The following article sheds a new light on the extraordinary efforts of a leader who has openly declared his heartfelt passion for his country and the region of Africa in which his nation has a leading role to play.
By Robert Taylor and Ilana Freedman
In the Western world, popular perceptions about Africa suggest a continent rife with political unrest, never-ending wars, and the unfulfilled promises of its leaders. The region has long suffered from poor leadership, foreign interventions, and the systematic corruption that rots the soul of its emerging nations.
A remarkable exception to this image is the West African nation of Côte d’Ivoire, where President Laurent Gbagbo is leading his country away from the horrors of war, and fulfilling his promise to create a true democracy in the Ivorian Republic. This compelling story has seen little light in the international press, but it is one that deserves to be told.
The story begins with cocoa. Côte d’Ivoire began developing its cocoa industry nearly one hundred years ago. In the intervening century, this modest crop has grown into a $1.4 billion industry which provides 40% of the world’s supply and represents over 30% of the country’s exports. Nearly a quarter of the population works in some aspect of the cocoa industry. The economy of Côte d’Ivoire therefore depends heavily on the successful global export of its cocoa crop. But the industry has long been marred by a history of corruption and lack of transparency that has cost the country both revenues and credibility.
Once a colony of France and part of the Federation of French West Africa, Côte d’Ivoire achieved its independence in 1960, but international interference in internal affairs continued to impact many aspects of Ivorian life. Côte d’Ivoire was compelled by the international community to restructure the Stabilization Fund for Agricultural Products Pricing (La Caisse de Stabilisation des Prix des Produits Agricoles 1963 – 1998), the old management body that controlled the price of cocoa. The performance of the new body was supposed to be improved by the stringent measures imposed by the international financial institutions. In reality, however, the desired results – accountability and efficiency – were never achieved.
First the War for the Nation, Then the War against Corruption
In 2000, at the very beginning of his administration, President Gbagbo attempted to better organize this vital sector of the national economy. However, the intervening war and the resulting crisis throughout the country made effective oversight of the Cocoa Board nearly impossible. Despite his promise to pursue the program against corruption, Gbagbo found it necessary to deal first with the military and political battles that faced the nation.
Finally, in early June 2008, President Gbagbo declared war on the rampant corruption in Côte d’Ivoire ’s public sector. He promised “to crackdown on corrupters to free Cote d’Ivoire from this cancer.” One of the first and most dramatics signs that his campaign had begun in earnest was the recent arrest of top officials on the Coffee and Cocoa Board.
The arrests were far from trivial. They included the president of the Cocoa Bourse marketing body, the president of the Regulatory and Control Fund, and twenty-one senior officers, who were accused of embezzling funds. These arrests symbolized considerably more than a token political ploy. It signaled the willingness of the president to identify corruption, even in high places, and authorize the apprehension of even those in elite positions who were formerly considered untouchable. It was a sign of considerable political courage that Gbagbo’s pursuit of corrupt officials has included the arrest of members of his own political party and even members of his own ethnic group, an unprecedented display of integrity for an African leader.
President Gbagbo’s attention to raising the nation’s moral standards has not been limited to the cocoa regulatory industry, but has been applied throughout the public sector. A commission was recently tasked to investigate academic fraud at the National Police Academy, to ascertain whether counterfeit degrees were being presented as proof of matriculation from high school or university. Since matriculation is required for entry into the Police Academy, the use of forged documents poses a serious challenge to fair admission procedures. In another incident, twelve high school teachers and five students were recently arrested for selling answers to the national matriculation exams to other students.
Gbagbo’s Anti-Corruption Campaign Catches the Opposition by Surprise
Côte d’Ivoire is preparing for national elections in November and Gbagbo faces serious challenges for re-election. The eyes of the world will be on the outcome. In a country with 144 political parties, where the destruction of war has made the identification of qualified voters extremely complex and the reconstruction has created challenging new problems, the events leading up to the elections will be critical.
Gbagbo’s early successes in his program to revitalize Côte d’Ivoire have apparently caught the opposition off-guard. They have been rushing to organize a campaign of disinformation against the president.
Allasane Ouattara, for example, is one of Gbagbo’s leading opponents. He heads the RDR (Rally of the Republicans), one of the major parties whose newspaper, The Patriot, has attempted to denigrate Gbagbo’s anti-corruption program in an effort to sway public opinion against him. It recently reported a detailed – and totally fabricated – account of a meeting that took place in Gbagbo’s village, and quoted inflammatory remarks that Gbagbo never uttered. The political fallout could have been (and may yet be) serious.
The Patriot article gave a hint, however, of how deeply the early successes of the president’s anti-corruption program concern those whose interests lie in maintaining the status quo. An immediate response, and a detailed account of the actual events that occurred, appeared in La Voie, another daily newspaper. This exchange made it clear that the battle against corruption will not stop at the edge of the political arena.
It’s difficult to count the number of times producers and the general public have called on the president of Ivory Coast to establish some sense of order in the coffee and cacao sector. Well, it seems that their cry has finally been heeded.
By Louis S. Amédé, Abidjan
From: Les Afriques
The coffee and cacao sector in Ivory Coast has once again fallen on tumultuous times. But this time, the cause has nothing to do with the recurring conflicts among its leaders or quarrels over money fuelled by producers or management entities within the sector. No. This time the unsettling situation has been instigated by the legal proceedings that have been wielded against some top industry players, with many directors facing committal orders and even jail time at Abidjan’s main correctional facility, the MACA. “Embezzlement, breach of trust, misappropriation, swindling, forgery in private companies and banking,” are the main charges against them. And the investigation being conducted by Attorney General Tchimou Raymond is only just getting started!
Is Ivory Coast’s head of state, Laurent Gbagbo, using the “operation clean hands” project he only recently launched to weed out the coffee and cacao industry as a trump card to be played during the 30th November 2008 presidential elections?
In a nation where every act is screened through the political prism of the land, this clean-up campaign in political spheres is disconcerting at best. In particular, there are political parties who smell the foul odour of a deliberate political manoeuvre to smear their own leaders. This seems all the more troubling when the incumbent president affirms in no uncertain terms that, “the procedures currently underway in the coffee and cacao industry will be carried out in other sectors. Our goal is to provide more transparency in the management of the State.”
The detention of 23 top players of the coffee and cacao sector, for the time being, came about after a seizin of the Attorney General by the head of state on 11th October 2007 to shed light on “grave accusations of embezzlement within the sector.” Indeed, before the President Gbagbo’s February 2006 decree to establish a framework for the management of the drawing of funds (for the State, for the functioning of various structures and for the implementation of activities in favour of producers) each of the management entities – the ARCC (Autorité de régulation du café et du cacao) that oversees the coffee-cacao industry, the (BCC) Bourse du Café et du Cacao, the FRC (Fonds de régulation et de contrôle), the FDPCC (Fonds de développement des producteurs de café-cacao) and the FGCCC (Fonds de garantie des coopératives café-cacao)- was managing a portion of the manna being received at the time. And to accomplish this effort, each structure seems to have provided him with some little treat. The amount of money resulting from those guilty of “failure to follow sound management rules” in the form of overcharging, others guilty of embezzlement and some guilty of fictitious or false placements has not been disclosed. But the rumour mill suggests sums in the billions of FCFA. “This is hardly surprising in a sector where it has long been customary to add two or three zeros to every bill,” confided a former high-ranking executive of the Caisse de stabilisation, an organisation that played a considerable role in determining and maintaining the price of products from the coffee-cacao sector.
“This is hardly surprising in a sector where it has long been customary to add two or three zeros to every bill,” confided a former high-ranking executive of the Caisse de stabilisation. Measuring cups
The on-going legal proceedings are the most recent link in a chain of events. First, there were a few cups “to improve the management of the sector’s resources” – cups that should have been taken as warnings. A clear warning should have been the creation by presidential decree of a Committee for the management of drawings whose mission was to examine, follow up and validate any project or programme to be financed within the sector before its realisation. But according to this former senior official of the Caisse de stabilisation, “as in the past, the pro rapid and unjustifiable enrichment mentality, prevarication and extortion have, once again, got the upper hand, driving the Bretton Woods institutions to demand and acquire the ill-advised and ill-conceived liberalisation of the coffee and cacao sector.” Essentially, back stage of this clean-up process being carried out before the haggard eyes of Ivory Coast nationals and the international community, neither of whom thought President Gbagbo capable of anything like this, is the question of the economic efficiency and expediency of the liberalisation of the coffee and cacao industry. The actions that set the “clean hands” ball in motion, saying much about the shortcomings of this forceps-delivered liberalisation, have now given birth to a host of overlapping entities.
Staying the course
While awaiting the start of court proceedings against those currently being detained, the Ivory Coast head of state seems determined to stay the course to the very end of the process. “And that might not be such a bad thing” notes a member of the National Council on Coffee and Cacao who, only a few months before, was espousing the need “to sanction the industry’s inadequacies and gross missteps.” In this framework, the National Association of Ivory Coast Producers (Association nationale de producteurs de Côte d’Ivoire – Anaproci), has also added members of successive governments to the list of those to be indicted. We’re not quite there, however. But for Jean-François Akini, an entrepreneur, “It was about time because even if Laurent Gbagbo had already proven himself to be a political genius, he had yet to show that he could be a great leader. With the “clean hands” operation that he’s just launched in his immediate professional entourage and also in departments that govern the management of public assets, he now has a good opportunity to show us what he can do.” Of course, this is provided that everything is done the right way and followed through and that all sectors of Ivory Coast’s economy face the same scrutiny…. Is that a hint? Of course!