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Ivory Coast Tries To Keep Terrorists From Crossing Border

They shall not pass: Since July, soldiers have stepped up patrols along the country's 1,600-km border with Mali and Burkina Faso.

Soldiers march during a military parade marking the 59th anniversary of the independence of Cote d'Ivoire in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, Aug. 2019
Soldiers march during a military parade marking the 59th anniversary of the independence of Cote d'Ivoire in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, Aug. 2019
Youenn Gourlay

KORHOGO — It's a delicate operation. Commander Roland Seahet of Gohouo repeats the instructions to the Fourth Battalion of Korhogo, a city in the north of the Ivory Coast. "Be vigilant and ready for combat," he says. "Have the men been deployed to the border? Have the positions been secured?"

In the Burkina Faso forest of Dida, along the Ivorian border, a sweeping operation is underway this October following an aerial military bombardment aimed at potential jihadists. "The Burkinabés shot at suspects," the commander explains. "We don't want them to flee and find refuge in Ivorian territory."

In recent months, the Ivorian army has focused on the 1,116-km border that the Ivory Coast shares with two of the most unstable countries in the subregion, Mali and Burkina Faso. Launched in July, "operation watertight border," as it's called, is focused on apprehending intruders.

Many here don't even know where the border is exactly.

The operation follows the killing of a guide and the abduction of two French tourists in Pendjari National Park in Benin, near the border with Burkina Faso. Earlier in the year, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an "orange alert" for the area, warning French tourists not to travel there "except for imperative reasons."

Today, in addition to customs and police officers, at least 300 seasoned military personnel monitor the border daily. But as the commander notes, "In the dry season, the rivers are receding and crossing over into Ivorian lands becomes easier" — especially since between the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Mali, people move back and forth constantly.

"Some have their parents on the other side," says Dion, an officer stationed in the north. "Village festivals are common. Round trips for trade or fishing are daily. Not to mention that some families here own plantations on the other side of the border. Besides, many here don't even know where the border is exactly."

U.S. and Ivorian soldiers during a joint naval exercise in Abidjan — Photo: Mcs1 Justin Stumberg/Planet Pix/ZUMA

Either way, it's been far more protected since the arrival of the army in July. Checkpoints and patrols of up to 30 men control the comings and goings of Ivorian villagers in Burkinabé territory, directly opposite.

In the village of of Kavadogo, the border is marked by a bend in the Comoé River. It's a place where children love to swim and where large flat canoes await fishermen and locals. The friendly atmosphere notwithstanding, there are now four armored vehicles here standing guard.

Stanislas Loukou, who has worked in the village for two years as a teacher, says he's now used to the military presence. At first, seeing all these soldiers was worrying for him and his family. Today he finds their presence reassuring.

A few months ago, local farmers reported that two men, armed and hooded, had crossed the border and were poking about the nearby villages. "It's a big deal," a government official explained. "They had Kalashnikovs and threatened peasants." Since then the military presence has been strengthened.

The military admits, nevertheless, that it "will never be able to control everything." Their fear continues to be that some terrorists are hiding within the local population, especially among the gold miners who are increasingly present in the gold-rich fields of the north.

The real challenge for the soldiers is to improve their intelligence network so that abnormal acts or behaviors can relayed back to village leaders as quickly as possible.

"Some people act in a way that's suspicious, which makes everyone nervous," says Amoro Ouattara, younger brother of the leader of Kaouara, one of the last Ivorian towns on Abidjan-Ouagadougou axis. "You shouldn't assume that the evil is always elsewhere."

The military admits that it will never be able to control everything.

He goes on to explain that he was at the mosque praying one day and noticed unattended bags at the entrance. "I said to the imam: "Don't allow this to be here. We don't know what it contains. There could be bombs." It concerns everyone: the chief, religious communities, the youth too," Ouattara explains.

The French military helps Ivorian law enforcement by providing intelligence, and according to the French Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner — who visited the country in May — several attacks have been thwarted as a result.

France is also helping finance a counter-terrorism academy in Jacqueville, 50 kms from Abidjan, the country's largest city and economic center. During a presentation of the project in October, the Ivory Coast's defense minister, Hamed Bakayoko, talked about the "urgent" need to act, and noted that whatever problems might arise in Burkina Faso will necessarily impact his country as well.

The school won't be completed, probably, until next year. But some training sessions have already taken place.

Since the security crisis began in the great Sahel region, the Ivory Coast has only had one jihadist attack: on March 13, 2016, in the seaside town of Grand-Bassam, a few kilometers from Abidjan. Th attacked killed 19 and wounded 33. The goal since then has been to avoid a repeat, and so far, the country has been spared. "Why?" Commander Seahet of Gohouo asks. "We respect the rules and we're helped by the hand of God."

As one French observer puts it, the Ivory Coast is a key source of stability for the whole region. "If the security situation breaks down there, it would be a disaster for all of West Africa."

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What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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