The Ivory Coast Blog

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Côte d’Ivoire is Ready for an Economic Comeback

By Ilana Freedman

According to the latest IMF[1] Survey, Côte d’Ivoire is well positioned for a significant economic comeback this year. Private sector confidence, which had been eroded by international interventions, civil war, rampant corruption, political fractiousness, trade barriers erected by the international community, and sky-rocketing prices, is returning.

The IMF projects growth of Côte d’Ivoire’s GDP by three per cent this year (which will effectively double last year’s growth), and further growth to five or six per cent over the next few years.

Côte d’Ivoire received its independence in 1960, and for the next twenty years the country enjoyed economic

President Laurent Gbagbo

President Laurent Gbagbo

development that made it a driving force in West Africa. GDP growth of seven per cent a year was supported by a major position in the world’s cocoa, coffee, and cotton production. However, in the ensuing climate of mismanagement, fueled by corruption, international greed, disruptive immigration, and political strife, the prosperity and beauty of the country gave way to loss of trade, extensive borrowing, and resulting squalor as the economy began to fail.

While the IMF gives most of the credit for the current renewal to the international community, which has provided significant financial support, it is clear that the problems facing Côte d’Ivoire would never have been solved by money alone. Substantial credit must go to the country’s leadership under the presidency of Laurent Gbagbo, who assumed office in 2000. Although the election was contentious, and continues to be challenged, he has taken courageous steps across dangerous political waters to achieve relative stability and a new environment of economic promise.

After several unsuccessful attempts to end the brutal enmity caused by a failed coup in 2002 and the resulting civil war, Gbagbo broke precedent in 2007 and reached out to the rebel leadership. He brought them to the table in Ouagadougou in a historic meeting that resulted in the Ouagadougou Peace Accord, signed in March 2007. This was the beginning of a new chapter in the country’s history, and the beginning of a period of renewed hope among the people of Côte d’Ivoire. According to government sources, a new sense of nationalism and pride among the population is a phenomenon that speaks volumes about the progress that has been made.

Prime Minister Soro

Prime Minister Soro

As part of the Peace Accord, Guillaume Soro, who had been leader of the rebel forces that fought so fiercely against the government, became Prime Minister, and took on the responsibility of disarming the rebels.

On the economic front, the president has attacked the ubiquitous corruption that has made sound economic recovery virtually impossible. Many high level officers in the public sector were arrested for economic crimes, their high positions and political affiliations notwithstanding. Even members of Gbagbo’s own party fell in this massive anti-corruption campaign. It was a risky political move on his part and one that took considerable courage.

In another recent move to improve the economic situation, the government slashed the salaries of senior ministers by half in order to finance a 10 percent cut on fuel prices. Prime Minister Guillaume Soro said they “had decided to cut basic salaries of all members of government” and that the measure would affect managers of state-owned companies as well, in response to what he called “the common man’s cries of distress”.

The restructuring of the government resulted in the development of an economic plan, which placed several imperatives on the table, and produced a list of four key priorities:

  • – budget as the core of economic policy,
  • – higher spending in areas that would assist the very poor and help turn crisis into opportunity,
  • – reforms in government including a strong emphasis on transparency,
  • – a strong program to encourage business development.

In order to support these initiatives, the IMF provided $128.4 million in emergency funding, and the World Bank pledged a grant of $308 million. The United Nations, and various countries and organizations have also contributed funds.

But funding will not be enough to solve the problems of a nation that has suffered so much. The key to the future of Côte d’Ivoire will lie in the national elections, scheduled for November 30. If continuity in the current process is the prevailing concern of the voters, then the re-election of Laurent Gbagbo to the presidency will give him the opportunity to continue forward with his program of reforms. If he is not successful in the election, then the future of Côte d’Ivoire is less certain.

The strides that have been taken are impressive, but the country’s political issues are complex, fueled by international priorities that are all too frequently in conflict with Côte d’Ivoire’s best interests. A strong effort to move forward with the reform programs now in place will go a long way to easing the people’s concerns about the future of Côte d’Ivoire. It will also provide a strong basis for the conduct of free and fair elections in November.

[1] International Monetary Fund, headquartered in Washington, DC.


August 11, 2008 - Posted by | Economomic Issues | , , , , , ,

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