Roundtable with Côte d’Ivoire’s first lady

On Monday, June 22, the Africa Center hosted a luncheon roundtable discussion with Dominique Ouattara, First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire, to speak about her country’s work toward eradicating the child trafficking, exploitation, and labor.

After a welcome and introduction from Africa Center Director J. Peter Pham, Mrs. Ouattara discussed both the progress and obstacles to eliminating child labor in Côte d’Ivoire. As the largest cocoa-producing country in the world, Côte d’Ivoire faces the issue of children laboring in the cocoa fields.

Mrs. Ouattara is Chair of Côte d’Ivoire’s National Oversight Committee of Actions in the Fight against Child Trafficking, Exploitation, and Labor. The committee together with international and non-governmental organizations developed a National Action Plan which ran from 2012 to 2014 and was supported by $14 million from the Ivorian state, plus additional investments from partners. A second National Action Plan is being prepared which will run through 2017.


 From left to right: H.E. Anne Ouloto, the Honorable Robert Jackson, and Dominique Ouattara.

The implementation of the first Plan, Mrs. Ouattara said, has already achieved major results: the passage of legislation prohibiting and punishing the worst forms of child labor. That law has already led to the imprisonment of twenty-three persons and some twenty additional prosecutions are underway. Also adopted was national legislation implementing compulsory, free education for all children from age 6 to 16, supported by the construction of additional schools throughout the country (some 6,000 classrooms have been renovated or built in just the last four years). Other initiatives include reforms of the coffee-cocoa sector, working to guarantee income to farmers and decrease the need for reliance on child labor, and capacity building and trainings for police, judges, labor inspectors, teachers, and social workers to inform them of new laws against child labor.

In cooperation with Tulane University, the government undertook a study on child labor in the country. Mrs. Ouattara noted that the study’s results will help the government of Côte d’Ivoire to better target their efforts, even if some of the methodologies employed in the research inflated the number of incidents of supposed child labor.

Mrs. Ouattara is a successful businesswoman who, in 1979, founded AICI International, a real estate management firm that currently operates in France, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, and Burkina Faso and of which she was President and CEO until 2010, when her husband, Alassane Outtara, was elected President of Côte d’Ivoire. In 1998, Mrs. Ouattara established the Children of Africa Foundation, which has focused on health, education, and community development programs for underserved populations not only in Côte d’Ivoire, but also worked over the years in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Gabon, Madagascar, and Senegal.

Among those in attendance and participating in the discussion was H.E. Anne Désirée Oulouto, Minister of Solidarity, Women, and the Family and Vice President of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Fight Against Child Trafficking, Exploitation, and Labor; H.E. Daouda Diabaté, Ambassador to the United States of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire; Massandjé Touré-Litse, Director-General of Côte d’Ivoire’s Conseil du Café-Cacao (“Coffee-Cocoa Council”); and the Honorable Robert Jackson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

At the end of the meeting, Mrs. Ouattara presented a gift to Atlantic Council Africa Center Senior Fellow Constance Berry Newman on the occasion of the latter’s upcoming eightieth birthday. Mrs. Ouattara and Ambassador Diabaté thanked Newman for her long friendship to Côte d’Ivoire and especially her efforts to promote a peaceful resolution of the civil conflict in the country during her time in office as US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.