Media Misrepresents Côte d’Ivoire
A good story can be hard to find. The term “good” is used here to mean positive or uplifting, and to find a “good” story reported about a developing country can require even further digging. The media misrepresents Côte d’Ivoire, and this can lead to uninformed conclusions about developing nations. Media outlets often correctly assume the tales that will catch public attention are only the ones of despair and depravity.

Côte d’Ivoire and France

Claimed by the French in 1893 during the European furor to divide Africa, Côte d’Ivoire’s people resisted occupation as colonizers imposed their culture and encouraged the planting of cash crops such as cocoa and coffee, thus beginning the exploitation of the country’s rich land and resources.

Côte d’Ivoire achieved independence from France in 1960. In the decades following, Côte d’Ivoire kept lucrative ties with its former colonizers, growing in economic wealth over the three-decade presidency of Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Since the 1990s, civil conflicts resulted in thousands of civilian and military casualties and the displacement of one million people.

There’ve been human rights and free speech violations, military mutinies, and the continuation of the illegal ivory trade. These are the stories that will barrage any search for information on Côte d’Ivoire.

Searching for the “Côte d’Ivoire”

If one sought out a better understanding of Côte d’Ivoire through mainstream media outlets, one’s sure to see a storm of instability and misfortune. Top search results from mainstream media sources paint a picture of toxic waste, violent uprisings and leaders committing war crimes. These misrepresentations box Côte d’Ivoire into a one-dimensional existence afforded to many African nations by first world lenses — primarily, one of chaos and dependence.

After the end of the First Ivorian Civil War, several thousand French and United Nations troops remained in the country to help implement the Ouagadougou Political Agreement. The United Nations Peacekeeping review for 2017 stated, “The collective efforts of our uniformed and civilian personnel have resulted in progress on the ground this year. We ended our operation in the Ivory Coast in June, where we have left behind a legacy of stability and peace after a presidential crisis in 2010 when some 3,000 Ivorians were killed and 300,000 became refugees.”

Presidential Progress

As of 2016, there has been measured progress in the realm of free speech and press. During Laurent Gbagbo’s presidency, much of the country’s media was state-produced to prevent criticism. In the first years of Alassane Ouattara’s presidency, the country’s media remained under the control of the state to keep media platforms closed to Gbagbo’s constituents who aimed to continue his crusade.

But in recent years, new spaces have been created for independent press and legislation. For instance, new legislation was drafted in 2016 to prohibit imprisonment of journalists and reduce fines for journalistic infractions. In December that same year, the broadcasting regulator in Côte d’Ivoire announced spaces would be open for private television stations; soon after this occurrence, four new privately-owned television channels were approved.

Cocoa and Economics

Côte d’Ivoire is the largest exporter of cocoa, producing more than twice as much as Indonesia, the next largest exporter. Encouraged by the French colonizers, Côte d’Ivoire devoted substantial land and resources to the production of cocoa. But after decades of farming, the nation’s aged trees and infertile soil made it susceptible to the effects of climate change.

To combat the destabilizing possibility of cocoa’s decline, the third-party organization Cocoa Life vowed to invest $400 million in educating and providing new technology to 200,000 cocoa farmers in the hope of one day reaching one million community members. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to have all the second largest chocolate producer Mondelēz International Inc.’s cocoa sustainably sourced.

By the end of 2017, Cocoa Life reached 120,500 cocoa farmers in 1,085 communities; this feat lead to sustainable sourcing of 35 percent of Mondelēz International’s cocoa.

Gender in Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa farming industry holds a 70 percent gender pay gap. Cocoa Life focuses on increasing women’s land ownership, promoting women leadership positions, and enrolling young women in youth-oriented programs improving their livelihoods through financial freedom and entrepreneurial skills.

Côte d’Ivoire’s gender statistics are sobering. In a country where agriculture is the major source of income only 18 percent of the land is owned by women; in rural areas, 75 percent of women live in poverty; and on top of all that financial debilitation, 36 percent of women in Côte d’Ivoire are victims of physical and/or psychological violence, including female circumcision.

In 2017, the Centre for Women Entrepreneurs of Attécoubé opened in the suburbs of Abidjan. At the opening, the U.N. Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka stated the center’s goals, “This center is a link between established and starting-up women entrepreneurs, and a chain of solidarity between the U.N., the Government, bilateral partners and civil society.”

Discovering Solidarity

President Ouattara officially joined the HeForShe global solidarity movement, and pledged to end female circumcision and support the end of all forms of violence against women by 2020.

The media misrepresents Côte d’Ivoire and innumerable other developing nations to pander to an audience who lusts for the sensationalization of the struggles of others to make them feel better about themselves. We should all do our part not to revel in decay, for it is all our responsibility to seek a full and well rounded portrait of those we do not know.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr