322,463 Km2Area

Read the report

homekeyboard_arrow_rightIvory Coast

Legal framework on freedom of religion and actual application

The Republic of Ivory Coast is home to around 70 different ethnic groups.[1] Religious affiliation is divided between traditional African religions, which still have many followers, and Islam and Christianity.[2] Islam shapes the lives of a large part of the population in and from the north of the country, as well as immigrants from neighbouring countries. The umbrella organisation of Ivorian Muslims is the Conseil National Islamique de Côte d’I-voire. The majority of Christians live in the south. Abidjan, Bouaké, Gagnoa and Korhogo are the seats of the Catholic archdioceses.[3]

The country has faced huge power struggles in its recent past. A civil war raged from 2002 to 2007, when it was identified as the region’s economically strongest and most populous country. The conflict flared up again following presidential elections in 2010. There were violent clashes between supporters of the official election winner Alassane Ouattara, a Muslim, and the followers of his opponent and predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, a Christian. More than 3,000 people died, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.[4] It would be simplistic, however, to  consider this conflict as “Muslims v. Christians” as politics played an important part. The conflict’s consequences – forced displacement and violence – were still felt during the reporting period.[5]

In spite of the country’s ethnic and religious diversity, Christians and Muslims in Ivory Coast have traditionally lived side by side in peace. Consequently, violence is more likely to be seen as a symptom of abject poverty and a lack of opportunities.[6]

According to its constitution, Ivory Coast is a secular state based on the French model.[7] This remained unchanged during the reporting period. The new Ivorian constitution that went into effect 8th November 2016 [8] also includes a pledge to observe the principles of a secular and democratic state (Article 49). Freedom of religion is among the civil liberties guaranteed under Article 4.[9]

Traditionally, the country’s many religious communities coexist amicably. For a country with many ethnic groups and religious communities, this is a basic requirement for peace. During the reporting period, the Ivorian government continued to subsidise pilgrimages to Mecca and, for Christians, to France and Israel.[10]


Manifest lack of stability in Ivory Coast is displayed by unresolved political conflict, deep social tensions, violent crime in greater Abidjan in particular, and ethnic violence in rural areas that occasionally results in bloodshed (including 33 deaths in March 2016 in Bouna, near the border with Burkina Faso).[11] Ivory Coast became a target of international jihadism in March 2016 when an attack in Grand Bassam near Abidjan left 22 dead. It was one of the bloodiest jihadist attacks in West Africa. Al-Qaeda au Maghreb Islamique,[12] a terrorist organisation active in the region, claimed responsibility.

The United Nations, officially present in the country until June 2017, alongside French forces with the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, described the country’s situation was “fragile”.[13]

There were protests by soldiers, gendarmes, policemen and customs officials in various parts of the country during the reporting period, causing fear in the civilian population.[14] Demonstrations such as these are on the rise in many parts of the country because for- mer guerrilla fighters were allowed to join the army. The protests also affected the local Catholic University, Université Catholique d’Afrique de l’Ouest, whose Abidjan campus was attacked on  16th January 2017 by armed men who threatened students and instructors.[14]

In a joint message issued on 24th January 2017, the Catholic bishops of the Ivory Coast called for national reconciliation, the release of detainees arrested during the crisis from 2002 to 2011, the redistribution of wealth and greater social justice.[16]

In addition, the Ivory Coast faces further challenges. In recent decades, for instance, numerous people have immigrated from neighbouring countries, and many of them today lead lives as stateless persons. The number of economic migrants and refugees fleeing civil wars is estimated at around four million – 20 percent of the total population. Often, these people are Muslims from neighbouring countries to the north.

Prospects for freedom of religion

In the wake of civil war, the country’s Catholic bishops are strongly committed to reconciliation, justice and peace.[17] Despite the recent and largely positive trend towards more democracy and economic development, it is not certain that Ivory Coast will regain the stability it once enjoyed, essential for inter-faith coexistence. A great deal depends on progress concerning security and the economy and tackling the threat of jihadism.

Endnotes / Sources

[1] ‘Munzinger Länder: Côte d’Ivoire’, Munzinger Archiv 2018,, (accessed 30th March 2018).

[2] For the share of different religious communities in the total population, cf. Grim, Brian et. al.  (eds.): Year-book of International Religious Demography 2017, Brill: Leiden/Boston, 2017.

[3] Munzinger Archiv 2018, op. cit.

[4] Overseas information provided by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Vol. 9/15

[5]  Jens Borchers, ‘Elfenbeinküste: In der Bevölkerung brodelt es’, Deutschlandfunk, 24th May 2017,, (accessed 13th February 2018).

[6] Ibid.

[7] ‘Côte d’Ivoire: Innenpolitik’ (Domestic Politics), Auswärtiges Amt (German Ministry of Foreign Affairs), node/-/209484#content_0, (accessed 13th February 2018).

[8] ‘Côte d’Ivoire: Alassane Ouattara promulgue la nouvelle Constitution’, Jeune Afrique, 8th November 2016, ouattara-promulgue-nou-velle-constitution/, (accessed 13th February 2018).

[9] Côte d’Ivoire’s Constitution of 2016,, tion/Cote_DIvoire_2016.pdf?lang=en, (accessed 13th February 2018).

[10] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, ‘Cote d’Ivoire’, International Religious Freedom Report for 2016, U.S. State Department, per, (accessed 2nd April 2018).

[11] Munzinger Archiv 2018, op. cit.

[12] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, op.cit.; Munzinger Archiv 2018, op. cit.

[13] Munzinger Archiv 2018, op. cit.

[14] ‘New military and police protests, raid against Ucao’, Agenzia Fides, 19th January 2017, http://www.fides. org/en/news/61551- AFRICA_IVORY_COAST_New_military_and_police_protests_raid_against_Ucao, (accessed 13th February 2018).

[15] Ibid.

[16] ‘The Bishops denounce “a deleterious climate which threatens to undermine the achievements made”’, Agenzia Fides, 24th January 2017, AFRICA_IVORY_COAST_The_Bishops_denounce_a_deleterious_climate_which_threatens_to_undermine_the_achievements_made, (accessed 13th February 2018).

[17] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, op.cit.; Munzinger Archiv 2018, op. cit.

About us

Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 6000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.