Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A lot has changed, much remains the same

I am back (again) in Abidjan, but this time for dissertation fieldwork! It has been five years since I first came to Côte d'Ivoire, and the country has seen many changes in the interim. Here are a few highlights.

Infrastructure and growth

New highways! Ground broken for a cross-Abidjan metro system! Burger King! I discussed new infrastructure projects when I was here in 2015, but even more have been completed since and more put on the docket. Between 2011-2015, Côte d'Ivoire has experienced an economic growth rate of 9%, a huge feat for a post-conflict country. However, there are doubts about how sustainable this rate can be: even this year, price drops on cocoa have affected the growth forecast (and has led to widespread protest by cocoa farmers in the southwest). Further, the everyday citizen does not seem to have felt the effects of this growth rate: Afrobarometer round 7 (2017) results indicate that the self-reported unemployment rate has increased from 73% to 76%. Ivorian friends say they have seen the roads being built, but for them this does not translate to jobs and relief of economic insecurity for their families.


In 2012, when I arrived for the Fulbright, every few weeks or so there were attacks on police stations and barracks, with unknown assailants taking weapons and sometimes resulting in causalities. Police and military barricades were the norm as one traversed the city. In 2013, things started to look better – the President got rid of all of the barricades and the attacks became fewer and farther between. Fast forward to today: after two 2017 mutinies by former rebels now integrated into the army, security forces are much more on alert. There were two prison breaks in the past month. A few days before my arrival, a police depot was attacked in Abobo, a commune of Abidjan. The government accuses pro-Gbagbo individuals of fostering this insecurity. The mutineers are still rattling their sabers (literally), attempting to take over the mayor's residence in Bouaké on October 2, demanding back payments to the tune of $33,000 each.

Further, on October 10th, an aide of Guillaume Soro, former rebel leader, current president of the National Assembly, was arrested and accused of hiding weapons in his home that helped the mutiny. Abidjan friends and colleagues expressed concern that this arrest would lead to violent confrontations between Soro supporters and the government, but so far things have been calm.

To top it off, security is also high due to recent terrorist attacks in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. In 2016, Côte d'Ivoire was the site of an AQIM attack, only months after similar attacks in Mali and Burkina. Metal detectors and bag checks are the norm at shopping centers and hotels, with particular attention paid to locations frequented by foreigners.

In short, despite the economic growth and the semblance of stability, there are still many issues preventing the restoration of rule of law in the country.


Former president Gbagbo is still at the ICC facing charges of crimes against humanity. His trial started on January 28, 2016, a little under five years after his arrest. In late September, General Mangou, who served under Gbagbo during the crisis, dealt a striking blow to the defense's case: indeed, Gbagbo had established a parallel command structure, based on personal ties and dependent on relationships with Blé Goudé (also on trial at the ICC) and Gbagbo's wife, Simone (charged but acquitted of crimes against humanity), with the goal of "maintaining control of power at any cost."  Gbagbo supporters do not seem fazed by this revelation: calling Mangou a liar, a traitor, and a double agent because he swore his allegiance to the Ouattara camp the day after Gbagbo was captured in 2011.

Political competition

A once promising coalition, the RHDP (which joined together the PDCI and the RDR) is crumbling. The RHDP is effectively why Ouattara was elected in 2010; former president Bédié of the PDCI threw in his hat for Ouattara in the second round of voting, pushing Ouattara's vote share over the needed 50%. And yet, the coalition was always on shaky ground: 2012 legislation to change the head of household laws in the country to be more inclusive was met with strong opposition from the PDCI camp, despite RDR's support – this led to a shake-up in the cabinet where Ouattara effectively ousted disloyal PDCI folks. In the 2016 legislative elections, former PDCI candidates who had run and even been elected under the RHDP banner were not renominated, choosing instead to run as independents (and sometimes winning) against hand-selected, loyal RHDP candidates. There is also discontent regarding the successor to Ouattara in the 2020 presidential elections: those RDR loyalists want an RDR face to represent the party, while PDCI folks feel that their commitment to the coalition should be rewarded with their own candidate, and it is now their time to shine.

The opposition remains fragmented, with the FPI (Gbagbo's party) only holding three seats in the national assembly. Time will tell whether this party will disappear as many former ruling parties so often do in Africa.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Survey: Perceptions of NGOs and the electoral process in Côte d’Ivoire

One of the major components of my research project is carrying out a public opinion survey about the electoral process, perceptions of NGOs and democracy in general. Due to budget restraints, I decided to limit the survey to Abidjan only, but with a representative sample coming from the 13 communes. The team has finished the interviews and are now working on data entry. Here’s how it went down:

First, I had to find a survey firm to carry-out this work. I selected the Afrobarometer implementing partner, the Centre for Research and Training on Integrated Development (CREFDI). I chose them because they came with high accolades from other researchers, but also because they are very familiar with Afrobarometer’s sampling and interviewing protocols as they have been working with Afrobarometer for two rounds (2013 and 2014, rounds 5 and 6).
CREFDI staff, 4 June 2015
Second, I developed the survey (well, over the course of the year during my classes, specifically a survey design course) and with input from COSOPCI. I then had six Ivorian university students pilot the survey online, to help with the response suggestions and survey flow (special shout out to my husband as well who corrected my French).
Piloting the survey, 27 June 2015
Then it was onto training the enumerators. I worked with a great team of eight enumerators, two supervisors, two data entry folks, and of course the director of CREFDI. On training day we went through the survey question by question, responding to any problems or comprehension issues, and distributing the 520 questionnaires to the teams. The questionnaires were printed, because, although ideal, tablets or phone surveys were outside of my budget.
Enumerator training 3 July 2015

Me and the team 3 July 2015
The questionnaire was administered between July 5 and July 12. Each team of four was overseen by a supervisor, and divided up the 65 enumeration area between the two teams (at random). An enumeration area, ZD here, are determined geographically by the Statistics Institute (INS) in charge of carrying out the census. The ZD are comprised of 1,000 to 1,200 individuals on average. Following Afrobarometer protocol, 8 respondents would be interviewed per ZD, thus, I needed 65 ZD for this study in order to reach a 520 respondent sample. The distribution of the ZD was determined after the 13 communes of Abidjan were stratified based on population; thus Yopougon, the largest commune, was allotted 15 ZD, while Treichville and Plateau, the two smallest, were allotted one ZD each. The ZD were then selected at random by CREFDI. Each team, then, would complete 40 respondent interviews per day, meaning five ZD per day, 10 interviews per enumerator per day. Because the ZD were chosen at random within each commune, sometimes the teams would start in the north part of the commune and then have to take a Gbaka or Woro-Woro to get to the other side of the commune, especially in the two largest communes of Yopougon and Abobo.
Abidjan, Communes not included on this map: Anyama, Bingerville, and Songon.
I went out with each team for a day to see how things were going and to observe any difficulties they encountered. To determine which household to interview, the team followed the Afrobarometer sampling protocol: they would meet at a randomly selected intersection, one interviewer would walk East, another West, another North, and another South. They would select the fifth household that they encountered. If there was someone home (which was more often the case than not), they would give a brief recruitment speech explaining the purpose of their visit, show their CREFDI badge to demonstrate their credibility, and ask to make a list of the members of the household in order to randomly select the person to be interviewed. They alternated by household whether they would target a woman or a man for the interview (all respondents had to be over the age of 18). From the list they would have the member of the household draw a number, and that person was the person selected to be interviewed; if they were not home or if they refused, the enumerator was to leave the household and continue counting. If they agreed to participate, they had to give verbal consent, and the survey could commence.

Interview in Yopougon, 7 July 2015

Interview in Koumassi, 7 July 2015
From witnessing this process, I learned a few things:
  • A lot of people live in households in Abidjan; sometimes the people who lived there were uncertain about the number of people who were residing in a home. 
  • People do not particularly like divulging their age. It was the first question (because if they were not an adult, they could not complete the interview), and the enumerators were good at convincing people to give their age (“it’s so we can make sure you are of voting age”). People thought that asking age was not anonymous, which I still don’t completely understand. 
  • Most people like to talk, and one of the downsides of public opinion surveys with mostly closed questions is that their thoughts are not necessarily recorded. One respondent in Koumassi said he would not participate in the elections because he was afraid. The enumerator coded this response on the survey and continued onto the next question, but the man asked “wait, don’t you want to know why I am afraid?” and then told us stories of what had happened to him and his family in 2010-2011. 
  • On the other hand, there are some people who do not want to talk. Women in particular were reticent and often responded with I don’t know to many of the questions. 
At lunch with the first team, they asked me if in the U.S. there was a tradition about inviting someone into your home. I said no, not really, I mean I guess you could offer them something to drink? The enumerators were surprised: “if you don’t offer someone water and ask about the ‘nouvelles’ (news), it is clear to the visitor that they are not welcome.” They said that outside of Abidjan the welcoming experience varies, with some ethnic groups offering all you can drink liquor or Kola nut to guests in addition to water. At each interview, we were welcomed in, even before the household member agreed to participate, offered water and offered a seat. 
Discussing welcoming protocol over peanut sauce lunch, 3 July 2015
The data entry team is now busy at work inputting the responses from the 520 interviewees. I expect to be able to analyze the data, at least preliminary data, this weekend; I will hopefully give a dissemination presentation of the descriptive statistics to COSOPCI and CREFDI before my departure; two more weeks, so a lot of work to do!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

How does one educate potential voters to go register?

As mentioned in a previous post, the Electoral Commission (CEI) gave funding to 10 civil society coalitions to conduct sensitization campaigns on the voter registration process. But how was this carried out? I went out for two days with a team in Abidjan, in the commune of Adjamé, and two days with two different teams in Divo (more specifics on this here). I have also interviewed 7 of the 10 of organizations working throughout the country to get a good grasp on the work they carried out as well as the obstacles they faced.

1. Wait for the money (…)
The CEI did not disburse the funds for the sensitization campaigns for two weeks; normally sensitization should happen before the registration process begins, but alas, this was not the case. In the second week of June, the CEI finally gave enough money to cover 10 sensitization agents, at 10,000 CFA (~$17) per day per person for a period of 10 days. However, COSOPCI (and other coalitions) found that 10 agents was not enough to cover the neighborhoods they had been assigned, so they increased the number of agents to 20 (or even 30!) and decreased the daily allotment. The Abidjan agents complained that for the Presidential elections of 2010 and the legislative elections 2011, they were paid much more: one agent told me they received 15,000 CFA (~$25), while another argued that the pay depended on which NGO coalition you worked for, as some gave more than others despite the fact that they were supposed to have the same budgets.

2. Training 
COSOPCI training, 11 June 2015
In Abidjan, COSOPCI sent out emails to all of its members to recruit sensitization agents; eight NGOs responded by sending candidates. A total of 19 individuals participated in the training and the subsequent sensitization process, eight of which were women. At this training session, questions were answered about the sensitization process (“what time do we start? Do we have to work on Sunday? How can we take pictures for the report if we don’t have cameras?”), while the director leading the training put emphasis on visibility (putting up as many posters as possible) and coordinating efforts with local leaders (religious, community, women’s associations, youth associations, etc.). 

COSOPCI agents, 11 June 2015
 COSOPCI was assigned to cover Adjamé (population: 372,978; 68% Ouattara in the 2010 elections) and Attecoubé (population: 260,911; 53% Gbagbo); only two of the 19 agents had actually lived in these communes, while most were vaguely familiar with the neighborhoods. Eleven agents volunteered for Adjamé, while the remaining eight were assigned to Attecoubé (at the beginning, only four volunteered for Attecoubé, but the director coaxed/forced the others onto the Attecoubé list; the reason being that Adjamé is closer to where most people live and people are more familiar with Adjamé). One agent expressed her worry that they would show up in a neighborhood where they were not known, and did not know anyone there, and ask to be put in touch with local leaders. She said that people would find this bizarre, saying how can you come here where you are a stranger and sensitize us when you are not even prepared? The director responded that upon their arrival in a neighborhood, it was important to go first to the authorities where they would be welcomed and pointed in the right direction. Later the same woman, half joking, asked whether COSOPCI would be distributing boots for the folks working in Adjamé as the rainy season would make the routes quite muddy.

3. Visit the authorities
After receiving their t-shirts and poster kits, the Adjamé team met up on Monday morning at the Adjamé town hall. There we waited around for two hours to get a document signed which authorized the sensitizers to work in the area. Additionally, we requested a list of local associations with whom we could coordinate our activities; instead it was a list of individuals, most of whom were “party cadres,” but who in the end knew the neighborhoods well.
Town hall of Adjamé 15 June 2015
We also went to the CEI offices, but they were closed on Mondays; over the course of the 10 day sensitization period, the team leader went three times to the CEI to get their approval, but two of the three times there was no-one in the offices (despite the fact that they were supposed to be open from early in the AM until at least 6pm) and the third time they did not have the stamp to approve the paperwork… so they were technically never accredited by the CEI to do the work.

The very closed CEI offices 15 June 2015
 4. Posters

First we divided up into teams of two, male-female when possible and two different organizations if possible as well. Adjamé was thus divided into five neighborhoods that the teams were to cover. Next, we started walking around and putting up posters throughout the neighborhood, starting on the main route and working our way north – our neighborhood was concentrated around the Marie Therese Houphouet-Boigny hospital. The agents complained that they had to spend 1,000 CFA (~$2) to buy poster glue out of their budgets and had to print sign-up sheets on their own dime as well. We asked before putting up the posters, and most people said yes because they figured it was the government carrying out the effort (more on this later); we put posters at popular spots, the bakery, pharmacies and private clinic, near bus stops, markets, grocery stores, public maternity wards. Of course, we risked having the posters torn down; one of our posters near the hospital was torn down, those working in Attecoubé bemoaned the fact that several of theirs were removed, while in Cocody, the National Agency for Urban Hygiene told agents that they were not allowed to put up the government issued posters. 
Putting up posters 15 June 2015
Working through the rain, the Red Cross was a voter registration center in Adjamé 16 June 2015
 5. Canvassing – Who are you?

In Adjamé, the teams focused, the first two days, on local businesses and markets. We spoke to salespeople in electronics and hardware shops, ladies working in the grocery store, women selling pineapples in the market. One of the agents introduced themselves as an agent of the CEI; this worked for getting poster approval, but with groups that were skeptical of the current government, they were not impressed to be talked to by this “politician”. To avoid problems, her partner stepped in and explained that they were not politicians but members of civil society; they were not “doing politics” but instead encouraging all sides to register to vote. Similarly, another team was refused entry to an Evangelical church for the same reason, but later allowed access when they explained they were not politicians either. One of the Attecoubé teams “barely got away” from a potentially problematic situation in the fish market, where they were thought to be representing a political candidate. In Divo, agents were chased away from certain villages. However, the Adjamé team concluded that things this year were much easier than in 2011, when the wounds of the 2010-2011 crisis were still fresh, and the opposition had already declared a boycott. Then, one agent told me, he was attacked with fish by ladies in the market for trying to talk to them about registering to vote; these were FPI partisans and wanted nothing to do with the process.

At a hardware shop, 15 June 2015
Ladies in the market, 16 June 2015
 In Divo, we concentrated on households. People welcomed us into their homes, even those who were uninterested or against the elections, offering us water and a seat and asking for the news of the day.

6. Avoid “Palabre” 
A shopkeeper saw us coming, read our shirts, and said “Voter list? We don’t want ‘palabre’ here!” Palabre in Ivorian French means “fight” or “trouble.” The agents told me, as members of civil society, it was their job to remain neutral in their proceedings. However, sometimes one had to commiserate with the population in order to get them to listen and understand; other times, it’s better to not engage in any sort of political conversation, to tell people how to register and to move on. An agent who did not hesitate to let me know he supported the opposition, said sometimes he had to level with folks, letting them know his affiliation, that he understood where they were coming from, but that it was his job to sensitize the population about the benefits of voting. Sometimes it backfired, as he was called a hypocrite, a sell-out or accused of only doing this work for the money, but sometimes it worked. A group of young men engaged us, asking ironically what is democracy when they send your candidate to jail, and I could see one of the agent was visibly uncomfortable. Afterwards, she chastised her partner for engaging with those guys, and told him next time to just give them the information and move on, because you never know where it might lead. An agent who worked in Yopougon, a known Gbagbo stronghold, recounted that they were told to not go to certain specific neighborhoods, because they would be “attacked and hit like they did to the census agents last year.” She told me they had no choice but to heed the warning, and avoided certain areas for fear of violence.

7. The information provided
I discussed here the issues of papers, arguing that the CEI did not do a wonderful job of conveying which papers were required to register, and there were generally problems for people who had been waiting months to receive their ID cards. Additionally, it was important to drive home the point that even if you did not feel ‘concerné’/implicated by these presidential elections, it was still crucial to go register because it was the last chance for the next five years; meaning you would not be able to vote in the presidential, legislative, or municipal elections. The agents also encouraged the folks sensitized to spread the word in their families, particularly those who had recently moved or turned 18. Agents did not help people register directly, but were the only providers of information on where the local registration centers were, since the CEI was not conveying this information in a general manner. Finally, the agents tried to keep track, for their reports, of how many people they reached, by asking people to sign a register with their full name, occupation, and cell phone number as well as signature. When I first learned of this, I was certain people would not comply; that’s not very anonymous, I thought, and it is true that many refused to put their name down. Even one individual in Divo feared that we would send his friend’s name to the President who would do who knows what with the list and come find him. The agents tried to convey the purpose was just to have a record, but many shook their heads and refused. But most complied after being told the goal, while those who were illiterate signed their names with an X.

In short, every day the agents were out from 8 or 9am until well into the afternoon, on foot, conveying the information for less than $2 an hour. They did not deal with physical violence, but did have to deal with difficult areas. The two teams with which I worked were very committed to spreading the correct information to the populations, and bemoaned the fact that the CEI was not facilitating the process for them or for the population. 

The team in Divo, 20 June 2015
The Adjamé team, 16 June 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Impediments to voter registration in Côte d’Ivoire

Starting June 1, the Electoral Commission (CEI) has launched a major campaign to revise the 2010/2011 voter registration list. Basically the goals are threefold: to make sure that those who have moved or prefer to vote in a different locality (and voted previously) are in fact on the list at the right polling station; to remove those voters who have died from the lists or who have married and changed their names; and to enroll those who were previously not on the lists (those who are over the age of 18, those who failed to register previously, newly naturalized citizens, etc.)

A FAQ to be distributed during the sensitization campaigns
In order to register, one needs to bring one of two identification documents, either one’s certificate of nationality, or one’s national ID card. The catch is, the certificate of nationality issued before 2015 is no longer valid, as there were a lot of problems with fraud and so the new certificates are “sécurisé” and cost 3,300 FCFA (~$6) to obtain from the Ministry of Justice; many people do not have the newest certificate. What about national ID cards? Well, if you have it, you are set and can easily register to vote. If you never had one or you lost yours, you’ll have to request a new one from the Organization of National Identification for 5,000 FCFA (~$10); but to do this you need the NEW certificate of nationality, and you will have to leave the original with the ONI office, to obtain a receipt of payment until you receive your ID card. So, let’s say I lost my ID card last month, and I went to the ONI to get a new one. They take my original certificate of nationality, and hand me a receipt for the ID card, telling me I won’t have the ID card for another two months. Time to register to vote rolls around; I now no longer have the original certificate of nationality nor an ID card, and the CEI does not accept the receipt for the ID card as valid identification to register to vote. So I can’t vote, unless I spend the time and money to re-obtain a copy of the certificate of nationality, which probably takes just as long to obtain as an ID card.

This was the most common complaint about the process that I have encountered working with the sensitization agents; despite the fact that many people said they wouldn’t register or were uninterested in the process, many who were interested felt discouraged because their papers were not in order. And since the campaign was only for a period of one month, it severely limited who was able to register now. In particular, it disproportionately affects young people, as they are the least likely to have the papers needed.
photo: a young man who was able to register to vote with the old certificate of nationality; Divo June 2015
CEI itself

The CEI centers are understaffed and those who are there often left earlier, according to both of the teams I worked with. CEI agents defended themselves saying that oftentimes nobody showed up to register anyway, so why should they stay open? Additionally, the CEI has failed to let the population know where the centers are where they could register, so that was left to the sensitization agents; meaning if you were not reached by these agents in the neighborhood, you may not ever know where it is you were supposed to register.

There was also confusion as to who was supposed to go to the centers; on posters and even on my t-shirt it says “I will verify that my name is on the voter list.” However, many people went to the centers to do just that, only to be turned away and told that the centers were only for those who needed to newly register. About halfway through the month, the CEI changed their tune, but at that point many were already discouraged and did not desire to return. On top of that, we had one elderly woman approach us, saying she had tried to check her name on the list, but was told to go to a web site to see if her name was there; this supposed website of course does not exist, but also this woman had no idea how to use internet, and had purposely made the trip from afar to verify her name.

The CEI is underfunded, especially in comparison to 2010. International donors do not see much at stake in these elections, and those who have chosen to support it can only do so much. The population notices the difference, pointing out the fact that media campaigns on the process were much more widespread in the past, while this year it has been sparse at best.

Finally, the CEI has so far failed in its efforts – they were expecting 3 million new registrants, but have received around 400,000. Today was supposed to be the last day, officially, for registration, but they have extended the process by two weeks (until July 12). However, since the main obstacles seem to be about paperwork, extending by two weeks may not help the problem. The other question is whether they will extend the sensitization process as well.

Apathy and Acquiescence
Not really a direct impediment, per se, but people have lost faith in the democratic process associated with elections after the crisis in 2010. With an impressive 80% turnout rate (53% of the voting age population, which is the same as the US), people expected those elections to bring the violence and war to an end; unfortunately, the elections did just the opposite. People are therefore fearful and distrusting of the electoral process.

Furthermore, many people do not see the CEI as legitimate. The current CEI president, Bakayoko, was the CEI president in 2010 and it was he that declared Ouattara the winner; many believe that he should not be the current president because he has this partisan perception. The opposition has been calling for this to be changed since he was re-elected, by members of the [not perceived as neutral] commission.

Finally, there is the question as to whether Ouattara himself is legitimate, again bringing up the issue of nationality since both his parents are not believed to be Ivorian.

photo: a heated discussion with those who did not want to register because “their candidate” is not participating in the elections; Adjamé, June 2015