ANALYSIS: Post-war Ivory Coast nurtures second "miracle"
Sun May 20, 2012 8:46am GMT
By Joe Bavier
ABIDJAN (Reuters) - From his lagoon-side allotment in Ivory Coast's economic
capital Abidjan, Moussa Yanda has a ringside seat to watch the foundations
of a $290-million toll bridge slowly rise up from the shore.
"I love watching it," enthused the softly-spoken 45-year-old as he packed up
his garden tools for the day. "When things are developing, we realise we're
going to make it through this."
Little over a year ago such optimism was scarce. Mortar bombs were pouring
down around Yanda's city garden as the West African country slipped into a
civil war that claimed over 3,000 lives and forced thousands more to flee
Now, helped by billions of dollars of donor cash, President Alassane
Ouattara wants to shore up the peace with a dash for economic growth like
the "Ivorian miracle" which turned the country into a regional powerhouse
after independence in the 1960s.
Internationally recognised as winner of a presidential election in December
2010, Ouattara had to wait over four months to enter office as incumbent
Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down, pushing the country towards
Old ethnic wounds were opened in the violence that brought the economy of
the world's top cocoa-grower to a halt. Ouattara spent much of the conflict
in an Abidjan hotel besieged by pro-Gbagbo forces before his northern
allies, backed by French troops, ejected Gbagbo from his palace.
Ouattara, a 70-year-old former top International Monetary Fund official,
appears determined to make up for lost time. Each day a new strip of
pot-holed road is patched up and the mirror-windowed skyscrapers of
Abidjan's Plateau financial district now show few signs of the battles waged
The toll bridge across the lagoon, long a symbol of Ivory Coast's arrested
development in the decade of political crisis that preceded the conflict, is
now being built - 15 years after the contract with France's Bouygues was
As early as his inauguration speech made a year ago on Monday, Ouattara had
signalled his goal of emulating Ivory Coast's three-decade rise that ushered
in a golden age of prosperity and stability unrivalled before or since in
"It became clear to President Felix Houphouet-Boigny very early on that
peace is not an accident, but an actual development strategy," Ouattara said
then of the country's independence president, still widely revered by
THE ROAD TO A RENAISSANCE
For Houphouet-Boigny, the recipe for peace was simple: heavy economic
investment and close ties with international partners. Ivory Coast's rich
agricultural sector became a magnet for migrant labour from around West
Africa and expatriate workers from Europe and Lebanon flocked to take a
share of the riches.
But the golden era failed to survive much beyond Houphouet-Boigny's death in
1993. Would-be heirs played the dangerous game of ethnic politics that led
to a 1999 coup, a northern rebellion splitting the country in two, and a
slow-burn political crisis that exploded after the December 2010 polls.
Undeterred, Ouattara is treading in Houphouet-Boigny's steps anew with a
first year in office spent blazing through projects which could be lifted
straight from a donor wish-list.
A reform of the cocoa sector - while yet to fully convince the food
multinationals involved - aims to boost farmers' incomes and reverse a trend
that saw the rural poverty rate jump from 15 to 62 percent between 1985-2008
despite a doubling of production during the same period.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy has promised to invest $500 million by 2015
to boost power output and meet rising domestic and regional demands for
electricity. Planned reviews of the mining and petroleum codes seek to
unlock the potential in these long neglected but potentially lucrative
Infrastructure left to decay for more than a decade is also being revamped
with an emphasis on large public works projects.
"He's ticking all the right boxes," said Andris Piebalgs, European Union
Development Commissioner, one of the many donors who last year gave Ouattara
a vote of confidence with aid worth five percent of Gross Domestic Product.
An IMF-backed deal on debt relief, in the works for years but never
finalised as Gbagbo dragged his heels on reforms, is expected in June. This
could bring foreign debt down from around 50 percent of GDP to a more
manageable 40 percent.
It is hard to argue with the results. The IMF sees growth of around eight
percent this year, easily wiping out last year's contraction of 4.7 percent.
Analysts expect the rate to steady to a still healthy six percent next year
and pursue that trend for the foreseeable future.
"Everyone in the business community is optimistic," said Standard Bank
Sub-Saharan Africa analyst and longtime Ivory Coast-watcher Samir Gadio.
"The biggest thing being achieved by improving governance is that it is
creating a shift in domestic sentiment. So far there is not a major shift on
either foreign direct investment and far less portfolio investment but
people are starting to consider investing in Ivory Coast."
NO RECONCILIATION, NO OPPOSITION
But if the country is on the road to a renaissance, the path remains
littered with potential pitfalls - chief of which are the old rivalries deep
within Ivorian society on which the first era of affluence foundered.
While Ouattara is in his element tinkering under the bonnet of the economy,
his efforts to foster a wider reconciliation in a country of 20 million
riven in two for over a decade remain constrained by former foes and
supposed allies alike.
Even though Gbagbo lost to Ouattara, the U.N.-certified results showed he
won nearly 46 percent of the vote - evidence of strong support for him and
his Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) in the wealthier south of the country.
All agree that if Ivory Coast is to emerge as an inclusive democracy, it
will need an opposition worthy of the name. But that is a role the FPI is
not willing or able to play now.
Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on
war crimes charges. His influential and much-feared wife Simone is under
house arrest and most of the party leadership is in jail or exiled in
countries such as Ghana.
The FPI boycotted legislative elections last year and those mid-ranking
party officials still in the country snubbed an offer of jobs in the
government - partly for fear of displeasing exiled or jailed superiors, but
also partly out of distrust of Ouattara and his ruling Rally of the
"We are the ones who suffered the worst difficulties," FPI representative
Sebastien Dano Djedje said, highlighting the party's mood of resentment and
Their absence has left many Ivorians feeling excluded from politics. The
risk of further marginalisation is all the greater with legislation on the
nationality and land ownership issues at the root of Ivory Coast's problems
now set to be decided by a parliament packed with Ouattara allies.
NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE
While some FPI conditions for re-entering politics - such as a demand that
Gbagbo be freed - are unrealistic, their charge that post-war justice has
been partial is seen by many as valid.
Nowhere is that truer than in Duekoue, a mainly pro-Gbagbo town in the
cocoa-producing west where around 800 civilians were killed as pro-Ouattara
northern rebel soldiers swept south in late March 2011 on their way to a
final assault on Abidjan.
During a visit to the town last month, Ouattara repeated his promises that
all crimes would be punished. But there still has not been a single arrest
of a pro-Ouattara soldier.
"As of now, the promises of impartial justice have been pretty hollow, with
almost no action to support the rhetoric," said Matt Wells, who investigated
the Duekoue massacres for New York-based Human Rights Watch.
While the violence of pro-Gbagbo fighters may overall have exceeded that
committed by pro-Ouattara forces, critics argue the lack of full justice
suggests Ouattara is beholden to the fellow northerners whose armed support
he needed to win power.
"We want a light to be shone on what happened here and for justice to be
done. That will make forgiveness easier," said community leader Constant
Bohe, standing beside a mass grave now covered in tall grass in Duekoue's
U.N. investigators believe much of the killing in the west was the settling
of old land feuds between the area's original inhabitants and migrants, from
the north as well as neighbouring countries, who possess most of the
region's cocoa plantations.
While security in most of the country has vastly improved, the west is still
plagued by violence and awash with arms. Yet the army and police force, far
from acting as guarantors of stability, constitute a serious danger in their
Deep distrust exists between rank-and-file police agents, many of whom
fought for Gbagbo, and their new, often northern, bosses. Security
commanders are often loath to issue arms to their subordinates, creating a
A similar split afflicts the military. The northern rebellion was spawned
from a failed army mutiny in 2002. The return of ex-rebels, many with big
promotions, is viewed dimly by those army officers who, regardless of their
view of Gbagbo, chose not to desert during the war. The two sides rarely
"If you look at the history of this country since 1999, all the problems
have come from within the army ... It's very dangerous to have these
different streams in the army," said Rinaldo Depagne of the International
Crisis Group think-tank.
Ouattara must also somehow succeed in breaking up rebel fiefdoms that
allowed some northern commanders to get rich through the control of diamond
mines, regional goods smuggling routes and illegal taxation rackets.
It will be a delicate task, not least because many former rebels feel a
sense of entitlement having risked their lives backing the president.
Ouattara himself has taken the defence portfolio - a clue that he will
personally oversee reform of the army - but so far, little progress has been
"He's acting very cautiously and taking his time. It's very difficult for
him to do it quickly and in one shot. The goal is not another war. It can
appear to some observers as weakness, but I don't think that it is," Depagne
There are reasons for optimism. Regional neighbours such as Liberia and
Sierra Leone have in the past two decades suffered more devastating
conflicts and - so far - held the peace and made economic progress.
Post-genocide Rwanda has also achieved a degree of stability through
While reconciliation and justice remain fundamental issues, Ouattara can
bank on support from about 60 percent of voters as long as his coalition
holds with the PDCI party once led by Houphouet-Boigny.
Assuming it finally wins IMF-backed debt relief, the next leap forward for
Ivory Coast's finances will be a return to international markets burned by
the default on its $2.3-billion bond during last year's conflict.
Finance Minister Charles Koffi Diby says Ivory Coast will resume interest
payments this year but investors are still waiting for word on the arrears
and the country will have to get a new credit rating - which could take at
least two years.
Standard's Gadio predicts that even a booming Ivory Coast will struggle to
set investors' pulses racing as Nigeria, the giant further along the West
African coast, does with its oil industry and population of 160 million.
Yet he argues its use of the euro-pegged West African CFA franc offers a
degree of economic stability and inflation-proofing that neither Nigeria nor
neighbouring Ghana enjoy, while its relatively solid energy and transport
infrastructure could provide the base for a viable light manufacturing
"As a country you have to decide what is your comparative advantage and
exploit it," he said, arguing that it was not too far-fetched to suggest
Ivory Coast could emulate the export-led growth achieved in the past by
countries such as Morocco and Tunisia.
How long it will take before Ivory Coast can start to realise such potential
is unknown. By laying the foundations for a stronger economy, Ouattara is
buying himself time for the longer-term task of healing the wounds of the
past and knitting Ivorian society back into a peaceful whole.
"He's heading in the right direction. He's done many of the right things,"
said one Western diplomat. "But even now it is becoming quite clear how far
there still is to go on this road."
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Received on Mon May 21 2012 - 08:28:07 EDT