The glitz and the grime Co-host of the Africa CEO Fo­rum in March, Côte d’ivoire has im­proved its busi­ness cli­mate and eco­nomic growth. But in­equal­ity has pro­voked protests, and pit­falls await

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - By Bram Posthu­mus in Abidjan

Côte d’ivoire was in the con­ti­nen­tal spot­light as Pres­i­dent Alas sane Ou­at­tara opened the sixth Africa CEO Fo­rum, held on 26-27 March at the Sof­i­tel Ho­tel Ivoire. He ex­plained: “Now more than ever, Africa is de­ter­mined to take its des­tiny in its own hands and has the solid re­solve to be the prin­ci­pal ac­tor in its own de­vel­op­ment.” He called on gov­ern­ments to di­ver­sify their coun­tries’ economies, in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture, get se­ri­ous about re­gional in­te­gra­tion and the ed­u­ca­tion of young peo­ple,

es­pe­cially girls. These are all fa­mil­iar themes on the African con­fer­ence cir­cuit, and the proof of Ou­at­tara’s lead­er­ship is whether he ac­tu­ally fol­lows through at home. As Ou­at­tara comes to the end of his sec­ond term and is due to hand over to a suc­ces­sor in 2020, ci­ti­zens are de­bat­ing his legacy. With the end of the coun­try’s civil war, the African De­vel­op­ment Bank re­turned to its Abidjan head­quar­ters and the econ­omy re­ceived $481m in for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment in 2016, up from an av­er­age of $353m in 2005-2007 ac­cord­ing to data from the United Na­tions Con­fer­ence on Trade and De­vel­op­ment. The econ­omy has been grow­ing rapidly for the past sev­eral years, but mu­tinies last year and a spate of an­gry protests this year (see page 47) show that the coun­try has a long way to go to fight poverty, re­duce cor­rup­tion and re­spond to the needs of the pop­u­la­tion.


On many de­vel­op­ment indi­ca­tors, the coun­try has a lot of room for im­prove­ment. World Bank fig­ures put the pri­mary school com­ple­tion rate at 63% in 2015. At the same time, 27.9% of the pop­u­la­tion lived on less than $1.9 per day. Ou­at­tara’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has been work­ing hard to im­prove the coun­try’s busi­ness cli­mate and this has paid div­i­dends: Côte d’ivoire ranks 139 out of 190 coun­tries in the lat­est World Bank Do­ing Busi­ness re­port, up from 167 out of 183 in 2012. But im­prove­ments can still be made, said Sér­gio Pi­menta, vice-pres­i­dent for Africa and the Mid­dle East at the In­ter­na­tional Fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion. He was speak­ing at the pre­sen­ta­tion of a new re­port on in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­ferred specif­i­cally to the “sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­ce­dures”, an al­lu­sion to the coun­try’s French-in­her­ited labyrinthine bu­reau­cracy. The macroe­con­omy is per­form­ing well. A pa­per from the econ­omy and fi­nance min­istry is up­beat : eco­nomic growth for 2018 is pre­dicted at 8.3% due to con­tin­ued im­prove­ments in com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture – pro­duc­ing co­coa, cof­fee, fruit and live­stock – and strong growth fig­ures for con­struc­tion, energy and ser­vices. On the sur­face, this looks like a boom, the sec­ond one in the coun­try’s his­tory, af­ter the co­coa-fu­elled eco­nomic mir­a­cle of the 1960s and 1970s. Com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture re­mains the bedrock of the Ivo­rian econ­omy but cau­tion is in or­der: re­al­i­ties on the ground are less pleas­ant than those gov­ern­ment fig­ures sug­gest. In 2016/2017, world co­coa prices plunged by 35%, drop­ping to $1,900/ tn by the end of 2017. The Lon­don­based Econ­o­mist In­tel­li­gence Unit pre­dicts that price trend will con­tinue. In Jan­uary 2018, Moussa Koné, the leader of the Syn­di­cat Na­tional Agri­cole pour le Pro­grès union asked: “Ev­ery farmer works to ful­fil the needs of his fam­ily. How can you pre­vent a farmer from look­ing out for the best re­turn on in­vest­ment?” This rhetor­i­cal ques­tion hints at the pos­si­bil­ity of sell­ing Ivo­rian co­coa in neigh­bour­ing Ghana, where it fetches 900 CFA francs ($1.69) per kilo­gram, 200 CFA francs more than at home. The Ivo­rian gov­ern­ment, which re­duced the co­coa price in re­sponse to the cri­sis, for­bids the smug­gling of Ivo­rian beans to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. Co­coa farm­ers, once the pil­lars of the rul­ing party in the time of the un­con­tested rule of the Parti Démocra­tique de Côte

d’ivoire (PDCI) and Félix HouphouëtBoigny – him­self a farmer – have lost a lot of their clout in the in­ter­ven­ing years. But the trou­bles on the ground are not go­ing un­no­ticed at the high­est level: Ou­at­tara and his Ghana­ian coun­ter­part, Nana Akufo-addo, de­liv­ered a joint dec­la­ra­tion in March, in which they pledged to work to­wards price im­prove­ments, har­mon­is­ing mar­ket­ing poli­cies and to agree­ing co­coa prices “in a con­comi­tant man­ner”, which could put an end to Ivo­rian smug­gling dreams. They also in­vited the pri­vate sec­tor to in­vest mas­sively in the sec­tor, and es­pe­cially in pro­cess­ing: both coun­tries want to min­imise the ex­port of raw ma­te­ri­als in or­der to add value and to cre­ate em­ploy­ment at home. Côte d’ivoire is mak­ing more progress than Ghana on the pro­cess­ing front due to a se­ries of in­cen­tives that en­cour­aged more in­vest­ment in grind­ing ca­pac­ity. Di­ver­si­fy­ing the econ­omy away from com­modi­ties is a re­cur­ring theme for many African gov­ern­ments, and tourism is one of those ar­eas where pri­vate in­vest­ment can pay off hand­somely. Tourism min­is­ter Sian­dou Fo­fana says that the sec­tor’s con­tri­bu­tion to Côte d’ivoire’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct to­day stands at just over 5.5% – al­most three times what it was in the wake of the post-elec­toral cri­sis of 2010-2011. The March 2016 shoot­ings at Grand-bas­sam, the first and so far only re­cent ter­ror­ist at­tack in the coun­try, has failed to put the brakes on tourism’s growth. Lo­gis­tics is an­other sec­tor the gov­ern­ment says it is up­beat about. There are few coun­tries on the con­ti­nent where the French multi­na­tional Bolloré – which has 24,000 em­ploy­ees in 46 African coun­tries – has a freer hand than in Côte d’ivoire. In late 2017, Bolloré started work on the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the 1,200km Abidjan-oua­gadougou rail­way. In Fe­bru­ary 2018, the firm opened new fa­cil­i­ties at the port of Abidjan for bulk co­coa ex­ports, which ap­pears to be con­trary to stated gov­ern­ment pol­icy. Bolloré and oth­ers are mak­ing bets on Côte d’ivoire’s con­sumers. Since 2015, the Amer­i­can fast-food gi­ant Burger King has been open­ing a string of restau­rants. Cur­rently, there are seven: at the air­port, ma­jor shop­ping cen­tres and in the busi­ness district known as Le Plateau. Bolloré runs the sup­ply chain from Europe to the pur­pose-built cold stor­age fa­cil­i­ties.


The rise of the ser­vice econ­omy is in­ti­mately con­nected with ur­ban­i­sa­tion, with eco­nomic cap­i­tal Abidjan as the main draw. Voodoo Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the home­grown Abidjan ad­ver­tis­ing agency cre­ated in 1999, is still led by its founder, Fabrice Saweg­non. Voodoo’s an­nual turnover is in the or­der of $12m, and it has branched out into event or­gan­i­sa­tion and me­dia ac­tiv­ity. The com­pany has cre­ated eye-catch­ing ads for Or­ange, Cas­tel and Air Côte d’ivoire, as well as man­ag­ing Pres­i­dent Ou­at­tara’s suc­cess­ful re-election cam­paign. Snedai, the e-visa ser­vice that busi­ness­man Adama Bic­togo set up in 2007, has now grown into a group ac­tive in la­goon trans­port, con­struc­tion and energy. It em­ploys 1,000 peo­ple and has an an­nual turnover of $73.9m. These are just two ex­am­ples of busi­nesses that have come into their own in an en­vi­ron­ment where you must be fast, in­no­va­tive and savvy in or­der to suc­ceed. It does no harm, ei­ther, to be close to the pres­i­den­tial fam­ily. Ear­lier in March, the Sof­i­tel Ho­tel Ivoire hosted an­other gather­ing of the great and the good in what has be­come a barom­e­ter of who is up, who is down, who is in and who is out : the an­nual Chil­dren of Africa gala din­ner, the brain­child of first lady Do­minique Ou­at­tara. Prime min­is­ter Amadou Gon Coulibaly was there, as was vice-pres­i­dent Daniel Kablan Dun­can. Guil­laume Soro was in at­ten­dance, which was in­ter­est­ing, given the hard time Ou­at­tara’s party had been giv­ing him about his am­bi­tions, as was Hen­ri­ette Ko­nan Bédié, the wife of the Pres­i­dent’s ally and PDCI leader Henri Ko­nan Bédié. Bédié’s party and Ou­at­tara’s are now in an al­liance, but ma­noeu­vrings re­lated to the up­com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tions could lead to a part­ing of ways. French busi­nesses were well rep­re­sented at the gala by Vin­cent Bolloré

and Martin and Olivier Bouygues. Artists and celebri­ties put the finest gloss on the event, among them French ac­tress Is­abelle Ad­jani, Senegal’s Yous­sou N’dour, Mali’s Salif Keita, Toumani and Sidiki Di­a­baté, Côte d’ivoire’s Aïcha Koné, Mei­way and Magic Sys­tem and the renowned Nige­rien cou­turier Al­phadi, who has a store in Le Plateau. In stark con­trast are sto­ries such as this one from a shop owner in An­gré, a north­ern sub­urb of Abidjan: “There are parts of Abobo where peo­ple don’t leave their homes at night. These young guys come out with ma­chetes and ter­rorise the area.” The young guys in ques­tion are ‘mi­crobes’, ado­les­cents and other young peo­ple in vi­o­lent street gangs. “They have no rea­son to be there, they just rob peo­ple,” he said, be­fore ex­plain­ing that this was the rea­son he pre­ferred his shop to be out­side his own neigh­bour­hood. Some politi­cians want Côte d’ivoire’s grime rather than its glitz to be at the cen­tre of po­lit­i­cal de­bates. Ma­madou Koulibaly was the speaker of Côte d’ivoire’s par­lia­ment through­out much of the reign of former pres­i­dent Lau­rent Gbagbo. He plans to stand in 2020 as pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for Lib­erté et Démocratie pour la République, a rel­a­tively small left-of-cen­tre party that chal­lenges the gov­ern­ment’s free-mar­ket poli­cies. “The fight against poverty does not means erad­i­cat­ing the vis­i­ble signs of it and re­plac­ing it with beau­ti­ful fly­overs and lovely homes,” he ar­gued in a video he re­leased on 23 March, the day be­fore he de­clared his can­di­dacy. “That’s how you get the ‘mi­crobes’, through a lack of dig­nity, frus­tra­tion and vi­o­lence.”


Abobo is a dis­ad­van­taged area of Abidjan – no Burger Kings there. Other parts of the coun­try fare lit­tle bet­ter. In the north, mil­lions eke out a mea­gre liveli­hood on the land. Abidjan is very, very far away from these places, which, iron­i­cally per­haps, have also been home to a re­li­ably pro-ou­at­tara elec­torate. Given that for them the ben­e­fits from Côte d’ivoire’s sec­ond eco­nomic mir­a­cle have not ma­te­ri­alised, the gov­ern­ment may be in for a rude awak­en­ing at the next elec­tions. Key to all the po­lit­i­cal equa­tions are the moves taken by two giants of the po­lit­i­cal stage: one young, one old. Henri Ko­nan Bedié has kept his rep­u­ta­tion as a sphinx, re­veal­ing noth­ing about his in­ten­tions in the up­com­ing 2020 elec­tions. He has made splashes in the press, ap­pear­ing to court one or an­other pre­tender to the throne, whilst never giv­ing up his own am­bi­tions. But he mat­ters greatly in the po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­lus. The heir of the his­toric PDCI party, which ruled at in­de­pen­dence, he brings with him a good third of the votes in the coun­try. A meet­ing held be­tween Pres­i­dent Ou­at­tara and Bedié on 10 April was ex­pected to an­nounce a for­mal elec­toral pact and the cre­ation of a joint party. But while the in­ten­tion was in­deed an­nounced, it re­mained light on de­tail. And ru­mours swirl of a 2014 elec­toral pact signed be­fore Ou­at­tara won his sec­ond term that would give the throne to the PDCI. The other gi­ant of the po­lit­i­cal stage, Guil­laume Soro, was a former youth leader turned mili­tia leader who helped pro­pel Ou­at­tara to power. Hav­ing been prime min­is­ter, he is now pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Assem­bly. With a firm hand on the mili­tias still ac­tive in the north of the coun­try, he will want to make his pres­ence felt ahead of the 2020 poll. Ex­pect the next 18 months to be a bumpy ride.

Pres­i­dent Ou­at­tara (R) and Prime Min­is­ter Coulibaly (L)

Above: Gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives have en­cour­aged in­vest­ment in co­coa pro­cess­ing, such as at this Choco Ivoire plant in San-pé­dro Right: Af­ter army mu­tinies in 2017, vi­o­lence again broke out be­tween ri­val fac­tions in the mil­i­tary in Jan­uary 2018

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