Ivory Coast Moves Beyond War to Become a West African Powerhouse

Via the Wall Street Journal, an interesting look at Cote d’Ivoire:

This West African country in October became the continent’s fastest-growing economy, a sharp reversal from 2011, when a bloody civil conflict left 3,000 people dead.

The International Monetary Fund said surging foreign investment, political stability and firm prices for its main crops helped the nation of 25 million people surpass Ethiopia. The World Bank expects growth here to hit 8.5% this year, the second-fastest in the world after Myanmar.

Ivory Coast’s performance stands in contrast with that of economies like Nigeria and Angola, which fell into recession as the price of oil collapsed, and other African democracies have cited Ivory Coast’s economic success as a model. 

The Obama administration in September lifted sanctions in recognition of the country’s steps to strengthen democratic institutions.

Diplomats say the country’s progress is real but that peace remains precarious, while Ivorians remain deeply divided along political and ethnic fault lines. The government still has limited control over some branches of the security forces. Authorities say they are taking steps to limit child labor, which rose sharply in tandem between 2010 and 2014, according to a study from the U.S. Labor Department.

Long the world’s top cocoa producer, Ivory Coast has taken steps to diversify its economy, boosting exports of electricity and agricultural products including timber, palm oil, rubber and cashews. Its currency, the West African CFA franc, is pegged to the euro, helping inoculate investors against foreign-exchange swings seen in many of the continent’s big economies.

An infrastructure boom has helped revive the country’s historic role as a hub for West Africa’s market of 300 million consumers, and has drawn the country’s elite back from Europe, the U.S. and Canada to capitalize on the opportunities.

 

In upscale Abidjan, new towers are transforming the skyline and a $270 million toll bridge has dramatically reduced traffic. French transportation company Bolloré is building a second cargo terminal at the city’s port, one of Africa’s busiest, while a fleet of sea taxis will next year begin ferrying commuters around the city’s waterways.

“The diaspora is coming home and money is flowing in. This is our moment,” said Issa Diabate, a Yale-trained architect who constructs housing units for thousands of the country’s fast-expanding middle class.

A bullet hole has long marked a window in his office. “We kept it there as a reminder of how far we’ve come” since the 2011 war, when forces loyal to President Alassane Outtarafought those of his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo.

Western-backed Mr. Outtara, a former IMF director, emerged victorious and began rebuilding the country, aided by a wave of foreign capital. Mr. Gbagbo is on trial for crimes against humanity in The Hague, charges he denies.

Voters in October approved a new constitution Mr. Outtara said would guarantee a stable transition when his second term ends in 2020, but the polls were marked by low turnout and sporadic violence.

This week, the president’s ruling coalition took nearly two-thirds of the votes in parliamentary elections, strengthening its hold in Parliament, although just 34% of voters cast ballots. Mr. Gbagbo’s Front Populaire Ivoirien Party, which ruled from 2000 to 2010 and boycotted last year’s presidential election, took only three seats.

Some commentators say stark political divides haven’t been extinguished by the country’s growth spurt.

“We are sitting on a bomb,” said Bart Inobo, a journalist here. “Not everyone has benefited, and the political crisis is still unsolved.”

The disparities outside central Abidjan are on display in the slums on the city edge and the towns in the country’s interior.

In the northern district of Abobo—a sprawling shantytown that was a bastion of Mr. Outtara’s support during the conflict—residents say they have seen few benefits of the growth spurt.

“Because of the suffering here during the crisis, we thought we’d see some investment or change, but it hasn’t happened. People are angry,” said Toure Osman, a 27-year-old who runs a pharmacy.

Meanwhile, terror concerns linger: In March, gunmen stormed a beach town here, killing at least 16 people.

Economy Minister Adama Koné this week said the economic success has lifted support for the government and that the wealth is trickling down to poorer areas.

In Abidjan’s tony neighborhoods, investors and executives say the government will tackle inequality after bolstering the nation’s economic fundamentals. Herve Boyer, managing director of Standard Bank’s regional office, says his affiliate will more than double its current level of capital to 37 billion CFA francs ($59 million) by 2020.

“We are very, very bullish,” he said.

 



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