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Côte d’Ivoire 2016 Crime & Safety Report

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

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The government of Côte d’Ivoire continues to make considerable progress in restoring peace and security to the country, yet serious security challenges remain. The United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) has approximately 6,900 uniformed personnel to help ensure security nationwide but will be drawing down its uniformed contingent in the near to medium term. The French also have 600 military members based in Abidjan who have been deployed as needed to other conflict areas in the region.

Post Crime Rating: Critical

Crime Threats

The majority of crimes against foreigners are non-violent confrontations characterized as crimes of opportunity (muggings, pickpocketing, theft of unattended possessions). However, during the holiday season, there is typically an increase in violent and opportunistic crimes. 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.

Crime is prevalent and includes violent crime, carjackings, armed residential and street robberies, and car thefts. Weapons are readily available and circulate freely. There were numerous incidents of highway banditry and other attacks in the countryside in 2015.

In 2015, Abidjan experienced an uptick in crimes of opportunity committed by small groups of young men referred to locally as “microbes.” Microbes usually operate in the more densely populated neighborhoods, roughing up pedestrians while stealing their valuables.

Cybersecurity Issues

Non-violent crimes, particularly financial and Internet-based scams are proliferating. The country has developed a reputation 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. 

Areas of Concern

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

Avoid walking across the Charles de Gaulle and Houphouet Boigny bridges connecting the Plateau and Treichville neighborhoods. 

While no areas of Abidjan are considered strictly off-limits, visitors should avoid travel to Abidjan’s Yopougon, Abobo, the Banco Forest, Adjame, and Koumassi neighborhoods 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 presents credible risks due to banditry along the roadways. Travelers should attempt to limit travel in these areas and should not utilize public transportation.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Conditions

Road conditions in Abidjan continue to improve after a decade of neglected infrastructure. However, there still are large intersections with no or non-working traffic lights and little predictable organization to the flow of traffic. 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. Traffic, particularly in Abidjan, has been severely and negatively impacted by infrastructure improvement projects that force the use of alternative routes lacking the capacity to handle the increased volume. However, the opening of a third bridge crossing the lagoons of Abidjan has relieved some of these traffic issues.

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. Flooding of low-lying areas during the rainy season is a problem. Heavy rain presents problems with roads that are either unpaved or in poor condition, making it ill-advised to venture off main routes. There is no lighting along the majority of main roads outside of Abidjan.

In 2015, 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, often in public transportation and commercial vehicles. Most armed robberies occurred at night, though some incidences happened during daytime. 

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 that 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 Abidjan or other 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 throughout Côte d’Ivoire and often increase in number and intensity following security incidents. There are many official and unofficial roadblocks/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 may be run unprofessionally by personnel who are poorly trained and resourced. 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; the amount should not exceed 2000 CFA (US$4) and should be clearly printed on the ticket. Some traffic violations, such as driving without insurance, may result in the driver being detained. The government continues to battle the issue of unofficial checkpoint robberies and has created task forces from its security elements to police the issue.

Enforcement of traffic laws is highly irregular, and traffic police are known to elicit bribes.

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

Public Transportation Concerns

Use of public transportation, including taxis, is highly discouraged. The quality of the two types of taxis, red metered taxis and various colored communal taxis, varies considerably. Many taxis often take multiple passengers, creating 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 computer stolen while taking a communal taxi after a distraction was used by another passenger to switch 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 are often reckless, and some have been involved in passenger robberies. Taxis, including passengers, are subject to scrutiny at checkpoints.

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.

Terrorism Threat

Post Terrorism Rating: High

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Sub-regional security threats 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 has 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 (AQIM) 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.

Due to recent terrorist attacks, the government is working with community leaders to identify potential threats originating from neighboring African countries.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

The overwhelming majority of Ivoirians have a favorable view of Americans and of the U.S. Nevertheless, Americans should avoid large crowds, political gatherings, and demonstrations.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Côte d’Ivoire is moving beyond 15 years of political turmoil and the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis that rocked the country; though the underlying issues (political engagement, youth unemployment, ethnic tensions, disputes over land ownership, access to large numbers of unregistered firearms) remain.

Despite worries about violence during the 2015 election, it passed peacefully and without incident. There were a few isolated protests that were broken up by local law enforcement. The next round of campaigning and voting will be for legislative elections to take place in late 2016. 

Côte d’Ivoire faces large challenges to create a safe and stable country, including the need to ensure that former combatants who went through the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program find jobs, complete the process of Security Sector Reform (SSR), and make enduring progress toward reconciliation and equitable justice. 

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. The security situation along the border with Liberia and Ghana remains problematic and permits the uncontrolled circulation of weapons and individuals. Although Côte d’Ivoire has made efforts to increase its security presence in border areas following violent incidents, large swathes of area remained unpoliced. Additionally, Côte d’Ivoire is bordered by two nations that have been victimized by terrorist attacks. In response, the government temporarily increased its law enforcement presence throughout the city.

Post Political Violence Rating: High

Civil Unrest

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

Religious/Ethnic Violence

During some episodes over the past decade, anti-French rhetoric and attacks occurred. 

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

Post-specific Concerns

The government has made economic and commercial development its top priority and achieved significant growth since 2013. Côte d’Ivoire is now ranked as the sixth fastest growing economy in the world in terms of projected compounded annual growth (CAGR) from 2014-2017 based on the forecasts from the World Bank's Global Economic Prospects. Nonetheless, the average Ivoirian has not benefited from this growth and renewed investor confidence in the economy. Côte d’Ivoire ranked 172 out of 188 on the UN’s Human Development Index in 2015, and almost half the population – 46% -- lives below the international poverty line of $2 per day.

Environmental Hazards

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 close to American residences, experienced severe flooding, stranding many of its residents and severely damaging roads and infrastructure. Flooding in 2014 also resulted in deaths and extensive damage to poorly built homes.

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

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

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

The government has invested in improving traffic conditions in Abidjan by building an additional toll bridge and new thoroughfares connecting growing residential areas. However, roads outside of Abidjan suffer from years of neglect and little maintenance. While sizable potholes are common, heavy rains often wash out heavily trafficked dirt roads in outlying areas.

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts

Economic espionage concerns are on par with other countries in Africa. Companies should take care to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of their data by following normal best business practices, including use of authorized IT software. If an economic-based crime is encountered, contact the Economic Police in Plateau.

Privacy Concerns

Business and banking information tends to be processed professionally, and the Embassy is not aware of any particular privacy concerns arising from widespread misuse of such information.

Drug-related Crimes

The extent of the illegal drug trade in Côte d’Ivoire is not well documented; however, West Africa is a known 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

The threat of kidnapping of foreigners is very low. However, toward the end of 2014, there were media reports of Ivoirian children abducted and murdered for ritualistic reasons in the greater Abidjan area.

Police Response

Police are largely ineffective at deterring crime and need significant training. They lack communication equipment, weapons, and vehicles that severely limits their capacity to respond. Many gendarmes and police stations outside 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. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

There are frequent allegations of police corruption. Incidents of police or security force harassment or detention of foreigners are rare but do occur. Numerous checkpoints may be used by police or security forces to extort money from drivers and passengers. U.S. citizens who become victims of police harassment should be polite and cooperative. U.S. citizens detained by the police should ask that the U.S. Embassy be notified immediately.

Crime Victim Assistance

Visitors requiring police assistance are advised to appear in person at the police station in their area or at the police headquarters in Plateau. After doing so, contact the Embassy’s consular section at (225) 22 49 45 94.

To contact Abidjan’s Prefecture of Police/ Police Headquarters, call (225) 20 22 16 33 and (225) 20 22 16 87.

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 then 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 number one recommended facility for emergency medical care is the Groupe Medical du Plateau (tel (225) 47 22 22 22 or (225) 20 22 20 29), which has a very adequate intensive care unit, as well as two operating rooms. Its emergency room has three beds and is staffed 24/7. 

The Polyclinique International St. Ann Marie (PISAM, tel. (225) 22 48 31 31), in Cocody, is the second choice for emergency or urgent care. This facility has adequate surgical and intensive care capacities and requires payment before services. The emergency room is staffed 24-hours a day. This facility owns two advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) ambulances. 

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). These facilities are accessible 24-hours a day as well. However, immediate payment of medical services is expected prior to treatment. The estimated cost for a minor emergency is $300.00 USD or its equivalence in local currency.

Available 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 Félix Houphouët-Boigny International Airport (ABJ). Medicis can arrange helicopter medevac from areas outside of Abidjan to the city and facilitate international evacuation. Its emergency facility is equipped with ACLS, and Medicis has one Abidjan-based ACLS ambulance for ground transport. Visitors should obtain air ambulance insurance before arriving.

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

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

Recommended Insurance Posture

Hospitals often require advance payment for services. This requires pre-prepared access to cash, and then making a claim for reimbursement from your insurance company after the event. Serious illnesses/injuries often require travelers to be medically evacuated where adequate medical attention is available. Such “medevac” services are very expensive and are generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance that covers medevac services or who are able to pay for the service in advance.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Travelers are reminded that they must have a World Health Organization booklet bearing a valid stamp for yellow fever inoculation or risk being denied entry into Cote d'Ivoire until an inoculation can be administered. Travelers should be up-to-date with their Yellow Fever vaccination and have their medical card ready to present upon arrival.

Appropriate malaria prophylaxis is also strongly recommended. 

For more information on health-related travel issues in Cote d'Ivoire, visit the U.S. Center for Disease Control Guidance for Côte d’Ivoire at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/ivory-coast.htm.

OSAC Country Council Information

An OSAC Country Council was established in January 2012. The points of contact are Regional Security Officer Yvon Guillaume (GuillaumeY2@state.gov), ARSO Chad West (WestCA@state.gov), and ARSO Rebecca McKnight (McknightRH@state.gov). The OSAC Abidjan Country Council meets quarterly 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 OSAC’s Africa team, please email OSACAF@state.gov.

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 Mon-Thur from 08:00 to 12:30 and from 13:30 to 16:00. The Consular Section may also be reached in non-emergency situations via email at AbjAmCit@State.gov

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

Embassy Guidance

Consult OSAC or the RSO for up-to-date information.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Scams

Internet scams come in many forms: romance/friendship, business ventures, work/employment opportunities, and money-transfer facilitation, and they can 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. 
Reports also indicate an increase in Internet-based crimes involving Internet-provider 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. One such 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/departure. At the airport, the scam artist may obtain the traveler’s name or organization by reading the placard of a legitimate greeter/expediter/driver and then positioning himself to guide the traveler to transportation where the traveler will be robbed. A variation occurring at hotels and the airport involving the scam artist posing as someone from an organization’s local affiliate. Visitors should make all travel and hotel accommodations in advance and devise a way to positively identify local support at the initial encounter. 

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/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 poorly illuminated areas.

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