Inter Press Service » Fulgence Zamblé News and Views from the Global South Sat, 13 Feb 2016 10:14:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Shortage of ARVs and a Surplus of Stigma in Côte d’Ivoire Fri, 08 Nov 2013 09:31:37 +0000 Fulgence Zamble A health worker explains the sexual transmission of infections at the family planning clinic in Yopougon. ARV shortages and long waits discourage women from starting or  staying on treatment. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

A health worker explains the sexual transmission of infections at the family planning clinic in Yopougon. ARV shortages and long waits discourage women from starting or staying on treatment. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, Nov 8 2013 (IPS)

At the Cocody-Anono community health centre, south-east of the Ivorian economic capital of Abidjan, Bertine Bahi* regularly attends awareness sessions on Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) for women living with HIV.

Bahi tested positive in her third month of pregnancy. In October, the 32-year-old was five months pregnant and still had not revealed her HIV status to her husband.

“Despite the midwife’s advice, it is difficult to tell my husband.  If I do, I will be thrown out of my home,” Bahi says. “For now, when I can get hold of antiretrovirals (ARVs), I take them in secret.”

Suzanne Asseman*, a 37-year-old housewife from Agboville in southern Côte d’Ivoire, learned she was HIV-positive in June 2012. She has to travel to Abidjan, 80 kms away, for the ARVs that keep her healthy.

This is not easy because Asseman is seven months pregnant. When she finally received her ARV pills for October, she had missed five weeks of treatment.  ARVs must be taken regularly every day or their efficiency is compromised.

Asseman has always waited one or two weeks to get her medication, but this time the wait was longer. Now she has doubts about her treatment. 

Fast Facts About Côte D’ivoire

5,000: Number of new HIV infections among children in 2012

35,000: Number of children eligible for ARV therapy in 2012

8 out 10 of children eligible for ARV therapy are not receiving it

14,000 women were newly infected with HIV in 2012

Source: UNAIDS

“I was reluctant to go on ARVs. Where I live, the medication has expired by the time it gets there,” she confides to IPS. “I think I would rather stop taking the drugs than keep up all the running around.”

Rolande Yao, a social worker in the PMTCT centre in Attécoubé in central Abidjan, says that stigmatisation is increasing, and the frequent disruptions in ARV supply create yet more difficulties for patients.

Three out of 10 pregnant women living with HIV in Côte d’Ivoire miss out on PMTCT, says the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in its 2013 Progress Report on the Global Plan.

Testing pregnant women for HIV often puts a strain on couples’ relationships.

“When a man is told his wife is HIV-positive, often he suspects her of being unfaithful,” says Yao. “He may refuse to be tested and reject his wife.”

Yao estimates that seven out of 10 women experience rejection and that, despite intervention by medical staff, many husbands refuse to take them back.

Fear of rejection prompts pregnant women who have tested positive to change their health centre or to keep silent. Others become lost to the medical system, avoiding antenatal medical care and risking passing the virus to their babies, Yao adds.

According to Cyriaque Ako, coordinator of the M2C (Mother to Child) project, many of these lost cases make their way to traditional healers.

M2C works in Yopougon, the country’s most populous community, near Abidjan, where women prefer to go to healers and many do not know about PMTCT, explains Ako. The project, now in its second year, aims to link women from 15,000 poor households to health and HIV testing centres.

The HIV prevalence rate is 3.2 percent in this West African country with a population of 20 million, which struggles to contain the epidemic and care for its estimated 450,000 HIV positive people, according to UNAIDS.

Some modest progress is visible. UNAIDS points out a decline in the number of children newly infected every year, down from 6,700 in 2009 to 5,000 in 2012. “Declining, but not rapidly enough,” says the Progress Report.

However, AIDS non-governmental organisations (NGOs) complain that since the end of the 2011 to 2012 post-electoral crises, people living with HIV seem to have been abandoned. The NGOs have regularly sounded the alarm on the repeated ARV supply disruptions.

One of the main causes of the ARV shortage has been the collapse of the health system over a decade-long political crisis, starting with an armed rebellion in the north and west of the country and simmering into post-electoral conflict.

During this period, the international community imposed arms and trade embargoes on Ivorian ports – Abidjan and San Pedro – in order to force former president Laurent Gbagbo to leave power after his electoral defeat. Medicines ordered from Europe could no longer be delivered to Côte d’Ivoire. In addition, many health facilities were looted and closed temporarily during the fighting, according to the NGOs.

Yaya Coulibaly, president of the Ivorian Network of People Living with HIV, which is known by its French acronym RIP+, says “community advisors and prescribing doctors have to lie to patients because there are not enough ARVs at the government pharmacy.” Even the basic ARV Nevirapine, which is prescribed for PMTCT, is in short supply, he says.

Coulibaly explains that at times ARVs are available in abundance in certain health centres but in short supply in others, pointing to a distribution problem. At the Ministry of Health, he adds, a revamp of the government pharmacy is underway to improve ARV distribution. This will help mothers like Asseman and Bahi stay on treatment and healthy.

*Not their real names

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Some Côte d’Ivoire Women Don’t Want Joint Responsibility for Family Fri, 14 Dec 2012 20:17:03 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Dec 14 2012 (IPS)

After 17 years of women struggling for parity with men in the household, Côte d’Ivoire’s legislature has finally adopted a law which establishes equal responsibility for legally married spouses. But not everyone is happy.

The law has sparked angry debate in this West African country, with some women expressing worries about taking on joint responsibility for family affairs.

According to the new law, passed on Nov. 21, families are now to be managed jointly by both spouses, who are together responsible for the moral and material care of the household. Under the previous law, the husband was designated as the sole head of the family.

The new law also specifies that both spouses should contribute to the costs of running a household in proportion to their ability. A partner who fails to comply can be forced to do so by the courts.

“This law’s got nothing to do with me. It is contrary to how we do it in my tradition (in the east of the country),” said Sandrine Ebin, an executive secretary who now lives with her husband in Abidjan, the Ivorian economic capital.

“For us, the custom is that it is a man who marries a woman and brings her into his house; and she submits to her husband. To now ask that we should be equal in the household threatens our morals. At my house, my husband will remain the boss,” she told IPS.

Mariam Tiené, an Abidjan trader originally from the north of the country, shares this opinion. “I’m already just one of three wives in a customary marriage, each of us struggling to get a civil marriage certificate. If I were to claim new status under this new law, for sure my husband would divorce me. I don’t want that,” she told IPS.

Constance Yaï, a former minister and a standard bearer for women’s emancipation during the 1990s, has no patience with views like these.

“I don’t want to deal with women who are against the new law,” she said. “For many of them, it is convenient to get married and be taken care of. There’s a class of women who are content with this situation. Frankly, I’m not fighting for them.”

The draft law was the source of sharp conflict between the ruling Rally of the Republicans (RDR) party and its ally, the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI). An amendment put forward by the PDCI which sought to retain a man’s status as head of household led to the dissolution of the government on Nov. 14. The amendment was eventually withdrawn and the government was re-formed after the marriage law was passed.

“To strip the Family Code of the idea that there is a head of the household is not necessarily going to lead to greater rights for women,” warned legislator Yasmina Ouégnin, who voted against the law. “It is good to remember that our entire civilisation is built around a chief who must be respected.”

Hervé Yaoua, a public works engineer in Abidjan, is sympathetic. “What this law demands is co-management of the family. When they say that a man and a woman must become one, it’s to say that the woman too has the capacity to support the couple. That is what has been formalised,” he said.

His wife, Edwige, added that women have always taken on joint responsibility for a family’s morals, but she’s worried about the financial implications of the new law. “Women don’t want to contribute to expenses. That’s all!” she told IPS.

El Hadj Ibrahim Diarra, imam of a mosque in Agboville, in the south of the country, said “Islam does not allow the woman to jointly run the home with the man. It’s the man who is the sole head and that must remain so. It’s God’s law that says this and it is not for human beings to change it.”

Maxime Zoh, a pastor of a protestant church in Adjamé, in the centre of Abidjan, is also categorical: “In the absence of a man, a woman can be responsible for – but not the head of – the family. God has entrusted the home to the man, but not to the two.”

Abidjan lawyer Simone Assa is worried by responses like these and calls for work to raise awareness about the new legislation. “The law will need to be carefully explained and understood, because it could destabilise families. There is nothing binding at the root of this law; there are simply measures taken in the interest of the family,” she told IPS.

Minister for Solidarity, the Family, Women and Children Anne Désiré Ouloto explained her view. “With the new law, the woman is no longer simply a helpmeet for her husband in the running of a household. She doesn’t have to wait until her husband is absent or indisposed to step in. Shared responsibility is a source of balance for a couple.”


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Côte d’Ivoire – New Cassava Varieties Bring Women Autonomy Tue, 25 Sep 2012 05:38:03 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Sep 25 2012 (IPS)

Women farmers in Côte d’Ivoire are achieving greater autonomy and economic independence thanks to new varieties of cassava.

Cassava is an important staple food in this West African country according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, second only to yams, a similar starchy tuber.

Farmers in the southern and eastern parts of the country have taken up three high-yielding varieties of cassava, known as Bocou 1, 2 and 3, which are resistant to disease and pests, according to Boni N’zué, the coordinator of the Cassava Project, an initiative launched in 2008 by the country’s National Centre for Agricultural Research.

“They can produce 32 to 34 tonnes per hectare per year, compared to five tonnes per hectare from traditional cassava varieties,” he told IPS. 

Eight years ago, when her family’s 10 hectare landholding in the southern village of Dabou was divided up, Henriette Adou was allocated a one-hectare plot. The 35-year-old farmer began cultivating it, but when her efforts in the 2007-2008 season produced a harvest of less than three tonnes, she gave up farming for a year.

“But friends advised me to switch to the new cassava varieties and I tried them out in 2009-2010. The results have been even better than I hoped,” Adou told IPS.

Her 2010 harvest of the Bocou 1 variety amounted to 33 tonnes. In 2011 she planted both Bocou 1 and 2 and harvested more than 65 tonnes. With cassava selling for around 48 dollars per tonne, her income came to 3,000 dollars last year.

Now Adou is thinking about expanding her field. “I asked my brothers to let me farm another hectare, but only one of them agreed. The others refused, saying that I’m not entitled to any more than what I got when the land was divided up,” she said.

Before leaving for the fields, Adou told IPS she had put money aside for a house which she hopes to finish building after the sale of her harvest next year. “I’m putting it up at my own pace because I’ve become the head of the family,” she said with a smile.

Her ambitions go beyond simply selling more cassava. Adou wants to set up an operation to process and market various cassava products, especially attiéké – a popular food in Côte d’Ivoire and neighbouring countries for which a pungent, tasty fufu is made by peeling, boiling and fermenting cassava, which is then drained, dried and steamed.

“I hope to get started processing cassava within the next two years,” she told IPS.

Albertine Niamien, 37, is already further along that road. A member of the Association of Women Attiéké Producers (APAD), she also attributes her good fortune to new cassava varieties.

“It’s three years now since I started planting Bocou 1 and 2. When I took over three hectares of family land, everyone supported me. We trained two teams of five – some to work on processing and others on marketing,” Niamien told IPS.

She told IPS that her annual income, which ranges between 4,000 and 8,000 dollars, has allowed her to cover essential needs for the ten members of her family.

APAD has more than 150 members, according to its president, Véronique Lathe. She is in charge of raising awareness for a cooperative of women, with the aim of meeting the challenge of maintaining quality and moving towards greater industrialisation of attiéké production.

“There are more than a thousand women growing cassava and making attiéké. They need to join the association,” Lathe said. “They will soon see that we’ll achieve significant sales which will allow us to be independent.”

At Abengourou, in the east of the country, Florence N’dri, 40, and Cécile Adjoua, 41, are among the 3,000 growers of the new cassava varieties, who sell almost all of their output to a foreign-owned business that has set up in Côte d’Ivoire.

The two women are each cultivating just half a hectare, producing a yield of around 20 tonnes. “This small harvest brought in about 400,000 CFA francs (800 dollars). It’s not yet enough, but I have managed to save a bit of money,” N’dri told IPS.

Three years ago, the producers in the region harvested a total of 25,000 tonnes of cassava. In 2011, their collective output was 32,000 tonnes, worth about 1.5 million dollars. Three quarters of the output was sold to the foreign business, and the rest on the local market.

“The guarantee of having a market is very motivating. Now, we’re fighting so that our husbands and parents will grant us larger plots,” said Adjoua, whose spouse is eyeing her land to extend his rubber plantation.

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Armed Forces Still Dictating Côte d’Ivoire’s Law Mon, 13 Aug 2012 16:00:13 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Aug 13 2012 (IPS)

Even as Côte d’Ivoire gradually recovers from the bloody events of the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis, massacres in the western part of the country and the frequent sound of gunfire in the economic capital, Abidjan, are signs of the long road ahead.

More than a year after Alassane Ouattara became president, heavily armed men are still a common sight in the streets of Abidjan and other parts of the western, central and eastern regions of the country.

In Abobo, Adjamé and Yopougon, three large districts of Abidjan, soldiers wearing a variety of uniforms – presented variously by the authorities as demobilised fighters or regular army troops – control traffic and carry out routine checks.

But these soldiers also unnerve residents with their uncontrolled use of weapons. For example on Jul. 24, a confrontation between military police and members of the FRCI, the regular army, led to three deaths. And in March, a young man was murdered in the street in the same areas by soldiers demanding 600 CFA francs (equivalent to around 1.20 dollars).

During a traffic stop in Yopougon on Jul. 27, FRCI troops fired on a taxi whose driver had refused to follow their orders. Three passengers were seriously injured, according to witnesses.

Two days later, in Abengourou, in the east of the country, another taxi was shot at by armed men, leading to five casualties, according to hospital sources.

These fighters carry out systematic raids, make arrests, and detain people for long periods, says the Ivorian Human Rights League (LIDHO), a non-governmental organisation based in Abidjan.

“What’s worrying is that these soldiers don’t seem to answer to a chain of command. Their actions can no longer be considered isolated incidents, since such things have occurred repeatedly,” said René Hokou Legré, president of LIDHO.

Since December 2011, the FRCI and the dozos – traditional hunters who have supported the regular army – have been blamed by many for killing innocent people.

The FRCI killed six people following an altercation between a soldier and a civilian last December in Vavoua, in the west central region of the country. A week later, soldiers killed four in the southern town of Sikensi, in nearly identical circumstances.

In mid-February 2012, confrontations between the FRCI and residents of the eastern county of Arrah led to a dozen deaths, of mainly civilians; community members are now demanding that the soldiers leave the area.

“Everyone must understand that private justice is unacceptable in a state of law. Recourse to the legal authorities remains the legitimate way to resolve all differences, no matter their nature,” said Yacouba Doumbia, interim president of the Ivorian Human Rights Movement (MIDH), based in Abidjan.

Perhaps the most worrying single incident took place in the western town of Duékoué on Jul. 20. In apparent reprisal for the murder of four people during a robbery in an ethnic Malinké neighbourhood of the town, a group launched an attack on a displaced persons camp mostly inhabited by members of the Guéré ethnic group. Officially, 11 people were killed, several of them shot to death.

Human rights organisations have blamed dozo traditional hunters, FRCI soldiers and a lack of a response by United Nations peacekeepers stationed in the town.

On national television on Jul. 22, the defense minister, Paul Koffi Koffi, said that ex-members of a militia that supported the former president, Laurent Gbagbo, were living in the camp, and regularly left it to commit abuses.

Abidjan-based political scientist Marcellin Tanon said he sees a kind of “carelessness” on the part of the authorities. “Each time, the government has tried to justify abusive acts and clear the armed forces of blame. So the soldiers act with complete impunity and the events in Duékoué must be considered the culmination of a series of impunities.”

Tanon believes the situation is due to the failure of a disarmament process for combatants in various conflicts going back to the 2002 rebellion which divided the country for nearly a decade.

His view is shared by Maurice Zagol, another political scientist based in Abidjan. “The problem presented by these soldiers, who helped President Ouattara to come to power, is a complex one. To use force to fight them would open the way for another rebellion,” Zagol told IPS.

“Still, we must carry out a complete disarmament of ex-combatants, because in the long term we have to fear the population will become fed up and start to doubt the legitimacy of the new regime,” said Zagol.

Interviewed by phone, defence ministry spokesperson Captain Léon Allah insisted that the army high command was taking all necessary steps to resolve the problem of circulation of arms and the strong presence of soldiers in the streets.


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Punish Those Carrying Out FGM, Say Côte d’Ivoire Campaigners Fri, 27 Jul 2012 13:12:43 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Jul 27 2012 (IPS)

Nine women in the northern Côte d’Ivoire town of Katiola have been convicted for carrying out female genital mutilation – the first time that a 1998 law banning FGM has been applied.

The women were found guilty of excising thirty girls aged between 10 and 15 in February. They were each sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay a fine equivalent to roughly 100 dollars.

“We have been waiting a long time for a boost in the fight against this scourge,” said Rachel Gogoua in the Ivorian economic capital, Abidjan, where she heads the National Organisation for Children, Women and the Family (ONEF), a non-governmental organisation that campaigns against FGM.

“The time for awareness-raising is over: now we need to sanction perpetrators.”

The Katiola court handed down the sentences on Jul 18, but in view of the women’s ages – ranging between 46 and 91 years old – decided none will actually have to spend time in prison. Gogoua told IPS she feels the convicted women should serve at least a token amount of jail time to drive home the message to others still practicing excision in many parts of the country.

“The law forbidding these practices was passed in 1998 and we have carried out extensive public education about it. In the end, we have to realise that these women are making fools of us. They are well aware of the law, but they defied it under the pretext of customary practice and tradition,” said Gogoua.

Despite the 1998 law, genital mutilation is still widespread in Côte d’Ivoire, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Based on surveys carried out in 2006, UNICEF estimates that 36 percent of Ivorian women have undergone excision, making it one of the worst affected countries in Africa.

Female genital mutilation is the complete or partial removal of the external genitals of a woman, according to the World Health Organization. This can involve the vulva, the major and minor labia, the clitoris, as well as the urinary and vaginal tracts.

The practice is most common in the northern and northwestern parts of the country, where nearly 88 percent of women are affected, and in the west, where the prevalence rate is 73 percent, according to UNICEF.

Massandjé Timité, 33, is originally from Marandallah, in the north.

“I still feel the pain from my excision today, 15 years later,” she told IPS. “It was a terrible trauma. The wounds healed very slowly, and with each day that passed, I feared the worst.”

Timité said that to evoke tradition to justify the continuation of FGM is to make a superficial argument. “When an excision is clumsily executed, as it was in my case, no one comes to help you. Does tradition accept that a woman should lose the very thing that allows her to give life?”

Despite numerous awareness campaigns and repeated promises by excisors, FGM continues to be practiced.

“Amongst us, the Wobé (an ethnic group in the west), it’s a shameful thing to be called ‘zoégbé’ (an un-excised woman),” explained Cécile Gnowahou, 26, who went through the procedure when she was 11.

“You don’t have the right to marry and you are often ridiculed in the village. In this context, our parents hear the message, but the cultural reality overrides it. This is a custom that has existed since before our parents’ grandparents’ time,” she said.

“Excision causes much more harm than one thinks,” said Gnowahou. “Sometimes it even leads to the victim dying, yet even when these things happen, it is amicably resolved between families.”

Gnowahou’s own experience illustrates the social dilemma that FGM presents many Ivorian women with. “Not only was I unable to get married following the prolonged bleeding that I suffered, but now times have changed and any man who knows about my status as an excised woman automatically rejects me,” she said.

But she believes that if the law against female genital mutilation is applied, it would begin to reduce the prevalence of FGM.

Her sentiments were echoed by Raymonde Goudou Coffie, Côte d’Ivoire’s Minister for the Family, Women and Children, who said that the successful prosecution in Katiola is only a beginning. The minister said the law would be applied in full against practices which affront human dignity, particularly that of women.

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Côte d’Ivoire Law Offers Battered Women Little Protection Thu, 19 Jul 2012 06:14:49 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Jul 19 2012 (IPS)

A shiver ran down Habiba Kanaté’s* spine when she read about a policeman shooting and killing his wife in Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire. “That could have been me,” she said.

IPS met the 28-year-old at a social centre in the south Abidjan neighbourhood of Treichville, one of a number of women there seeking help with domestic violence.

“There hasn’t been a single day in the past three months when I haven’t been insulted, threatened or struck by my husband,” said the mother of three.

“My husband tells me off for challenging him when he makes a decision that I don’t agree with. It’s humiliating and frustrating.”

Also at the Treichville centre was Céline Konan*, the light wounds on her face still open. “I was beaten twice in the space of a week – in front of the children – just because my partner was in a bad mood.”

She told IPS she also had pain in her abdomen where her husband had kicked her.

And it wasn’t Konan’s first visit to the centre: social workers had already come to her home several times, asking her partner to desist. “Unfortunately, it’s had no effect,” she said.

Another regular visitor at the centre was Juliette Téo*. “You can’t count the marks on my cheeks from slaps. Each time, I’ve lost at least two teeth,” she said.

Téo said it was her partner beat her because she complained about his infidelity. “My husband told me that he’s the head of the household and each time I cause a scene, I’ll be corrected,” she said.

In June, the International Rescue Committee, a U.S. based non-governmental organisation, published a report on domestic violence in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, finding that abuse including – burning, battery, rape and psychological violence – is common in all three West African countries. The report stated that more than 60 percent of women in the countries examined are survivors of violence, primarily by their intimate partners.

Gladys Marie-Angela Asso Bally, director of the Treichville centre, told IPS increasing numbers of women were coming for help. “Since the post-electoral crisis, men have become more violent in their households than in the past. From two or three cases, we’ve passed to dozens to deal with every day.”

Each week the centre does its best to offer psychological help and legal assistance to hundreds of victims of all kinds of violence.

“Because of cultural and religious norms, we are really struggling to fight against this scourge,” explained Asso Bally. “Many women are afraid to testify. They think that they will end up putting their husbands in prison or chase them out of their homes.”

Kanaté’s concerns illustrate the challenge. “Imagine if my husband was in prison,” she asked, “where would I find the means to support him and the children? And my in-laws? What will they think knowing that I was at the root of such a situation?”

The centre’s director said the other difficulty is that the relevant law, passed in 1981, which in her view is ineffective in the fight against domestic violence.

“The law asks women to provide hard evidence that they have been beaten. Or else the man must be caught in the very act of aggression in order to be prosecuted. It’s as if one is waiting for someone to die before reacting,” said Asso Bally.

In early July, Sarah Fadiga Sako, the first vice-president of the National Assembly, said the next revision of the Personal and Family Code would strengthen the legislation to support more determined efforts against the evils of domestic violence.

But Fanta Coulibaly, who heads the National Commission To Fight Against Violence Against Women and Children at the Ministry of Family, Women and Children, believes that eradicating domestic abuse requires action on several fronts.

“The phenomenon is alarming and the law alone is not enough,” said Coulibaly. “The whole population needs to work against this evil,” said Coulibaly, calling for an awareness campaign against violence in households in communities.

“It’s irresponsible for men to continue to behave like this. For me, if (putting offenders in) prison is a problem, then these people need to be sentenced to forced labour in order to educate them,” said Ferdinand Kouassi, a construction entrepreneur in Abidjan.


*Names have been changed.


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Child Victims of Côte d’Ivoire’s Crisis Survive Off Trades Wed, 06 Jun 2012 06:24:46 +0000 Fulgence Zamble Thousands of Ivorian children were separated from their parents during the post-election violence in 2011. / Kristin Palitza/IPS

Thousands of Ivorian children were separated from their parents during the post-election violence in 2011. / Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Jun 6 2012 (IPS)

Twelve-year-old Ahmed* pauses on his crutches in the narrow lane that leads from his house to the main road, glancing at the bullet holes still visible on the walls here in the Abobo Park 18 area of Abidjan. He sighs, then speeds up again to catch the bus that will take him downtown to the Adjamé quarter.

In the bag on his back, he carries soapy water, a brush, and a tin of polish, to clean and wax the shoes of his clients. “My parents gave me these supplies three weeks ago. Along with my new friends, I go out to work each day with a smile. Sometimes, I come back with enough money, but often with only a little.”

In March 2011, during Côte d’Ivoire’s post-electoral crisis, Ahmed was forced to carry ammunition for fighters in his home neighbourhood. He was drawn into the midst of a violent clash between insurgents and pro-government forces. The West African nation was shaken by six months of violence and terror when former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power to Alassane Ouattara who won the November 2010 presidential elections. Thousands of people suffered rape, torture and other violence as a result.

“The sound of weapons was deafening. I threw myself down and cried,” he told IPS. “Then I was hit on my left leg, which later had to be amputated.”

Ahmed has since dropped out of school, and he’s starting to get used to his new life, working as a shoeshine boy far from home, said his father, Youssouf Traoré. “After he was hurt, my son spent every day moody and isolated. I felt that after going through such drama, something was not right… We needed to find him something to do, something that would give him hope again,” he told IPS.

At Abidjan’s Marcory market, where women come to have their hair plaited, Solange* helps her older sister create the elaborate, time-consuming braids of her clients. The 15-year-old was gang raped during the crisis, at Yopougon, another part of the city. Still traumatised, she no longer attends school.

“I didn’t want to be laughed at by my classmates every time I approached. So I spend my time here, with my sister. The work she gives me is rebuilding my spirits,” she told IPS. “Most importantly, it keeps me from thinking about what I’ve been through.”

Solange has not had any counselling or other psychosocial support, according to her sister.

Fabrice*, 10, and Adjaratou*, 13, are more fortunate. They too were in Yopougon during the crisis, and have suffered from mental health problems brought on by the incessant firing of heavy weapons. But for the past six weeks, they have been looked after by a non-governmental organisation called Enfance et Développement (Childhood and Development), based in Abidjan.

Like many of their peers, they have taken up a trade. Fabrice has dropped out of school to work as a cobbler, and Adjaratou – who has never gone to school – sells drinking water on the street in small bags.

“With this job,” Fabrice said, “my life’s changed. I was so absent-minded, but I’ve learned to do the best I can in whatever I do, without ever talking about war or weapons…”

These four children are just a few of the many young victims of the post-election crisis that gripped Côte d’Ivoire from December 2010 to April 2011.

Between November 2010 and September 2011, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the NGO Save the Children recorded 1,121 cases of grave violations committed against women or children during the crisis.

This total – representing only a fraction of the real number – includes 643 children, among them 182 survivors of rape, 19 who were pressed into service by one or another armed group, 13 deaths and 56 who were seriously injured.

“Most of these crimes have gone unpunished, because only 52 cases are presently the subject of legal proceedings – despite more than half the victims knowing the perpetrators,” said UNICEF. Of the cases before the courts, 27 involve rape and 25 other kinds of sexual attacks.

Two thirds of the children covered by the joint survey have received no support of any kind. One in four of these victims has benefited from medical assistance. And of the rape victims, only 44 percent have seen a doctor, while 39 percent have not had any medical care.

“Through recreational activities, just helping them to have fun, we have reduced the trauma these children are suffering,” said Josiane Niamké, president of Enfance et Développement. “And we have encouraged their parents to keep them busy, to help heal their pain.”

Francis Gnaly, an Abidjan psychiatrist, said that children must always be listened to and supported, as well as provided outlets for distraction. But “This is unfortunately not happening,” he said.

The psychiatrist said that engaging children affected by the conflict in various activities is an excellent means to repair their damaged psyches.

“There are victims who have been quick to get compensation or care to heal their wounds,” he said. But there are many others who are still waiting for psychological assistance to avoid mental health issues or depression.”


*(Names have been changed to protect privacy.)

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Helping Victims of Post-Election Crisis Obtain Justice in Côte d’Ivoire Mon, 21 May 2012 01:53:06 +0000 Fulgence Zamble 4 Ultimatum and Military Option From ECOWAS to Avoid Stalemate Sat, 28 Apr 2012 15:25:00 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Apr 28 2012 (IPS)

Rebel leaders in Guinea-Bissau have released the country’s prime minister and interim president, who were arrested in the country’s Apr. 12 coup, and have flown them to Côte d’Ivoire.

The release of Carlos Gomes Junior and Raimundo Pereira is an encouraging response by the junta to demands by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS ) for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule.

ECOWAS has given Guinea-Bissau’s military junta 72 hours until Apr. 29 to restore constitutional order, and decided to send a contingent of at least 500 soldiers to the country, which has been in crisis since the coup d’état.

“We can’t tolerate this usurpation of power by the junta in Guinea-Bissau any longer,” Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara, the current head of ECOWAS, declared during an extraordinary summit held in Abidjan on Apr. 26, adding that the coup leaders must must step down and allow a transition process to be put in place quickly.

At the conclusion of the summit, ECOWAS warned that if the junta in Bissau did not accede to its demands, the regional body would immediately impose sanctions on members of the military command and their associates.

ECOWAS further threatened to take diplomatic, economic and financial sanctions against Guinea-Bissau without excluding the possibility of referring cases for prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

West African heads of state also decided to send troops to both Guinea-Bissau and Mali.

“The force to be deployed in Mali will assist the transitional bodies and the interim government to respond to any eventuality should the use of force be needed to restore the territorial integrity of Mali,” the president of the ECOWAS Commission, Désiré Kadré Ouédraogo, said at a press conference.

Ouédraogo said negotiations are ongoing with the Tuareg rebels who control the northern part of Mali, and the contingent initially being dispatched to Mali will be charged with maintaining peace and security for a one-year transitional period which is expected to end with elections.

But should talks with the northern rebels fail, he added, the mission could be reinforced with combat units.

Mali’s interim leader, Dioncounda Traoré, took part in the summit, with the Mauritanian president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, also present – Mauritania is not a member of ECOWAS, but was specially invited as it shares a border with Mali.

The leaders of the coup in Guinea-Bissau have reportedly agreed to the deployment of a contingent of 500 to 600 soldiers to the country under ECOWAS’s authority. This force will have the task of facilitating the withdrawal of the Technical and Military Assistance Mission from Angola to Guinea-Bissau, assisting with the reform of the country’s army, and helping to maintain security during a transition programme that is to be put in place.

Troops for this force will be provided by Nigeria, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, under the command of Colonel-Major Barro Gnibanga, from Burkina Faso.

The summit of heads of state also established a regional contact group with the mandate of coordinating implementation and monitoring of ECOWAS decisions on Guinea-Bissau. This group will include Benin, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Senegal and Togo, with Nigeria acting as head.

“ECOWAS is trying to maintain a firm line in managing these two cases. There has been a slight backtracking on the situation in Mali, because regional leaders have recognised that what’s going on in the north is more complicated than they had imagined,” Abidjan-based political scientist Barthélémy Kodja, told IPS.

“While in Guinea-Bissau the framework is well-defined and easy to manage with the deployment of a military force, Mali’s situation calls for major human, material, and financial resources,” he said.

“At the beginning, the feeling was that ECOWAS would get involved militarily in Mali to fight the Tuareg rebels and other armed groups,” Kodja said. “Regional leaders, especially the current ECOWAS head Alassane Ouattara, showed some willingness to engage in this way, but it was wise to review these plans because getting bogged down (in conflict there) was going to cause serious problems throughout the entire sub-region, and even beyond its borders.”

The coup in Mali took place on Mar. 22, since which time Tuareg rebels and armed Islamist groups have seized control of the northern part of the country. The president overthrown by the coup, Amadou Toumani Touré, agreed to resign and allow the installation of a transitional government directed by the president of the National Assembly, Dioncounda Traoré. Cheick Modibo Diarra was named prime minister of this transitional administration on Apr. 17, and he last week formed a unity government.

Guinea-Bissau’s coup occurred on Apr. 12, as the country was awaiting the second round of presidential elections planned for the end of April. Soldiers fired on the residence of the prime minster, Carlos Gomes Junior, subsequently arresting him and the country’s interim president, Raimundo Pereira.

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Young Ivorians Fishing Big Profits out of Small Ponds Fri, 06 Apr 2012 05:03:00 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Apr 6 2012 (IPS)

Mathieu Djessan looks over the four-hectare expanse of fish ponds with satisfaction. The aquaculture enterprise the 29-year-old runs here near the town of Tiassalé in southern Côte d’Ivoire is quickly proving profitable.

“When we harvest them in May, it will be our third batch of fish in 13 months. We sold the first two lots to reach maturity between December 2011 and February 2012: 5,500 carp and 4,900 catfish. Despite major losses of fry – juvenile fish – we pocketed more than five million francs CFA (around 10,000 dollars),” Djessan told IPS.

Djessan manages three fish ponds along with three friends, here 120 kilometres northwest of the Ivorian commercial capital, Abidjan. Each pond holds 6,000 carp and catfish, growing fat on rice bran.

The four partners started the project with money they scraped together between them, combined with 4,000 dollars borrowed from several private benefactors. They say they’ve already repaid their debt.

“We needed to find something to do to make ends meet,” said Chantal Aya, 26, one of Djessan’s project partners. “So we chose to invest in what looked like a promising sector, not just in this region but also in the north, centre and west of the country which often lack fish.”

Even here in the south, much closer to the ocean, over the past two years fish has seldom been available in the markets in places like Tiassalé and Sikensi. When there has been fish, brought in from Abidjan, it was too expensive for most people.

“Carp which normally costs 1,000 CFA (two dollars) was selling for nearly 2,500 CFA here,” Eugènie Logbo, a fish monger at the Tiassalé motor park or transit hub, told IPS.

Logbo’s two large tables are covered with carp. “These don’t come from Abidjan, they’re from the aquaculture ponds right around here. For two or three months now, there’s been a steady supply of fish from the ponds, and the price has become affordable. The cost of a half-kilo carp has fallen back to 1,500 CFA.”

At Bonoua, on the edge of the Aby Lagoon southeast of Abidjan, Williams Yao Brou has built two ponds covering 2.5 hectares. At the moment they’re filled with 3,800 newly-hatched fish.

Through the whole of last year he sold nearly 3,500 fish, but he expects to sell all the fish now maturing in his ponds within the next three months.

“A maintenance problem cost me 300 hatchlings, but I don’t think that will happen again,” said Yao Brou. He says he earns around 6,000 dollars per production cycle.

“This business has become more exciting as other young people start coming to me for training, and to help me… This will allow us to produce enough to make up for the occasional shortages of fish,” he told IPS.

He learned aquaculture techniques in the early 2000s, when he worked at a massive complex of ponds that were built in 1996 at Mahapleu, in the west of the country. That project, set up with finance from the African Development Bank, was abandoned in 2007 for lack of investment in the upkeep of the ponds.

In addition to supplying fishmongers at the local market, the young aquaculturists are looking for new outlets for their output. “Selling fish at the market or at motor parks won’t yield quick profits. We want to find restaurants to supply directly, so we can shift our fish faster,” said Aya, formerly a management student in Abidjan. Unable to find a job in the city, she opted for self-employment in aquaculture.

“Generally, the problem is finding start-up funds,” Yao Brou told IPS. “But young people nowadays understand the need to share their ideas and projects, and together find some small seed capital to get started.”

According to Dramé Sékongo, an agricultural engineer in Tiassalé, aquaculture requires only minimal equipment, money and know-how. “What Ivorian farmers are starting to do – especially the youth – is digging ponds in low-lying areas, alongside rice fields, to earn a bit of money. But some government support would help a bit,” he told IPS.

In March, Côte d’Ivoire and the International Fund for Agricultural Development signed a 22.5 million dollar agreement to finance a project supporting agriculture and commercialisation in three northern regions – Bouaké, Korhogo and Bondoukou.

According to an IFAD press release, the project’s goal is to help improve food security and boost incomes for small producers, particularly rural youth and women.

Co-financed by the Ivorian government, this project will be carried out by the Agriculture Ministry and IFAD expects it will bring direct and indirect benefits to more than 25,000 poor rural families.

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The Ticket to an Education in Cote d’Ivoire Mon, 26 Mar 2012 04:12:00 +0000 Fulgence Zamble

Fulgence Zamblé

By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Mar 26 2012 (IPS)

The births of tens of thousands of children during Côte d’Ivoire’s eight-year rebellion were not formally recorded. Providing these children with birth certificates is one of the mundane yet vital challenges facing the authorities as they work to re-establish the country’s public administration.

The births of tens of thousands of children during Côte d'Ivoire's eight-year rebellion were not formally recorded.  Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

The births of tens of thousands of children during Côte d'Ivoire's eight-year rebellion were not formally recorded. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

While many families take a lax attitude towards registering new babies, the gaps in birth and other records are particularly serious in the central, northern and western parts of Côte d’Ivoire, where government functions were effectively suspended by the rebellion between 2002 and 2010.

As children born during this period move up through the school system, they have run into problems.

Thirteen-year-old Marcellin Kodjané thought that he would not be able to continue with his studies. For two years, he attended classes at the Yopougon-Kouté primary school in the north-western part of Abidjan without sitting for the exams that would allow him to move on to high school.

“I didn’t have a birth certificate. My parents weren’t ignorant, but I was born in a village in the Mankono region (in the north of the country, formerly under rebel control), and it was impossible to go there to get my birth records.

“Despite this, I was registered for school and I learned the curriculum without my documents. But when it comes time for exams, they are necessary. Last year and the year before, I watched my classmates take their exams.

“In my class, there were six of us in the same situation. Finally this year, our teachers told us that the decision had been made that we could also take the exams… but two of us who lacked papers had dropped out.”

The Education Ministry says more than 70,000 pupils registered for the 2011-2012 school year don’t have proper documentation. Yet students will not be allowed to write their primary school certificate exams without producing birth certificates.

“At the end of the year, my eldest child will take exams for his primary school certificate. But he doesn’t have a birth certificate,” said Bernard Kapeu, a retired teacher in the western county of Touleupleu. “During the occupation of the western zone by the former rebels, there was no public administration, so for several years we couldn’t get any documents issued.”

Kapeu has travelled 600 kilometres to Abidjan, the economic capital – for the second time – to try to get substitute birth certificates issued for his three school-aged children, now ten, seven and five years old.

He’ll take advantage of being in Abidjan to collect a pension payment – another sign of the normalisation of administrative functions – but his main task is to apply for the replacement birth certificates. On his return to Touleupleu, he will go to the district headquarters which will issue him civil status records for his children. He expects each certificate will cost 500 CFA francs – roughly one U.S. dollar.

Armand Kangah, a 48-year-old pineapple grower near the town of Maféré, left his fields untended for the day in order to obtain a birth certificate for his five-year-old daughter, who is in her second year of primary school.

The town hall here, 150 kilometres east of Abidjan, has been swamped with requests for substitute birth certificates. More than one in ten of the 11,000 students in the Maféré district lack proper documentation, according to the Education Ministry.

“I was told that this wouldn’t take very long. And it’s reassuring that it’s free of charge, but I admit that I have been irresponsible on this issue,” Kangah told IPS while he waited.

Many parents across the country have failed to get proper documentation for their children for one reason or another.

In Man, in the west, the regional directorate for education says 30,000 of the 160,000 students in primary schools lack vital documents – including 5,000 who expected to take exams this year. In Ferkessedougou, in the north, more than 3,000 of 8,000 students don’t have birth certificates.

Responding to demands from child rights organisations, the Ivorian president, Alassane Ouattara, declared in early February that all students born between September 2002 and 2010 – and those born during the 2010-2011 electoral crisis – could register for their documents at their place of birth at no charge.

“Working in collaboration with the courts and the relevant municipal departments, we were able to facilitate the issuing of birth certificates in a first operation in the Abobo commune (north of Abidjan),”said Djama N’gou, president of the Association for the Promotion of the Right to Education, a non-governmental organisation based in the city. “The main thing is that some parents are not well- informed, and we will have to reach out to them.”

“If the reason births weren’t registered in the north, central and western zones was because there was no functioning administration,” said Martine Akadia, a primary school inspector in Abidjan, “in the south, it’s simply common for many families to neglect registration, as if it were unimportant.”

Despite the announcement that fees for documentation would be waived, many parents continue to drag their feet, said N’gou. “We welcome the multiple and multiform initiatives which are now raising awareness among parents, including some who have only now understood the need for a birth certificate for their children. But we will still stress the importance of door-to-door visits to achieve our objective of zero unrecorded births.”

Proper documentation is not the only challenge facing the country’s education system a year after the post-electoral crisis ended. According to the Ivorian Ministry of Education, the country is short of an estimated 3,000 primary school teachers. And a shortage of classrooms and desks means that in many places, more than 40 students have to be crammed into rooms meant to hold 25.

Yet in the west of the country, due to massive displacement of people into Liberia, many schools have been closed for lack of pupils and now stand abandoned in the bush.

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COTE D’IVOIRE: Illicit Timber Trade Exposes the North to Drought Fri, 24 Feb 2012 07:32:44 +0000 Fulgence Zamble There is a ban on exporting Pterocarpus erinaceus but various traders, with the complicity of officials in the Ministry of Water and Forestry, have continued to exploit the species. Credit: Marko Schmidt/Wikkicommons

There is a ban on exporting Pterocarpus erinaceus but various traders, with the complicity of officials in the Ministry of Water and Forestry, have continued to exploit the species. Credit: Marko Schmidt/Wikkicommons

By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Feb 24 2012 (IPS)

Environmental groups in Côte d’Ivoire say the illegal logging and sale of wood from the African gum tree is exposing the north of the country to the encroaching desert. The NGOs are calling on the authorities to take firmer action against the illicit timber traders – who allegedly include government officials.

The warning comes as a scandal centring on the seizure of 30 containers of wood sized at two of the country’s ports rocks the Ministry of Water and Forestry.

It centres on the seizure of 30 containers of timber at the country’s two principal ports of San Pedro, and in Abidjan, the economic capital.

The director of the ministry, Yamani Soro, and his executive assistant, Maméry Koné, have both been implicated. The two men were fingered by exporters for having facilitated the transportation of African gum from the north to the south. Police also interviewed and subsequently charged Captain Vassiriki Koné, responsible for inspecting raw timber exports from San Pedro.

Soro was suspended from his duties, while Koné was arrested before being released for lack of sufficient evidence.

Sources close to Koné say he was released because the evidence against him was contradictory, suggesting he is not guilty of any infraction.

The timber in question was African gum – Pterocarpus erinaceus, known locally as vène – which is an important component of the northern forests which border on the savanna in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere in West Africa.

“Vène makes up more than 80 percent of the forest cover north of the 8th parallel. This is the greenery found at the very gates of the desert. If it is destroyed, then all of the north will be exposed to dryness and famine,” said Jacob N’Zi, executive secretary of the Groupe Ecologique de Côte d’Ivoire, a non-governmental organisation based in Abidjan.

According to N’Zi, there is a long-standing ban on hunting in these northern forests, as well as on exports of raw African gum timber, in order to preserve the ecosystem’s balance. Yet various traders, with the complicity of officials in the Ministry of Water and Forestry, have continued to exploit the species.

The African gum reaches a height of between 10 and 12 metres and is covered with vivid yellow flowers in the dry season. Its leaves and fruit – shaped like a garlic clove – are a nutritious animal feed, while both leaves and bark are used for a range of medicinal purposes. The tree produces a red sap which is used as a dye for fabric and is also useful as a nitrogen fixer, improving the presence of nutrients in impoverished soil.

P. erinaceus, which has become very rare according to scientists, is also used as fuel – producing a high quality charcoal.

“In the north of Côte d’Ivoire, which is threatened by desertification, people rely on farming and herding livestock for their livelihoods. If they lose the key resources needed for their survival, it will have dramatic consequences,” Souleymane Camara, an agronomist based in northwestern town of Séguéla, told IPS.

“A cubic metre of African gum sells for 330,000 CFA francs (around 660 dollars) in Abidjan and is resold for 700,000 CFA (around 1,400 dollars) in a country like China,” N’Zi said.

Côte d’Ivoire, which had 16 million hectares of forest in the 1960s, had only around three million hectares left by 2010, thanks to decades of wholesale, anarchic clearing of forests, according to the ministry.

In light of the profits to be made an continuing destruction of forests, environmentalists are not satisfied with the handling of the current scandal involving forestry officials.

“The decisions (taken) fall far short of reassuring us,” said Blaise Gnakala, an environmental activist in Abidjan. “In the end, the matter has been treated lightly. The seized wood will soon be sold without the truth coming out.

“There was a chain of responsibility, and for us, it is the chance to send a strong signal to those digging a grave for Ivorian forests, but it’s been missed.”

But, Clément Nabo, the Minister for Water and Forestry, says the scandal will be thoroughly investigated. According to the ministry, the wood seized will be auctioned with the proceeds handed over to the government.

But Gnakala believes that the prosecution of those indicted, along with all their accomplices, should mark a decisive step in the struggle against desertification. “If the scandal is allowed to blow over, it will pave the way for the stripping of rare trees from our forests,” he said.

In 2007, several Ivorian ecological organisations asked the government to grant them a role in the management of the country’s forests to better prevent abuses. NGOs say there has been no response – apparently due to the various political crises that have gripped the country, and the lengthy preparations for presidential elections that were eventually held at the end of 2010.


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Rising Seas Gnawing at West Africa’s Coastline Fri, 30 Sep 2011 11:52:00 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Sep 30 2011 (IPS)

Sea levels on the coasts of Côte d’Ivoire and other West African countries have risen again this year, devastating houses and other infrastructure. The search for effective solutions is lagging behind accelerating coastal erosion.

Sea levels on the coasts of Côte d'Ivoire and other West African countries have risen again this year, devastating houses and other infrastructure. Credit: Fulgence Zamblé/IPS

Sea levels on the coasts of Côte d'Ivoire and other West African countries have risen again this year, devastating houses and other infrastructure. Credit: Fulgence Zamblé/IPS

For several years now, the third quarter of each year has brought extraordinarily high sea levels in the Gulf of Guinea.

In the Ivorian economic capital, Abidjan, a number of houses were destroyed and dozens of families made homeless in late August. The challenge is not limited to urban areas: not far from Abidjan, the artisanal fishing community at Grand-Bassam has lost valuable equipment, crippling livelihoods.

The Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, has experienced extensive flooding – by some estimates, 80 percent of the city could be waterlogged by 2020.

Thousands of kilometres south and east along the coast, the city of Cotonou, Benin’s economic centre, is also battling against erosion. A critical article published in Beninois daily Nouvelle Expression in September asked if the government had given up the fight to save the coastline, documenting the submersion of parts of the Roi de Langouste Hotel, east of the city.

Adapting to coastal changes

The West African coastline is retreating on average by one or two metres a year; but, aggravated by human activity, in some places it is eroding by several hundred metres a year. This erosion threatens valuable infrastructure such as roads, houses and jetties - and with melting polar ice pushing sea levels up by as much as a metre by 2100, the situation is expected to get worse.

The options are to retreat, accommodate or protect, according to Dr Isabelle Niang, Regional Coordinator of the Adaptation to Climate Change in Coastal zones of West Africa project.

Niang steers a Global Environment Facility project that covers Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea- Bissau and Cape Verde. The project has established pilot programmes that involve local - especially youth and women - in restoring mangrove and other forests, as well as training officials to monitor and understand evolving changes of the coast.

A project is under way to construct seven new breakwaters – barriers known as groynes, which extend into the water perpendicular to the shore – in and around Cotonou, as well as the rehabilitation of the existing barrier at Siafato, which will have its length increased from 220 to 260 metres.

Climate change-induced rises in sea levels are part of the problem, but other activities such as unregulated sand mining and the destruction of coastal mangrove forests have also played a role throughout the region.

Managing the coastline

In Côte d’Ivoire, specialists say what is needed is to reopen the mouth of the Comoé River. The Comoé, 813 kilometres long, rises between the cities of Banfora and Bobo-Dioulasso in western Burkina Faso, and flows through Côte d’Ivoire from north to south before reaching the Ebrié Lagoon not far from Abidjan.

The lagoon, which stretches for more than 100 kilometres along the coastline, is open to the sea only by means of an artificial channel, the Vridi Canal, built in 1950 to allow Abidjan to become a deep-water port. Water from the Comoé has also periodically emptied into the sea a few kilometres to the east, near Grand-Bassam, but this natural outlet is now blocked by silt from the river.

“We have 500 kilometres of coastline being eaten at by the sea, in some places receding by as much as two or three metres per year. And the sea is gaining ground,” says Cédric Lombardo, an environmental expert based in Abidjan who worked on this question for the Ivorian government for five decades.

Lombardo says the closure of the river’s natural mouth by accumulating sediment has had serious consequences. The estuary of the Comoé receives heavy deposits of silt from the river, varying between 60 and 100 centimetres per year. These deposits should reinforce natural barriers protecting the coast from erosion, but the blocked channel prevents this.

The Grand-Bassam channel has been artificially re-opened four times, most recently in 2004, only to fill up again almost immediately.

Lombardo believes that an operation to reopen the river mouth, which will cost an estimated 30 million dollars, will need to create access from the Comoé River to the lagoon, and then into the sea, in order to allow silt from the river to stabilise the shoreline. In addition to the opening of a new channel for the river, levees will need to be constructed.

He suggests an alternative solution would be the construction of a canal which would also allow the deposit of sediments from the Comoé.

Sustainable solutions

“These are the options,” agrees Abidjan-based environmentalist Frédéric Kouamé. “But it remains to be seen if they will work as long-term solutions, and without having negative consequences in the short term. Because generally, the solutions that have been put forward are only temporary.”

Kouamé recalls the construction of artificial dunes to protect the coast a decade ago, all of which have since collapsed under pressure from the sea. He added that the effects of climate change, particularly the rise in sea levels, will only aggravate the erosion of West Africa’s coast.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has also observed that the responses put forward by governments and others will likely have the effect of only slowing or displacing a process of erosion that is expected to intensify.

The IUCN stressed the need to find more sustainable answers in a presentation to a meeting of environment ministers from across West Africa held in May this year in Dakar, Senegal. At the same meeting, eleven coastal countries, from Mauritania in the west to Benin in the east, agreed on the establishment of a West African coastal observatory to reduce the risks linked to marine erosion.

These governments also acknowledged that the most effective means of stabilising the coastline include the protection and extension of natural infrastructure, such as mangroves, coastal dunes and lagoons.

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COTE D’IVOIRE: Suspended Exports Dent Scrap Metal Dealers’ Prospects Tue, 13 Sep 2011 03:35:00 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Sep 13 2011 (IPS)

Between now and 2012, the Côte d’Ivoire government plans to establish a scrap metal processing industry that will supply finished products to domestic and regional markets. It is unwelcome news for the country’s existing scrap dealers.

The Côte d'Ivoire government plans to establish a scrap metal processing industry that will supply finished products to domestic and regional markets Credit: Fulgence Zamblé

The Côte d'Ivoire government plans to establish a scrap metal processing industry that will supply finished products to domestic and regional markets Credit: Fulgence Zamblé

According to the industry’s own association, Côte d’Ivoire presently exports an estimated 100,000 tonnes of scrap metal each year, employing 226,000 people and earning around 24 million dollars in taxes for the government. The finance ministry says the sector contributes 3.5 percent to the country’s gross domestic product.

The government wants to increase revenue from the sector. Michel Koné, [a tax inspector] at the finance ministry, says reorganisation of the industry will produce added value, create new jobs, and generate additional revenue.

In preparation for the launch of its new strategy, the government has suspended exports of scrap metal putting collectors, vendors and exporters in turmoil.

“In August 2009, the customs authorities imposed a tax of 100,000 CFA (around 200 dollars) per tonne on the exports of scrap. Now two years later, they’ve decided to suspend exports. Clearly, there is a desire to discourage us from conducting our business,” said a bitter Mory Kamara, a 47-year-old scrap dealer in Adjamé, a neighbourhood in the heart of Abidjan, the Ivorian economic capital.

“But we know that all of this has no point other than to ensure a monopoly for some big operator. Yet for more than a decade, no one has been interested in this sector,” he told IPS.

“We don’t think that the government can do it without us. Even if that was possible, the government must think about how to support scrap dealers who have invested their own resources in this business,” said Kalifa Doumbia, president of the Association of Scrap Dealers of Côte d’Ivoire, based in Abidjan.

But Koné rejects these allegations as unfounded, explaining that the tax on exports of scrap has proved ineffective and has earned very little for the government. According to him, the sector could bring in twice as much tax revenue, if it were better organised.

Doumbia points out that the scrap dealers have already suffered damages due to the recent political crisis, collectively absorbing losses he estimates at around 18 million dollars. He says some 10,000 tonnes of scrap are still stranded on the quays at the port in Abidjan, waiting to be exported to Europe and Asia.

“We need a moratorium of at least three months to clear this stock,” pleaded Brahima Fofana, also from the scrap dealers association. “This would allow us some relief… we are going to wait for more than a year to resume businesses. Many families are going to experience real hardship during this period,” he told IPS.

Amidst the deafening sound of metalwork In Marcory, an area in the south of Abidjan, Issouf Diakité, 43, explained to IPS that the suspension of metal exports will cost him dearly. “I have to fill an order for 500 tonnes of scrap from India and Pakistan. I had amassed 300 tonnes when this decision was taken. Now I’m facing an enormous loss of earnings.”

He calculates his losses at around 40,000 dollars. According to Diakité, the suspension has also led 103 of the collectors who brought him scrap to abandon the trade. “They are no longer motivated to come to work. But this is an activity which allowed them to provide for the daily needs of their many dependents,” he said.

Adjacent to Diakité’s premises is Amidou Sylla’s workshop, but the doors are closed. “I prefer to close down since there’s no longer any use going out into the city in search of scrap,” the 39-year-old told IPS.

“This decision has sounded the death knell for our business. When you go around the different areas where scrap merchants operate, everyone has lost their smiles,” Fofana told IPS. But, he said, some have understood the need to quickly take up other lines of work. “They have become blacksmiths and are making kitchen utensils, agricultural implements and other things.”

With a halt called on exports, some fear uncollected scrap metal will begin to accumulate in the streets. “By collecting scrap, this sector also prevents pollution of the environment. If that slows, there will soon be piles of waste,” said Fofana.

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Ivorian Cocoa Producers Cry Foul Over Sanctions Mon, 14 Mar 2011 05:42:00 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Mar 14 2011 (IPS)

The international community’s efforts to deny embattled president Laurent Gbagbo access to funds from cocoa exports have resulted in hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Ivorian cocoa surfacing in neighbouring countries.

Ivorian cocoa producers are keeping their harvests on the farm due to European Union sanctions. Credit:  Fulgence Zamblé/IPS

Ivorian cocoa producers are keeping their harvests on the farm due to European Union sanctions. Credit: Fulgence Zamblé/IPS

Producers say not only are they selling their perishable crop to black market buyers for a fraction of its market value, but they are being unfairly victimised by the political situation.

A key part of the struggle for power is control over state revenues. The European Union suspended imports of cocoa, Côte d’Ivoire’s major export, as a means of depriving Gbagbo of funds. The country’s cocoa producers say the sanctions have only resulted in their harvests going to neighbouring countries, even to non-producing countries.

By mid-February, according to the Bourse café-cocoa, (BCC, the country’s cocoa and coffee exchange), 400,000 tonnes of cocoa were blocked at the country’s two ports – Abidjan and San Pedro – while waiting to be exported to European countries.

“Every day that goes by, this cocoa is more vulnerable to spoilage. This represents an enormous potential loss of earnings of close to 40 billion CFA francs (around 80 million dollars) looming on the horizon for our producers,” says Adrien Kouamé, an exporter from the consolidated cooperatives from the west of the Côte d’Ivoire.

Edging towards civil war?

Forces loyal to Gbagbo attacked districts dominated by supporters of his rival, Laurent Ouattara, in the economic capital Abidjan over the weekend - for the first time using helicopters in an effort to take controls of areas like Abobo.

Ouattara, who is recognised by the international community as the winner of the disputed Nov. 28 election, had left Abidjan's Golf Hotel for the first time to attend a meeting of the African Union's Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa.

“As a simple producer from Duékoué (in the west of the country), what have I got to do with politics so that people refuse to buy my 35 tonnes?” said Blandine Gloudoueu. “I make only 25 million CFA francs (around 50,000 dollars) to support my family of 20. So how am I going to cope with this embargo?”

Neighbours benefiting

In addition to bearing the brunt of the European sanctions, Ivorian cocoa producers are up in arms over the outflow of their products into adjacent countries, notably Mali, Burkina Faso and Togo.

“It’s hard for us to hear that countries like Mali have declared a production yield of 100,000 tonnes of cocoa, when in 2004, it was only 8,000 tonnes. That Mali reports a 100,000-tonne cocoa yield is staggering,” said Joseph Kouamé Yao, president of the agricultural union of individual and cooperative growers of Côte d’Ivoire.

The BCC estimates that 170,000 tonnes of cocoa have left Ivorian soil illegally to be sold through adjacent countries, representing an estimated loss of about 34 million dollars.

According to Yao, in the last few weeks, rogue traders have been scouring the cocoa-producing regions to buy stock at the lowest price before transporting it along back roads and selling it in the bordering countries.

But the situation is also benefiting Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire’s eastern neighbour and main competitor, with an annual cocoa yield of 800,000 tonnes, explains Yao. Ivorian producers maintain that some 29,000 tonnes of cocoa have been able to reach Ghana illegally.

Fast operators

“With the crisis, people are offering to buy cocoa for 500 FCA francs (about one dollar) or even 450 FCA francs, whereas the off-the-field price declared by the government for the current crop year is 1,100 CFA francs ($2.20),” Arouna Singo, a cocoa producer from Vavoua in the mid-west of the country, told IPS. “Some of us give in to the pressure, even though it’s practically less than half its real value.”

Karim Soumahoro is a buyer from San Pedro, in the south-west of the country. “We are in a situation where we risk losing our investments. Those who dupe the producers claim that they cannot buy at the normal prices because their purchases may be stopped at customs as they are leaving the country, or they won’t able to find other exporters.”

Soumahoro adds that as long as the socio-political situation does not improve, the profiteering will continue, as producers need money desperately and will hand over their harvests to the first taker.

Discriminatory sanctions

On Feb. 17, Singo, Gloudoueu, Kouamé and a hundred or so other producers were in Abidjan to protest. They burned cocoa beans in front of the EU delegation’s offices, demanding the lifting of sanctions against the country and an end to what they described as economic slavery which the peasant farmers are being forced into.

“We are worried about a veiled genocide that could wipe out the country’s population, in the sense that cocoa constitutes the most essential link in the country’s economy,” says Georges Bléhoué Aka, president of the BCC’s national council of experts.

Bléhoué and other producers condemn the fact that the international community has not imposed any similar sanction on cotton or cashew nuts, produced primarily in the north of the country, while slapping an embargo on coffee and cotton which are produced in the south.

Asked about this via a telephone interview in February, the EU delegation in Abidjan declined to comment.

Côte d’Ivoire produces some 1.2 million tonnes of cocoa annually. Alongside coffee, this represents 48 percent of the country’s operating revenue, according to the Côte d’Ivoire’s customs office, and the direct or indirect source of livelihood for six of the country’s 17 million people.

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COTE D’IVOIRE: Protecting Public Health Despite Political Impasse Mon, 24 Jan 2011 15:43:00 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Jan 24 2011 (IPS)

The political stand-off between Alassane Ouattara, certified by the United Nations as winner of Nov. 28 elections, and the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down, is stretching into its eighth week.

U.N. peacekeepers outside the Golf Hotel. Credit:  Monica Mark/IRIN

U.N. peacekeepers outside the Golf Hotel. Credit: Monica Mark/IRIN

Civil disobedience in support of Ouattara in the north of the country means up to 800,000 children did not resume school as scheduled two weeks ago. In the south, uncertainty prevails over the safety of children or teachers as gunfire is heard around the Golf Hotel where Ouattara is protected by United Nations troops.

The 9,000-strong U.N. Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) was reinforced with 2,000 additional peacekeepers last week, as armed forces loyal to Gbagbo said they would stop and search U.N. vehicles.

U.N. officials have been prevented from visiting the sites of alleged human rights violations; UNOCI puts the death toll from political violence at 260. Fifty thousand people have been displaced, as many as 30,000 of these across the border into neighbouring Liberia.

Health workers fearful

Maintaining public health

A polio vaccination campaign aimed at the 6.8 million children under five years old was strongly disrupted by the campaigning ahead of the first round of voting on Oct. 31 last year.

"We are not sure that this last campaign (against polio from 26-29 october) reached 90 percent of the country," said nurse Aurélien Kouamé. "The doses of the vaccine were available, but we couldn't reach people because of the political situation. So we'll have to consider a resumption of the campaign."

The December 2010 meningitis campaign by the World Health Organization, deploying a new vaccine across the 25 countries that make up the "meningitis belt" never got off the ground at all as the crisis exploded on Dec. 3.

Dr Kadi Kamara, a general practitioner in Abidjan, says the health situation is worrying.

"There is a situation of duality at the apex of the state. In this context, it's not prudent, for international humanitarian organisations, to take upon themselves the decision to carry out a (vaccination) campaign in the country, above all if it will involve a new treatment," said Kamara.

Health services have also been disrupted. Aurélien Kouamé, a nurse at a dispensary in Borotou, in the northwest of the country, returned to the capital with three of his colleagues immediately after the elections. He is waiting for a peaceful resolution before returning to his station.

“We were afraid for our safety (as government workers),” he told IPS. “And as you’ve seen in many other sectors of government, many people have fled areas under control of the former rebels out of fear. Health services have been abandoned.”

Speaking to IPS by phone from the northern town of Odienné, health worker Daouda Soro said, “Essential drugs are beginning to run out in hospitals. Before the crisis, it was the Public Health Pharmacy that supplied us. For the past two months, there has been nothing. Sick people have turned to self-medicating with medicine bought on the street.”

One urgent public health exercise is going ahead. A yellow fever vaccination campaign, twice postponed, began on Jan. 22 and will last a week. UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is targeting 830,000 adults and children over the age of nine months in four districts. The $100,000 campaign is in response to an epidemic declared three months ago in several areas in the centre and north of the country.

“The campaign has effectively begun in the four health districts of Béoumi, Katiola (centre), Séguéla et Mankono (nord). The population is coming forward without problems,” Louis Vigneault-Dubois, head of communications for UNICEF-Côte d’Ivoire told IPS over the phone.

“For the moment, we are working exclusively with NGOs and we will do the same to administer the vaccines to everyone.”

Containing an epidemic

Yellow fever, a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which each year infects 200,000 people around the world – killing 30,000. It is regarded so seriously, that even a single confirmed case in a country is considered an epidemic.

UNICEF says the two central districts involved in the campaign have registered 66 cases of yellow fever since November 2010, with 25 fatalities. There is no cure for yellow fever, but a safe and readily-available vaccine confers immunity for ten years.

“These are rural areas where the overall rate of vaccination is low, and that is unacceptable,” said Dr Eli Ramamonjisoa, head of the Child Survival Unit for UNICEF in Côte d’Ivoire.

“We are also working with our partners to rebuild stocks of vaccines and antiretroviral treatments throughout the country, in particular in hard-to-reach places.”

The interim head of UNICEF in Côte d’Ivoire, Sylvie Dossou, said, “This campaign shows that despite the political impasse the country is going through, humanitarian work continues and is saving lives in Côte d’Ivoire.”

Dr Kadi Kamara, a general practitioner in Abidjan, says the health situation could become a concern if the political situation is not normalised quickly. She vividly recalls a serious meningitis outbreak that hit Côte d’Ivoire in January and February 2008, killing 29 people in the the centre and north of the country.

“We are in practically the same time period. If that explodes again – added to the yellow fever epidemic – it will be a catastrophe for the population in this part of the country,” she said.

AU envoy fails in Ivorian mission

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has said that force was a “last resort” to solve Cote d’Ivoire’s crisis, but warned that time was running out for a peaceful settlement.

“The window for a peaceful negotiation is closing very fast,” Raila Odinga told reporters on returning to Kenya on Friday after leading a failed African Union mediation bid.

“We will continue to walk the extra mile to find a peaceful resolution… The use of legitimate force is there and we will say that it is the ultimate resort, the very last resort if everything else has failed,” he added.

Ivorian incumbent Laurent Gbagbo has defied calls to quit after U.N.-certified results showed him to be the loser of a Nov. 28 election, prolonging a stand-off with rival Alassane Ouattara.

But there is little appetite among African nations for armed intervention that could cause more bloodshed in a country where 260 have already died in violence linked to the deadlock. Nations such as Ghana say they will not offer troops.

Leaders of the 53-state African Union will discuss next steps at a summit at the end of the month, and signs are emerging of cracks in an official AU line insisting that Gbagbo immediately make way for Ouattara to take power.

* with additional reporting from Al Jazeera

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COTE D’IVOIRE: Independent Candidate Pledges Reconciliation Thu, 31 Dec 2009 08:39:00 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN, Dec 31 2009 (IPS)

Presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire, scheduled for Nov. 29, were postponed until February or March 2010. Among the candidates who will try to take advantage of some additional time to campaign will be the sole independent candidate, Jacqueline Oble.

Oble is a fully-qualified professor, the dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Abidjan-Cocody, a former MP and a former justice minister. She made history in Ivorien politics by being the first woman to run for the highest office in this West African country, which has been dogged by crisis for the past seven years. She will run against some twenty other candidates, all male.

Speaking at a rally in the densely-populated district of Yopougon in November, Oble said, “I told myself I had to do something because the country is divided. There are as many parties as there are Ivoriens – and these Ivoriens all mistrust each other. I am committed to reconciling them and I think the job will need someone who is not part of any political party.”

With masculine features, short hair and a bright face, Oble braves the hot sun every day to reach new and existing supporters. “I cannot rely only on women. I believe many men have confidence in my vision,” she tells IPS.

“My candidacy was prompted by a national consciousness which dares to embrace change in order to address the various ills plaguing the people,” explains Oble. She cites unemployment, bad governance, a lack of the rule of law and the demobilisation of society. “We need a new social contract with the people, one which is based on trust and will improve their everyday lives and significantly reduce poverty,” she says.

The message seems to have been well received on the ground. Martial Soro, a preschool teacher in a public institution in the capital Abidjan, says,”This country needs a new direction. By stepping to the challenge, Oble is already showing she has what it takes to lead this nation. We should just trust her.”

Séverin Kouadio, an agricultural engineer based in Abidjan, tells IPS, “Her courage impressed me. Up against heavyweights such as Henri Bédié, Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo (all established political figures), she hasn’t hesitated to enter the field and come up with innovative suggestions. This means Ivoriens can believe in her.”

Citing the innovative programme put forward by Oble, Kouadio highlights the re-energising of civil society, the transformation of the education system, a modernised justice system, the empowerment of women and increased dialogue with the youth.

Leaders of the country’s main political parties like the opposition Democratic Party of Ivory Coast and the president’s Ivorien Popular Front said they were not underestimating Oble.

For Marie-Paule Kodjo, president of the NGO Coordination of Cote d’Ivoire’s Women for Elections and Post-conflict Reconstruction (COFEMCI-REPC), “women will surprise you in elections. We’re cautioning men who try to discredit Candidate Oble. If they do not heed us, she will have our votes.”

Kodjo’s warning came after the pro-government daily Fraternité Matin showed that women slightly outnumber men on the provisional voters list.

Binta Kéïta, a financial assistant in a private company in Abidjan, said, “For me, men in politics have misled us for many years. Today, choosing a woman would be the ideal way of gauging a woman’s capacity to lead the country. In fact I believe peace will reign, as is currently the case in Liberia.”

Séverine Blé, a high school teacher in Bingerville, near Abidjan, has a different opinion. “Given the current situation, we must let men fix what they ruined. Oble cannot inherit a poisoned atmosphere and hope to develop the country. While her candidacy is encouraging, the environment is not conducive to it.”

In 2002, civil war broke out with rebel fighting against the alleged exclusion of people from the north of the country. An uncertain peace deal in 2003 was short-lived; another agreement in March 2007 made rebel leader Guillaume Soro, prime minister of a unity government.

Fresh presidential elections scheduled for Nov. 29 were again postponed until 2010 after delays in the posting of the provisional voters’ roll.

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COTE D’IVOIRE: Communities Determined to Preserve Tanoe Swamps Forest* Sat, 15 Aug 2009 13:17:00 +0000 Fulgence Zamble By Fulgence Zamblé
ADIAKÉ, Côte d'Ivoire, Aug 15 2009 (IPS)

When a major agribusiness company began clearing the rich reservoir of biodiversity of southeast Côte d’Ivoire’s Tanoé Swamps Forest for an oil palm plantation, ecologists and local communities demonstrated in favour of preserving it.

Local and international joined the resistance, but it was won primarily by local activists who sent letters of protest to the Ivorien authorities.

“The palm oil project threatened to cause the disappearance of plant and animal species found only in the Tanoé forest,” said Inza Koné, coordinator of Recherche et Actions pour la Sauvegarde de Primates en Côte-d’Ivoire (RASAP-CI), an Abidjan-based NGO working to protect primate species.

The Tanoé forest is situated between the Ehy lagoon and the Tanoé River, the natural frontier between Côte d’Ivoire and its eastern neighbour, Ghana.

Koné explained that the three most endangered primate species in West Africa are found in the forest: the Miss Waldron’s red colobus, the Diana roloway and the white-naped mangabey. These three also feature on the list of the world’s 25 most threatened species.

According to RASAP-CI, the forest also contains 179 bird species, among them roughly sixty in need of protection, and 279 species of plants, including 33 of concern to conservationists.

“We were shocked that a project to destroy this forest was launched without an environmental and social impact assessment being conducted. Because the environmental regulations in force in Côte d’Ivoire are very clear on this point,” says Koné, who led opposition to the oil palm project.

Towards the end of 2007, word got out that Palmeraies de Côte d’Ivoire (PALM-CI), a major Ivorien palm oil processing firm linked to the international Unilever Group, was planning to set up a 40 million dollar agro-industrial project in the 6,000 hectare forest

The project was expected to have created a thousand jobs in agriculture, and 300 industrial processing jobs. Unfortunately for PALM-CI, the plan met a categorical rejection by ecologists and from riverine communities.

According to an employee from the conservation department of Côte d’Ivoire’s environment ministry who requested anonymity, the authorities had already designated the forest a nature reserve in April 2007. Government therefore opposed the project, which local and foreign investors first tried to set up by means of an agreement with the local council, in Adiaké, the district in which the Tanoé forest is found.

“We could never compensate for the loss of this forest and the cost of the damage done by this would be a thousand times larger than the benefits it would bring,” Koné explained to IPS.

Koné says RASAP-CI’s mobilisation and rejection of the project is not intended to oppose the economic development of the country but to preserve nature. Beyond the animal species, the importance of this forest – one of the last remnants of intact forest in southeastern Côte d’Ivoire – extends to climate change.

“The fact that this forest is in a wetlands, means it plays a double role as a carbon fixer and so a crucial role in avoiding global warming, as well as the mitigating reduced rainfall and the (consequent) lowering of output from small farmers,” Koné said.

“(The forest is) a symbol for us, and we are happy to have contributed to its protection,” said Patrice Abwa, a 45-year-old fisherman from Kadjakro, a riverine village in the Tanoé forest. “There is also the water which allows us to fish. The region has enormous resources which come with preserving the forest.”

For Abwa, “The financial incentives promised by investors in the palm oil project were significant, but after listening to many explanations showing the benefits of preserving the forest as well as the potential future conflicts over land, we changed our opinion without hesitation.”

Abwa’s views are supported by Mathieu Yao, 45, a local palm oil producer. “Our invovlement against this vast project was in our personal interest. We live well off small-scale agriculture and fishing and each person is conscious that their output, each year, must maintain this forest.

“We have chosen to defend it,” he said. “We lose out economically, but we gain ecologically.”

The riverine communities of the Tanoé project a strong desire to self-manage their environment. They have therefore voluntarily engaged in actions to make this a nature reserve. It’s a first in this West African country.

“All the local inhabitants have understood the value of this forest and we think that the will to protect it will stay alive in each of them,” says Yao.

*Not for publication in Italy.

*This story is part of a series of features on sustainable development by Inter Press Service (IPS) and the International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ), for the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development (

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