North-eastern Côte d’Ivoire: between uncertainty and armed jihadist engagement

The gradual evolution of security issues in Côte d’Ivoire can be seen around a bundle of representations and myths that Islamist doctrinaire have theorized elsewhere. However, the evaluation of the demonstrations of force of small armed groups in the north shows the capacity of these groups to combine concept, slogan and realities on the ground. In this case, for two years, the Ivorian security doctrine adversity which lays the foundations for its social significance. The repeated assaults on army positions indicate an almost unstoppable will to engage; the insurrectionary zest, enthusiasm and daring are lubricated by a faith in the hereafter, part of the quest for personal salvation after death. This dimension, largely underestimated when designing security policies on the continent, also explains the speed of jihadist dissemination within communities whose ethnic diversity, differences in environment and lifestyles defied the idea. even a standardization of behavior and of the relationship to the Other.

The technicality of the combat and the frequency of the raids express the level of maturity and assimilation of jihadist teaching. The practice of confrontation with the Ivorian army illustrates the strategy of exhaustion and humiliation, theorized by Abu Bakr Naji, as a dynamic tool of « management of savagery » before the creation of the Caliphate. The success of the text stems from sensitivity to the challenges on the ground, upstream of the brutal act; the author takes into account the geography, climate, topography and weapons available to the population and takes a keen interest in the resilience of the civilian recruitment pool. From this point of view, the North of Côte d’Ivoire conceals many vulnerabilities materialized by the recurrence of conflicts between farmers and herders and extra-institutional competitions for the predation of natural resources and the control of their support for this. that we must now call « cheap jihadism », the new economy of the poor man’s war. The collection and the spending of modest means stage a conjunction of tinkering, inventiveness and opportunism; the solidity of the mechanism results from moral conviction and the self-sustaining certainty of victory. Armed Islamism resorts to its « Coué method », with its messianic narrative, its dose of adrenaline and the inevitable investment in post-mortem paradise.

Upstream from the theater of operations and the grip on the ground, terrorist groups have taken advantage of the shortage of monitoring and foresight, in favor of an insistence on the legal qualification of the crime. On the sidelines, the signs of radicalization that the press often puts under the headlines « sometimes arouse little interest from decision-makers. On the basis of this lack of vigilance, the insurgents have strengthened themselves in terms of men, materials, food supply networks, fuel, funding, infiltration…. The upsurge in organized crime (robbery, kidnapping, highway robbery) contributes to the financing of terrorist groups, but the proportion remains difficult to determine. Indeed, between November 2020 and February 2021, five kidnappings of civilians, with demand for ransom, generated a gain of 40 million CFA francs.

The attack on the night of March 28-29, 2021 on the Kafolo military camp, at the confluence of two regions (Tchologo, Bounkani), demonstrates the practical skills of terrorists. A few days before the assault, they proceed with the installation of remote control mines on the Kafolo-Kong axis, to disrupt any reinforcements. The camp had to be isolated, in order to instill doubt among the soldiers, inflicting them irreparable defeat. The improvised explosive devices (Eei) will remain there until April 1: informed of the arrival of the Minister of Defense, the jihadists were to use them against the procession; the latter, having preferred the air route, one of the mines exploded as a civilian vehicle passed, without causing any casualties.

The attack on the night of the 29th – the record attests to it – proves the level of preparation and the virulence of the aggression and corroborates the professional acclimatization to the resources of the infantry. The campaign aimed at the destruction of the Kafolo camp which, once obtained, would anchor even symbolically in the embryonic geographic area of ​​the Caliphate. According to the jihadist perception, a position abandoned under the effect of harassment cannot be rebuilt quickly; the stake then becomes the construction of a replacement position, by palliating successive withdrawals. So instead of aiming for killing and loot success, they prefer patient nibbling of the perimeter where they expect to gain popular support. If necessary, if the pressure of the armed forces increases, mobile small groups would be tempted – largely empirical hypothesis if one considers the antecedents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc. – to multiply the abscesses of fixation, towards spaces hitherto sheltered from belligerence. The diversion would therefore target cities, roads and strategic installations, in order to dilute the compactness and concentration of the war effort around the desired area.

During the attack, in addition to the bursts of Kalashnikovs and a Pkm-type machine gun mounted on a tree to « pulverize » the interior of the camp, two men, equipped with explosive belts, were preparing to destroy all resistance to the attack. inside the enclosure. Admittedly, the operation of destruction failed, thanks to the reaction capacity of the army, but acts of provocation and defiance are increasing against the stationed or passing detachments. There is no longer any doubt that the asymmetrical war in the north of the country, thrives on the soil of duplicity of certain inhabitants, reluctant to support the troops; the population favorable to the jihadists or reluctant to denounce it for fear of reprisals, begins to practice concealment and double talk, in front of the representatives of the State. Also, it should be noted the availability, in the hands of terrorists, of technical means, in particular drones and VHF communication devices. These terrorists are doing their best to avoid the risk of eavesdropping by the security services, Ivorian and Burkinabè.

The gap between the jihadist advance in the north and the state’s responses.

Overall, the Ivorian state’s response to terrorism in the north derives from national defense doctrine. This requires the collaboration of structures in charge of various pillars – preventive, operational, diplomatic, judicial. The vision of the authorities tests, again, a whole bundle of exclusively martial possibilities; however, so far, the results do not allow to thwart the broad spectrum of the civilian establishment of the jihadists; their locally rooted approach owes everything to the patience, iteration and enmity of the police with the natives. In several villages in the department of Tehini, people no longer doubt the power of nuisance or the tactical superiority of small groups. Such a perception leads to a disintegration of the population and further widens the distance with the state and its personnel, whom the terrorists present as « ungodly » and subject to the « moral perversity » of the West. Moreover, rhetoric and its shortcuts, as well as the compulsive use of conspiratorial narratives, go beyond the strict framework of Islamic phraseology. The same arguments can be found in sharing, on social networks. Evangelical and Pan-Africanist obediences feed on it all the time.

Since the start of 2021, the jihadists have been gaining momentum. On April 15, they took the mosques of Toglokaye, Kôlôgbô and Bolé hostage. Faced with a frightened population, they recommend a new way of living worship, under the seal of a literalist and conquering reading of Islam; witnesses to the sermon, embellished with insecurity blackmail, describe the popularization of a post-mortem bliss patent against the notabilities of traditional Sunnism, which the new reformers qualify as deviance and heresy. Also, they exploit the lack of responsibility and integrity of certain agents of the State (administrators, soldiers), to present themselves as protectors in front of the excesses of governance and the blunders – such as racketeering and concussion – true or supposed. . Added to intimidation is the disclosure of the identities of people suspected of having ties to the military, at least likely to inform it. In a few months, the jihadists, formerly discreet, settled down and forged links of connivance among civilians, in order to distill their credo and reassure the vox populi on the coherence of their project.

The high level of concealment, mental anchoring and harassment of the Defense and security forces in these regions, relativizes the probability of a threat that would remain residual and exogenous. Despite their inferiority in equipment, training and numbers, the small groups have begun, in the north of the country, a decisive stage in their conquest; the reservations of young people towards the jihadist offer are beginning to dissipate. Despite the limited resources available, recruitment is also based on promises that can be achieved here below; the bait of motorcycles and money is enriched by assistance and care, for the benefit of the family of the fighter, who died for God, or even of the arrested informant.


After the shock of the attacks of Grand-Bassam in 2016 and June 2021 in the North, aggressiveness, repetition and encrustation inside the bush are changing the nature of the peril. Its “endogeneity” becomes empirical evidence. The development – recent but not firmly established – invites a change of paradigm. It is important to combine, in parallel with factual intelligence, the monitoring and detection of signs of radicalism in society and not only near the combat zone. Unless there is willful blindness, the ideological response makes good sense and foresight, if one thinks of the prospects for the jihadist succession. In addition, the modus operandi of the Jihad fighters imposes immediate prophylaxis measures. These include, among other things, banning the movement of convoys of motorcycles of more than three passengers and the permanent closure of gold mining sites, one of their sources of income. Gold panning, apart from the long-term ecological damage, has become a national security issue and deserves to be treated in this way.

Beyond the attempts to strengthen the home front, all carried out without too much success in terms of reconciliation, the danger of the moment offers the opportunity for Ivorians to strengthen membership in the secular republic, thanks to the resources of the solidarity and patriotism. The defense of a city, in the Greek sense of the term, requires the identification and the explicit indictment of the enemy, with the population, with the help of religious leaders and civil society. The company, on pain of failure, could not put up with the jargon, periphrases or the sparing of the susceptibility of denominational actors. When blind violence strikes in anticipation of exponential brutality, lucidity and the instinct for survival dictate not to sacrifice too much to suicidal courtesies …


 Lassina Diarra,