Ivory Coast must cut links between terrorists and illicit markets


Following an increase in terrorist attacks in 2020 and 2021, northeast Ivory Coast has since experienced a period of relative calm. However, violent extremists have not disappeared and remain active in southern Burkina Faso.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has documented how the region has given terrorist groups the space to finance, recruit and supply, highlighting a dimension of the threat that requires more attention. These dynamics were particularly observed in relation to the livestock economy and illegal gold mining.

Areas where violent extremist groups are active in Ivory Coast

Areas where violent extremist groups are active in Ivory Coast [Photo credit and caption: Amelia Broodryk/ISS]

Extremist groups have taken advantage of the insecurity created by their presence by offering protection to citizens in the Bounkani and Tchologo areas where they operate or exert influence, particularly along the border with Burkina Faso.

Many ranchers, breeders, shepherds and traders collaborate with these groups to prevent militants from confiscating their animals. Those unwilling to do the same have no choice but to leave the area or face being victims of cattle rustling, intimidation, threats of violence or kidnapping.

Using these tactics, violent extremist groups have engaged in livestock farming and trading in parts of Bounkani and Tchologo. The ranchers who obey the militants will be able to continue with their work. But in addition to being forced to collaborate with extremists, they have to pay them an annual contribution in cash or in kind (oxen).

This allowed armed groups to generate livelihoods and income and expand their networks of “trading partners” in the livestock trade, including informants, recruiters and couriers.

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The ISS investigation also revealed the groups’ involvement in artisanal gold extraction, especially in the Comoé National Park and the Comoé River. As in the livestock sector, these activities were based on offers of “protection” or “authorization” for illegal miners to continue their activities.

Testimonies from miners and traders operating along the Comoé River suggested the existence of agreements between violent extremists and mining ‘bosses’ (those who finance or manage activities at mining sites). However, often, particularly in the Comoé National Park, groups have resorted to coercion by confiscating gold from miners.

The militants also actively searched for gold in the park. Illegal gold miners told the ISS that they had encountered extremists with mineral detection devices. Members of the terrorist group also played the role of financiers of artisanal gold mining operations. The miners said that intermediaries acting on behalf of the groups had offered them financial support to continue their mining activities.

There are several reasons why militants have settled in northern Ivory Coast and collaborated with those who live there. The lack of essential services (roads, schools, water and health) and a generally weak state presence have left the population feeling abandoned. It has forced them to seek alternative means to earn a living and take care of themselves and their families.

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Another reason is that the livestock trade and artisanal mining lack sufficient national regulation, allowing terrorist groups to infiltrate the market and establish themselves as “protection” providers. The porous nature of the borders is also a factor, facilitating access in and out of the country for militants and all types of traffickers and smugglers.

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Despite the government and others efforts In recent years to address insecurity, including military and social interventions, most vulnerabilities persist.

Extremist groups need financial, human, logistical and operational resources to function. As long as they remain active in southern Burkina Faso, it is unlikely that they will stop trying to mobilize these resources in northern Côte d’Ivoire.

That means Ivory Coast authorities and their bilateral and multilateral partners who are helping to prevent the spread of violent extremism must consider this dimension of the threat. Attention must be paid to illicit cross-border economies and the factors that enable them. Understanding and addressing the mechanisms that terrorist groups use to benefit from or shape these economies could limit their ability to operate and expand.

Government efforts to regulate artisanal gold mining must continue, and authorities must partner with organizations representing the livestock economy to effectively implement regulations governing the sector. In particular, greater awareness is needed about the laws governing livestock movement and grazing areas.

Cooperation between Côte d’Ivoire and its neighbors is essential to address the cross-border nature of violent extremism and the efforts of extremist groups to secure the livelihoods and finances they need to carry out their mission. This includes not only military and security operations, but also improvements in the governance and development of the countries’ shared border areas.

William Assanvo, Senior Researcher, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Regional Office for West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin

(This article was first published by ISS Today, a distribution partner of Premium Times. We have your permission to republish).

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Ivory Coast must cut links between terrorists and illicit markets

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