Fighting Illegal Use of Public Land in Côte d’Ivoire

Land issues in Bouaké
Community members attend a meeting on reclaiming public land being illegally used by private individuals.
Patricia Kouassi
Associations join forces to reclaim land
“We are going to fight on your side until you get the market land back.”

February 2014—The illegal use of public land for private use is a continuing source of tension throughout Côte d’Ivoire. It contributes to perceptions of public officials using their office for personal gain at the expense of the public with impunity.

In summer 2013, USAID began to facilitate dialogue in Bouaké between the government and citizens. At issue was the illegal construction of private residences on parcels of land reserved for a market square and a public primary school. As a result of this discussion, a new women’s trader association formed to continue advocacy. Also, a parents’ association signed a petition to reclaim the space reserved for a public school.

Simultaneously, USAID trained the Bouaké traders association to lobby and instructed them on the legal and regulatory framework for commerce to help them fight corruption. The traders used these new skills and knowledge to lobby the authorities for public market places. In the process, they realized that the absence of formal market places in Bouaké was due to the illegal sale and occupation of public lands by high-ranking officials.

The Bouaké traders association then joined forces with the women and parents associations involved in reclaiming public lands for community use. Together, they held a press conference to raise awareness both locally and nationally on the issue since local authorities seemed powerless—or unwilling—to address it. The press conference turned into a spontaneous demonstration with over 2,000 participants supporting efforts to reclaim the land.

“We are going to fight on your side until you get the market land back. Justice will be done and those who sold these lands are going to be brought to justice. We are proud of your mobilization. This is just the beginning,” said Sogodogo Alassane, president of the neighborhood youth association, during the demonstration.

Public pressure continued to mount as newspapers reported on the issue. Finally, the Bouaké prefect issued a decree in January 2014 to stop illegal occupation and building of private residences on the land reserved for a public market in the Air France III neighborhood. This marked the first time a government official took concrete action against the impunity of powerful individuals to illegally use land for their own private purposes.

Last updated: April 24, 2014

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