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Cote d’Ivoire 2015 Crime and Safety Report

Africa > Cote d'Ivoire; Africa > Cote d'Ivoire > Abidjan; Africa > Cote d'Ivoire > Yamoussoukro

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Although the government has continued to make considerable progress in restoring peace and security, serious security challenges remain as the 2015 presidential elections approach. The United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) has stationed approximately 7,633 uniformed personnel to help ensure security nationwide. The French also have 500 military members based in Abidjan who have been deployed as needed to other conflict areas in the region.   

The government has made economic and commercial development its top priority and has achieved significant growth rates in 2013 and 2014. Nonetheless, the average Ivoirian has not yet benefited from this growth and renewed investor confidence in the economy. Côte d’Ivoire ranked 168 out of 186 for the UN’s Human Development Index in 2013, and almost half the population (46 percent)- lives below the international poverty line of U.S.$2/day.  

Crime Rating: Critical

Crime Threats

Crime is prevalent and includes violent crime, carjackings, armed residential/street robberies, and car thefts. Weapons are readily available and circulate freely throughout the country. 

In 2014, 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 and often in public transportation. Most armed robberies occurred at night. 

The majority of crimes against foreigners are non-violent confrontations characterized as crimes of opportunity (e.g., muggings, pickpocketing, theft of unattended possessions). Western victims of crime are seldom harmed when they comply with the criminal’s demands; resisting an armed assailant risks escalating an economically motivated crime to a violent encounter. In 2014, U.S. Embassy personnel were victims of three home invasion robberies and one armed street robbery/mugging. There were no injuries to personnel.

Popular sports and soccer matches often present the possibility of petty crime or rioting. Similarly, on New Year’s Day 2013, more than 60 people were killed in a stampede following a fireworks display in downtown Abidjan.

During the holiday season, there is typically an increase in violent as well as opportunistic crimes.  

Cyber 

Financial and Internet-based scams are proliferating in Côte d’Ivoire. Côte d’Ivoire has developed a reputation second to Nigeria in western Africa for cyber-crime and scams. In 2013, Côte d’Ivoire began steps to implement cyber-crime legislation, but the process is on-going. Reports also indicate an increase in Internet-based crimes involving IP addresses originating in Cote d’Ivoire. These scams typically target Internet users in developed Francophone countries but will occasionally go after Anglophone users as well. 

Areas of Concern

While no areas of Abidjan are considered strictly off-limits, visitors should avoid travel to the Yopougon, Abobo, the Banco Forest, Adjame, and Koumassi except for specific business purposes during daylight hours. The U.S. Embassy generally does not restrict travel for its personnel within Abidjan, Grand Bassam, Assinie, Yamoussoukro, and Bouake, except when specific threat information is received. Travel to the northern and western border areas of Côte d’Ivoire presents credible risks due to banditry along the roadways. Travelers should attempt to limit travel in these areas.  

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. Although Côte d’Ivoire has made efforts to increase its security presence in all border areas following violent incidents (coupled with UN plans to institute drone surveillance of the borders), large swathes of area remained unpoliced.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

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. Enforcement of traffic laws is highly irregular, and traffic police are known to elicit bribes. Traffic, particularly in Abidjan, has been severely and negatively impacted on by ongoing infrastructure improvement projects that force the use of alternative routes that lack the capacity to handle the increased volume. The recent opening of a third bridge has relieved some traffic issues.   

Road conditions in Abidjan are generally good, with recent improvements after a decade of neglect. However, large intersections still have no or non-working traffic lights and no organization to the flow of traffic. Flooding of low-lying areas during the rainy season is a problem.  

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. There is no lighting along the majority of main roads outside of Abidjan. Heavy rain presents problems with roads that are either unpaved or in poor condition, making it ill-advised to venture off main roads.  

Always drive defensively. Maintain distance between vehicles to avoid taxis and mini buses making sudden customer drop offs. Leave space in case of an emergency egress. Keep doors locked at all times and do not leave valuables in plain view in the vehicle. Maintain 360 degree situational awareness while driving, and keep vehicles parked in well-lit and/or public areas.     

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, which 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 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 and often increase in number and intensity following security incidents. There are many official and unofficial roadblocks and 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 staffed by police or security forces may be run unprofessionally by poorly trained and resourced personnel who extort money from drivers and passengers. The government continues to battle the issue of unofficial checkpoint robberies and has created task forces from its security elements to police the issue.  

Public Transportation Conditions 

Use of public transportation, including taxis, is highly discouraged. The quality of the two types of taxis, the red metered taxis and the various colored communal taxis, varies considerably. Many taxis take multiple passengers, which can create hazardous or confusing situations. In 2014, an Embassy employee’s family member was robbed at gunpoint while riding in a taxi in the early morning hours. The robbery appeared to be a coordinated effort between the taxi driver and the robber. In 2013, an American national had his laptop stolen while taking a communal taxi after another passenger distracted him and switched out his laptop with a similarly weighted item. The serviceability of buses and taxis is questionable due to lax and unenforced safety standards. Taxi drivers often drive recklessly. Additionally, taxis, and all of their passengers, are subject to scrutiny at checkpoints. Travelers should not utilize public transportation.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The Felix Houphouet-Boigny International Airport is a modern airport, which serves numerous international destinations including Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Côte d’Ivoire is moving past 12 years of political turmoil and the 2010-11 post-electoral crisis that rocked the country; though the underlying issues (political engagement, youth unemployment, ethnic tensions, disputes over land ownership, and access to large numbers of unregistered firearms) that contributed to the violence remain. The chance of political unrest leading to violence remains a serious issue as the 2015 presidential elections approach. 

Côte d’Ivoire faces large challenges to create a safe and stable country, including the need to process thousands of former combatants through the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program, continue efforts at Security Sector Reform (SSR), and make enduring progress towards reconciliation and the promotion of human rights.  

Political Violence Rating: High

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Sub-regional security threats also exist, including transnational crime and potential terrorism stemming from developments elsewhere in the region. The government is supportive of U.S. counterterrorism efforts and does not provide political or financial support to any known terrorist organizations. The international terrorist threat posed by al-Qai’da largely originates from Mali. Côte d’Ivoire is a member of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The government had actively supported ECOWAS and the African Union’s operations against al-Qai’da in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other extremist groups in northern Mali and, consequently, has become a potential target of extremists. While the presence of regional terrorist organizations cannot be ruled out, to date Côte d’Ivoire has not experienced any terrorism-related attacks or kidnappings. Jihadists with plans to conduct terrorist attacks against Western interests in Côte d’Ivoire were reported in local media to have been arrested in Abidjan in the spring of 2013. Certain members of Côte d’Ivoire’s large Lebanese community are also known to provide financial support to Hezbollah.

Terrorism Rating: High

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

During some episodes over the past decade, anti-French rhetoric and attacks have occurred. The overwhelming majority of Ivoirians have a favorable view of Americans and of the U.S. 

Civil Unrest 

In 2014, Côte d’Ivoire experienced nationwide protests by Ivoirian military members over salary and rank issues; other civilian groups (prison guards and university employees) have either protested or threatened to protest over various grievances. 

Americans should avoid large crowds, political gatherings, and demonstrations. Political gatherings and demonstrations have the potential to turn violent or for police and security forces to disperse the crowd using tear gas or other means of force.  

Religious/Ethnic Violence 

Overall, political violence generally has been between Ivoirians or directed against West African ethnic groups perceived as “non-Ivoirian.”

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Côte d’Ivoire is not prone to the large majority of natural disasters, but severe storms resulting in flooding and extended power outages are a concern. In low-lying areas, flooding is a major problem during the rainy season and can lead to blocked and damaged roads. In March 2011, the neighborhood of Riviera Palmeraie, which is in close proximity to American residences, experienced severe flooding, stranding many of its residents and severely damaging roads and infrastructure. Flooding in 2014 also resulted in extensive damage to poorly built homes and deaths. Power outages often occur during storms. 

Critical Infrastructure Concerns 

Although Côte d’Ivoire provides electricity to many of its neighbors (and hopes to increase this), the electric current is often erratic.

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

Drug-related Crimes

The extent of the illegal drug trade is not well documented; however, West Africa is generally considered a narcotics transit point between South America and Europe. Drug seizures of cannabis, cocaine, and heroin occur at the international airport and seaports, but a systematic counter-narcotics program is not in place. Cannabis is readily available (mainly from Ghana) and widely consumed. There are no indications of narco-terrorism.

Kidnapping Threat

Towards the end of 2014, there were media reports of Ivoirian children being abducted in the greater Abidjan area and murdered for ritualistic reasons.  

Police Response

Police are largely ineffective at deterring crime and need significant training. They lack communication equipment, weapons, and vehicles, all of which severely limits their capacity to respond. Many gendarmes and police stations outside of Abidjan have just one vehicle for the entire security force and often must receive calls via cell phone to attempt to respond to emergencies. The judicial system is ill-equipped to process and incarcerate criminals. Any response is slow and limited generally to writing a report. Separately, there are frequent allegations of police corruption.  

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Incidents of police or security force harassment or detention of foreigners are rare, but do occur. U.S. citizens who become victims of police harassment should be polite and cooperative. Persons cited for a traffic violation should request a receipt for any items confiscated or fines paid. Note, however, that it is legal to pay fines to police officers on the side of the road for small speeding violations. The amount paid should not exceed the 2000 CFA ($4 USD) and should be clearly printed on the ticket. Some traffic violations, such as driving without insurance, may result in the driver being detained. U.S. citizens detained by the police should ask that the U.S. Embassy be notified immediately.  

Crime Victim Assistance

U.S. Embassy Consular Section, American Citizen Services tel: (225) 22 49 45 94 or (225) 22 49 46 02

Abidjan Prefecture of Police/Police Headquarters tel: (225) 20 22 16 33, (225) 01-28-54-40, (225) 01-00-26-92, (225) 20 22 16 87, (225) 20 21 00 22, and (225) 20 22 08 22

Police/Security Agencies 

Several private security companies offer a wide-range of services. Their capabilities, professionalism, and effectiveness vary widely.

Medical Emergencies

While many medical services are available in Abidjan, care, protocols, and management of conditions are different than in the U.S. Most providers do not speak English. Doctors usually complete medical school in Côte d’Ivoire and continue with specialized training in France. In general, ambulance response time can be very slow and severely impacted by traffic.

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

The Polyclinique International St. Ann Marie (PISAM), in Cocody, has adequate surgical and intensive care capacities. The emergency room is staffed 24-hours a day. Tel: (225) 22 48 31 31

The Groupe Medical du Plateau has a very adequate intensive care unit and two operating rooms. Their emergency room has three beds and is staffed 24/7. This facility owns two advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) ambulances. Tel: (225) 47 22 22 22 or (225) 20 22 20 29

Several other public facilities could also be considered in the case of a mass casualty event, mainly the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (CHU). These hospitals are publically run and are located in various areas of town (Cocody, Treicheville and Yopougon). They are accessible 24-hours a day as well.  

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

An International SOS contractor, Medicis (Tel: (225) 05 95 55 07 or (225) 21 75 29 63 or (225) 21 75 29 60), is based at the airport (ABJ). Medicis can arrange helicopter medevac from areas outside of Abidjan to the city and facilitate international evacuation. Their emergency facility is equipped with ACLS, and they have one Abidjan-based ACLS ambulance for ground transport.  

CEGA Air Ambulance, Accra, Ghana, (Tel: (44) 0 1243 621 525)

International SOS Assistance, Trevose, PA, (Tel: (001) 267 716 2411) or www.internationalsos.com

Recommended Insurance Posture

Visitors to Côte d’Ivoire should obtain air ambulance insurance before arriving.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

Côte d’Ivoire is bordered by three nations that have been victimized by the Ebola virus, though no presence of the Ebola virus has been detected in the country. Additionally, travelers should always be up to date with their Yellow Fever vaccination and have their medical card ready to present upon arrival.

For additional information on vaccines and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/ivory-coast.htm.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Scams 

The scams come in many forms: romance/friendship; business ventures, work/employment opportunities, and money-transfer facilitation; they can each pose great financial risk to victims. In June 2012, an OSAC constituent was the victim of a financial scam involving someone posing as an employee from a company’s local affiliate. The victim was tricked into withdrawing money from an ATM to pay for a fictitious visitor’s tax.

One fraud involved the sale and transport of gold dust from West African countries. Other scams involve job offers, business ventures or a face-to-face meeting with someone with whom the victim has been in correspondence.

Visitors should be aware of scams that occur at the airport and at major hotels. 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 at the airport for any service during arrival or departure. 

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 placard of the legitimate greeter/expediter/driver and then positioning himself to guide the traveler to transportation where the traveler will be robbed. Another variation occurring at hotels and the airport involves the scam artist posing as someone from an organization’s local affiliate. 

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

U.S. citizens and business travelers should practice personal security measures as they would in any major city. Avoid gratuitous displays of money, electronics, or jewelry. Remain alert and aware of your surroundings, avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself or group, and exercise particular caution at night. It is generally not necessary or advised to carry around multiple credit or debit cards, but rather a piece of identification and an appropriate amount of cash. It is prudent to travel in groups, particularly at night, and to avoid side roads or deserted and/or unlit areas.  

Ensure that visitors make all travel and hotel accommodations in advance and devise a way to positively identify local support at the initial encounter. 

Hotel rooms are prime targets for theft. Visitors should ensure that all hotel doors and windows are secured when arriving or leaving.  

Avoid walking across the two major bridges connecting the Plateau and Treichville neighborhoods. 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

U.S. Embassy Abidjan is located in the Riviera Golf section of Cocody on Rues des Ambassades.  

The Consular Section is open for American Citizen Services Monday through Thursday from 08:00 to 12:30 and from 13:30 to 16:00.  

Embassy Contact Numbers

U.S. Embassy Operator: (225) 22 49 40 00
Regional Security Office: (225) 22 49 44 36
Consular Section:(225) 22 49 45 94
Duty Officer: (225) 06 60 77 04
Marine Post One: (225) 22 49 44 50 or (225) 22-43-91-49

The Consular Section may also be reached in non-emergency situations via email at AbjAmCit@State.gov
Website: http://abidjan.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

Risks throughout Côte d’Ivoire are diverse and constantly changing. Consult OSAC or the RSO for up-to-date information.

OSAC Country Council Information

An OSAC Country Council was established in January 2012. The points of contact for the Regional Security Office are RSO Yvon Guillaume (GuillaumeY2@state.gov) and ARSO Reeve Davis (DavisRE3@state.gov). The OSAC Abidjan Country Council meets twice a year and has an active Google discussion group year round. Please contact RSO to arrange a meeting or discuss your organization’s security concerns. To reach the OSAC Africa Team, email: OSACAF@state.gov.