The constitution stipulates a secular state that respects all beliefs and treats all individuals equally under the law, regardless of religion. It specifically prohibits religious discrimination in public and private employment and provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, and worship consistent with the law, the rights of others, national security, and public order. It recognizes the right of religious communities to provide for the education of children under conditions determined by law. It prohibits “propaganda” that encourages religious hatred. It recognizes the right of political asylum in the country for individuals persecuted for religious reasons.
The Department of Faith-Based Organizations (DGC), part of the Ministry of Interior and Security, is charged with promoting dialogue among religious groups as well as between the government and religious groups, providing administrative support to religious groups attempting to become established in the country, monitoring religious activities, and managing state-sponsored religious pilgrimages and registration of new religious groups.
The law requires all religious groups to notify the government of their existence. Foreign religious groups with a presence in the country require authorization from the Minister of Interior and Security, and all religious groups – foreign and local – must register with the DGC. Whether a religious group is categorized as local or foreign is based on the nationality of its members, the source of its funding, the make-up of its executive board, and the location of its head office. Groups with 75 percent foreign membership, foreign funding, foreign board members, or a foreign head office are considered foreign. Local religious groups are allowed to operate for two months without official approval after they submit their registration application. Foreign religious groups are technically not allowed to begin operating until they receive authorization, but this is not enforced.
There are no penalties prescribed for local or foreign religious groups that do not register, but registered groups benefit from government support, such as free access to state-run television and radio for religious programming if requested. Registered religious groups are not charged import duties on devotional items, such as religious books or rosaries. Registered religious groups are also exempt from property tax on the places of worship they own. Nonregistered groups are not allowed to sue for damages or receive compensation for injuries suffered, but members of these groups may do so as individuals.
To register, a group must apply to the DGC with its bylaws, names of the founding members and board members, date of founding, and general assembly minutes. The DGC investigates the group to ensure it has no members or purpose deemed politically subversive and that no members have been judicially deprived of their civil and political rights.
There are legal penalties for threatening, via an “information system,” violence or death. “Information system” includes print and electronic media. When such a threat is of a “racist, xenophobic, religious, or ethnic [nature] or refers to a group characterized by race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin,” the law provides for a prison term of 10 to 20 years and a fine of 20 million to 40 million CFA francs ($33,000-$65,000). In addition, defamation, insults, or threats made towards a group of people who belong to a certain race, ethnicity, or religion are punishable by a prison term of five to 10 years and a fine of 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($813-$8,000).
Religious education is not included in the public-school curriculum but is often included in private schools affiliated with a particular faith. Religious groups running those schools normally provide opt-out procedures. Religiously affiliated schools must implement the national curriculum and their teachers and supervisory staff must participate in training offered by the Ministry of National Education and Literacy before the school receives accreditation from the ministry. The government provides some funding to accredited private primary schools, both secular and religious, pursuant to legal conventions between the government and these schools. Subsidies are paid on a per-student basis, and the rate per student is the same for secular and religious schools.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
During the year, there were reports of several violent skirmishes between unidentified violent extremists and the country’s security forces, resulting in fatalities, as well as a series of arson attacks generally attributed to violent extremists. In both types of incidents, there were few details available, including about the identity of the perpetrators. In recent years, al-Qa’ida affiliate Jamat’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), based in the Sahel region, has threatened to expand into the northern part of the country from the Sahel, and the JNIM subgroup Katiba Macina, also known as the Macina Liberation Front (MLF), carried out several fatal attacks on the country’s security forces. Government and civil society sources expressed concern that these groups and others would continue to increase their presence in the country and recruit from vulnerable populations, such as unemployed youth. To counter this threat, religious leaders continued to partner with local law enforcement and subnational government leadership on security matters to prevent violent extremism and protect their communities from what they stated was the growing terrorist threat. This included information sharing, monitoring of social media and other communication channels, and supporting efforts for youth employment and engagement in society.
In March, the government arrested Joachin Kouamé N’Guessan, charging him with threatening public order with religious speeches he broadcast on social media. N’Guessan stated he was a reincarnation of Jesus Christ and frequently warned of the pending end of days. Some religious leaders expressed disapproval of his speeches and concern they might cause persons to harm themselves or others. The government acted following the leaders’ calls for it to stop N’Guessan. A leader of a Christian denomination, however, shared concern that the arrest infringed on freedom of speech. He argued that N’Guessan’s words were bizarre but not dangerous and that they did not merit imprisonment. N’Guessan was released in April under judicial supervision that required him to stop using social media until his case ran its course.
Many citizens looked to religious leaders to help reduce politically motivated conflict and guard against political manipulation of national identity, ethnicity, and religious differences to foment division in the country. The Alliance of Religions for Peace in Cote d’Ivoire, composed of religious leaders representing the Catholic, evangelical, and Muslim communities, made statements promoting social cohesion and political reconciliation and stated it was planning activities to advance those objectives heading into the 2023 municipal, regional, and senatorial elections. Leaders from the three faiths advanced the alliance during the year through a reinforced structure, charter, and joint commitments.
Leaders of Christian denominations said they had generally positive working relationships with the government, but they also said that some government officials continued to believe that members of certain religions denominations were automatically loyal to specific political figures. In this case, the leaders said, the stereotype persisted that certain Christian denominations were loyal to opposition parties. The leaders of the Christian groups stated that this was not the case and that denominations had no political loyalties. Additionally, a leader of one Christian denomination stated that, while secularism is embedded in national law, he had witnessed several cases where the state gave preferential treatment to certain religions. For example, according to this representative, allocation of government funds to the denomination dropped significantly during the year, while prominent Muslim groups did not report decreases in funding. He added that the government did not always apply tax exonerations in an equal and transparent manner.
During the year, the Muslim community, led by the National Platform for Islamic Education, successfully advocated increased accreditation of Islamic schools. The platform coordinated evaluations of 3,416 schools during the year, 547 of which received accreditation, affecting approximately 105,000 students. In addition, the Ministry of National Education and Literacy trained 2,406 Islamic school teachers on how to implement the standard national curriculum. The platform expressed optimism that the number of accredited Islamic schools would continue to grow in coming years. Islamic schools, unlike the majority of Christian schools, historically operated without formal accreditation from the Ministry of National Education and Literacy.
As of late October, the DGC reported the government had funded pilgrimages for 1,563 Christians to locations in Portugal, Spain, Israel, and France. The government also resumed financing pilgrimages to Mecca, funding the travel of 3,657 Muslims, after Saudi Arabia lifted some travel restrictions to the country linked to COVID-19. According to COSIM, the number of Muslims traveling to Mecca was lower than the usual, prepandemic level of 7,000 pilgrims, due in part to some continuing COVID-19 restrictions in Saudi Arabia.
The DGC stated that when its representatives attended events organized by religious groups (e.g., ceremonies, conferences, and festivals), those representatives used speaking opportunities to exhort audiences to disseminate messages of peace and tolerance through all mediums of communication, with the goal of promoting social cohesion. The DGC added that the country’s official 2021-2025 National Development Plan includes a specific goal of leveraging religion to improve social cohesion. This plan includes training in promoting secularism in politics and combatting extremism in religious communities.
The DGC stated that many unregistered local religious groups operated in the country, which it said was due to the group leaders’ lack of knowledge or understanding of registration requirements. The DGC stated that when informed of the registration requirement, some religious leaders were puzzled, because they did not understand the purpose of the government’s involvement in a personal matter like the practice of religion. The DGC registered 337 religious groups during the year and, contrary to what had previously been reported, said it regularly rejected a “significant number” of registration applications, the vast majority of which were by groups that did not respect rules around noise pollution and approved hours for loud ceremonies.
High-ranking government officials met with religious leaders and attended religious events throughout the year. For example, President Alassane Dramane Ouattara, a Muslim, traveled to The Vatican in September and met with Pope Francis.