109 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 322,462 sq. km.
Head of state: Laurent Gbagbo, since 2000
Cote d’Ivoire, which has a diverse press, albeit of uneven quality and which in December 2004 adopted a law decriminalising press offences, would seem to be a star pupil, but paradoxically it is the country which has seen two of the darkest and most tragic cases involving the press on the African continent.
The murder of French journalist Jean Hélène, correspondent for Radio France International, who was shot dead in Abidjan in October 2003, sent shock waves through the foreign press, not just in Cote d’Ivoire, but throughout Africa. A climate of hatred and high tension at the time threatened the safety of journalists, particularly from the west. An article published a year earlier in Notre Voie, called journalists, “these modern slave-drivers, (...) these predators are just vile corrupt people carrying out their dirty work of destroying Africa”. Notre Voie also said it knew more still about the role of foreign media: “They support terrorists and their goal is to tarnish the regime of President Gbagbo to legitimise the destabilisation of Cote d’Ivoire.”
Then came the abduction of Franco-Canadian journalist, Guy-André Kieffer, from a supermarket car park in the Ivorian capital on 16 April 2004. He disappeared after being lured into a trap by Michel Legré, brother-in-law of Simone Gbagbo, the wife of the Ivorian president. Five years later, this case has still not been cleared up. Michel Legré was indeed investigated on 21 October 2004 by French examining judge Patrick Ramael for “kidnapping and false imprisonment”. Although he was placed under house arrest in Abidjan, he moves about quite freely, including outside the country. Jean-Tony Oulai, an Ivorian describing himself as an army “ex-captain” and whom some witnesses say was in charge of the abduction of the journalist, was also put under investigation in France for “kidnapping and false imprisonment” in January 2006 and remanded in custody. But the investigation has run into problems relating to tensions between France and Cote d’Ivoire, the difficulties of carrying out an on-the-spot inquiry and the law of silence surrounding those involved in the case, all of them close to the Ivorian presidency.
Elsewhere, so long as they do not raise taboo subjects such as oil or the trade in cocoa, in which Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s leading exporter and which Guy-André Kieffer was investigating, Ivorian journalists can express themselves quite freely in a diversified press, but with limited circulation. Attacks on newspaper offices by vandals are however a regular occurrence and the media still suffer the consequences of the country’s fragile political situation, being banned from taking photos without permission of the rebels in the northern half of the country or of the government in the southern half.