of vehicular fatalities involve persons traveling at night, often by public transportation or in commercial vehicles on poorly lighted roads.

Authorities rarely enforce traffic laws, and there are allegations that some traffic police solicit bribes. The patrol presence of Ivoirian security forces on roadways outside of the capital at night is limited or non-existent. Still, uniformed security checkpoints are common on major roadways throughout the country, and often increase in number and intensity following security incidents. There are many police roadblocks/checkpoints on the major routes outside of Abidjan, which may be permanent or ad hoc, at which officers have allegedly pressured travelers for bribes.

Persons cited for a traffic violation should request a receipt for any items confiscated or fines paid. It is legal to pay fines to police officers on the side of the road for small speeding violations not to exceed 2000 CFA (approximately US $4). The amount should be clearly printed on the ticket. Some traffic violations (driving without insurance) may result in driver detention. 

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Use of public transportation can be hazardous. Taxi and minibus drivers are particularly erratic and reckless, and traffic accidents occur frequently. Taxi services arranged by phone or the Internet may offer more secure and safer transportation. The quality of metered taxis (red/orange) and communal taxis (various colors) varies considerably. Many taxis often pick up multiple passengers, which can create dangerous or confusing situations. Passengers may also be at greater risk of theft and robbery in shared taxis. The safety of buses and taxis is questionable due to lax and unenforced safety standards. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Visitors should be aware of scams that can occur at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny International Airport (ABJ). One scam consists of someone offering expediting assistance through passport control and customs in exchange for payment in advance. Travelers are not required to pay police, customs, or immigration officers for any service.

Another scam involves someone posing as a greeter/expediter/driver in the arrival area or at a hotel. At the airport, the scam artist may obtain the traveler’s name or organization by reading the traveler’s luggage tag and then positioning himself to guide the traveler to transportation. The scammer typically charges the traveler an exorbitant fee, possibly driving them to an ATM to withdraw the fee en route to a hotel.

Another variation involves the scam artist posing as someone from an organization’s local affiliate. Make all travel arrangements in advance, and devise a way to identify local support at the initial encounter. 

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Abidjan as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Mali-based terrorist groups, which include regional al-Qa’ida and ISIS affiliates, pose a threat to Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa more broadly. Many of these groups have stated or signaled their intention to target Westerners and countries whose governments support or participate in regional stabilization and/or counterterrorism efforts.

The government of Côte d’Ivoire has actively supported regional and international operations against extremist groups in Mali. Terrorist and criminal activity along Côte d’Ivoire’s northern border remains a growing concern as the security situation deteriorates in Mali and increasingly in Burkina Faso as well. Mali-based terrorist groups have kidnapped Westerners. Mali-based al-Qa’ida affiliates have demonstrated their willingness and capacity to launch attacks outside of their main areas of operation in Mali, and have specifically targeted locations foreigners frequent.

The terrorist group Hizb’allah may receive financial support from various Côte d’Ivoire-based persons and/or entities.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Abidjan as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest 

There is widespread domestic uncertainty about the process leading to, and the possible outcomes of, the country’s presidential and legislative elections (scheduled for October 2020). There were four confirmed deaths directly related to regional and municipal elections in 2018. At that time, there were several barricades and mass demonstrations throughout Abidjan that the heavy presence Ivoirian security forces dispersed with the use of tear gas (as is common). Unidentified actors ransacked several polling stations during a December 2018 special election. This recent electoral violence, combined with the country’s experience with more severe electoral violence in 2002 and 2010, has exacerbated political and social tensions during the pre-electoral period.

Travelers should avoid demonstrations, protests, political rallies, and large crowds, as they can escalate into violence. Clashes among demonstrators or between protestors, and security forces may occur with little warning. Police and security forces may disperse crowds using tear gas or other coercive measures, including force. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Severe storms can result in flooding and extended power outages. In low-lying areas, flooding is a major problem during the rainy season and can impede and/or damage roads. Annual flooding continues to cause extensive damage to poorly built homes.

There is often a general disregard for environmental standards, leaving land and water polluted. The government has made efforts to clean certain visible areas, but large sections of the lagoon and beaches near Abidjan remain littered with trash and heavily polluted.

 Côte d’Ivoire is a major transit hub for wildlife trafficking, although the government has demonstrated a willingness to prosecute traffickers.

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Theft

Economic espionage occurs infrequently and is on par with other countries in Africa. If you encounter an economic crime, contact the Economic Police directly. They are located in the Plateau district of Abidjan.

Personal Identity Concerns

Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Côte d’Ivoire. The only mention of same-sex sexual activity in the law is as a form of public indecency that carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment, the same prescribed for heterosexual acts performed in Côte d’Ivoire that contravene the law. Antidiscrimination laws exist, but they do not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Societal stigmatization of the LGBTI community is widespread. Police, gendarmes, and members of the armed forces reportedly beat, imprison, verbally abuse, extort, or humiliate members of the LGBTI community. The few LGBTI organizations in the country operate freely, but with caution. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Individuals with disabilities should be aware that there are almost no accessibility accommodations made for individuals with disabilities in Côte d’Ivoire. This is true virtually everywhere, from the airport to hotels and public buildings. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crime

Now a transit, source, and destination country, Côte d’Ivoire is seeking help to discourage drug use, treat addicts, detect drug shipments, prosecute offenders, and unearth hidden assets of drug traffickers. Cocaine, heroin, opioids, amphetamines, and cannabis are entering and transiting the country, which is now also an important cannabis producer. An estimated 12% of the population (15-64 years) consumes drugs. Most of the domestic production supplies the local market (of which Abidjan makes up 50%), and the sub-region (e.g. Ghana, Guinea and Burkina Faso). Ivoirian authorities have been successful seizing product, confiscating 5,198 tons in 2018 and 8,456 tons in 2019. The growing drug problem links with other problems it is struggling to control, with corruption and money laundering chief among them. Drug use is becoming more common in schools, and is widespread in Abidjan’s main prison. With a bulging youth population, poor employment prospects for many, and easy connectivity to Europe and other African countries, Côte d’Ivoire could well see an even worse drug problem before too long.

Kidnapping Threat

Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

Law enforcement is somewhat effective at deterring crime but needs further capacity building. Security services often lack communications equipment, weapons, and vehicles, severely limiting their capacity to respond. Many gendarmes and police stations outside of Abidjan have one vehicle for the entire precinct and often receive distress calls from the public via cell phone because they lack a centralized dispatch system. Responses to incidents of crime are often slow and generally limited to writing a report. The judicial system is equally under-resourced and ill-equipped to process its current case load and to incarcerate convicted criminals in accordance with international standards.

Government corruption remains a serious problem in Côte d’Ivoire, and has an impact on judicial proceedings, contract awards, customs, and tax issues. Uniformed security forces (police, military, and gendarmes) routinely stop vehicles for traffic violations and security checks. If you find yourself at such a stop, politely present your identification. Police and security officials rarely speak English. Incidents of police or security force harassment or detention of foreigners are rare but do occur. If an officer asks you to pay a bribe, politely refuse and present a photocopy of your U.S. passport, visa, and entry stamp.

Visitors requiring police assistance should appear in person at either the police station in their area or the police headquarters in Plateau. After doing so, contact the Embassy’s consular section.

Police/Security Agencies

There is no single emergency line in Côte d’Ivoire. Call Abidjan’s Prefecture of Police/ Police Headquarters at +(225) 20 22 16 33 or +(225) 20 22 16 87. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

While many medical services are available in Abidjan, the quality of medical care and facilities frequently does not meet U.S. standards. Most providers do not speak English. Doctors typically complete medical school in Côte d’Ivoire and specialized training in France. Ambulance response time can be very slow, and traffic may cause severe delays. Emergency response is extremely limited outside Abidjan and major cities. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

Serious illnesses/injuries often require travelers Ivoirian providers to stabilize and then medically evacuate (medevac) patients to locations where a higher level of care is available. Air ambulance services are very expensive and are generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance that covers medevac, or who can pay for the service in advance. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

Travelers must have a yellow fever booklet from WHO bearing a valid stamp for yellow fever inoculation. Authorities will deny entry into Côte d’Ivoire until they see proof of yellow fever vaccination. Travelers may receive fever vaccination at the airport for a minimal fee.

Strongly consider using an appropriate malaria prophylaxis. Other mosquito-borne illnesses are present in Côte d’Ivoire from time to time; take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. In 2019, there were outbreaks of Dengue Fever and Yellow Fever in Abidjan.

In many areas, tap water is not potable. Bottled water and beverages are generally safe, although you should be aware that many restaurants and hotels serve tap water unless bottled water is specifically requested. Be aware that ice for drinks may be made using tap water. Review OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

Air pollution is a significant problem in several major cities in Côte d’Ivoire. Consider the impact seasonal smog and heavy particulate pollution may have on you, and consult with your doctor before traveling if necessary. People at the greatest risk from particle pollution exposure include infants, children, and teens; people over 65 years of age; people with lung disease, such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema; people with heart disease or diabetes; and people who work or are active outdoors.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Côte d’Ivoire. Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

Abidjan has an active OSAC Country Council. Contact OSAC’s Africa team for more information.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

U.S. Embassy Abidjan is located in the Riviera Golf section of Cocody on Rue des Ambassades. The Embassy hours of operation are Monday through Thursday 0730-1730 and Friday 0730-1230. The Consular Section is open for American Citizen Services Mon-Thurs, 0800-1230 and 1330-1600. The Embassy closes for most U.S. and Ivoirian holidays.

Embassy Operator +(225) 22 49 40 00

Duty Officer +(225) 06 60 77 04 (after hours)

Marine Post One +(225) 22 49 44 50 or +(225) 22-43-91-49

Website: https://ci.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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