From cocoa bean exports to nuts and bananas, Ivory Coast heads to the polls Sunday riding an economic boom that outgoing President Alassane Ouattara hopes will fetch him a second term.
Crippled by a decade-long conflict that began in 2000, the world’s top cocoa producer has made a spectacular comeback since Ouattara took office in 2011 after months of deadly unrest.
Growth in gross domestic product hit 10.7 percent in 2012 after peace returned to Ivory Coast, ran at 9.2 percent in 2013, 8.5 percent in 2014 and is to reach 9.5 percent this year — though critics say the country’s newfound prosperity is unfairly spread and that Ouattara had little hand in it.
“GDP per person increased more than 20 percent in three years,” said Economy Minister Niale Kaba.
Ouattara’s launch of large-scale infrastructure projects as well as the transition from war to peace saw business begin to reinvest and the economy go into overdrive.
If the October 25 election of a new president remains trouble-free, Ivory Coast looks set to regain its reputation as west Africa’s beacon of prosperity and stability.
– Cocoa warms economy –
Cocoa production is at a record high — 1.7 million tonnes in 2014, 35 percent of the global cocoa harvest — while the country’s agricultural sector is also back in business.
Exports of cashew nuts have resumed along with pineapples, cotton, palm-oil, bananas and mangoes.
With global cocoa prices on the up and up, the beans currently account for 22 percent of GDP, more than 50 percent of its export revenues and two-thirds of jobs and general revenue, according to the World Bank.
Highlighting growing international awareness of Ivory Coast’s “economic miracle”, the African Development Bank returned to Abidjan in 2014 after an 11-year exile in Tunisia.
And in an even stronger signal early this month, the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) announced it was transferring its London headquarters to Abidjan in March 2016.
“More and more companies are setting up in Ivory Coast because there is potential,” said Yolande Canon of the Working Planet recruitment firm.
“If we continue to have peace and stability and continue to consolidate the business environment, banks will continue to finance the Ivorian economy,” said Souleymane Diarrassouba, who heads the nation’s Professional Association of Banks and Financial Institutions.
But critics claim many of the country’s 23 million people have been left out of the boom. The official unemployment rate is 9.5 percent.
‘Living on credit’
“We may be building lots of infrastructure projects, but what’s the impact on the real economy?” said Ouattara’s leading rival, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, accusing the head of state of merely increasing the country’s debt.
“We’ve failed to develop our own economy to produce our own wealth, we just borrow to invest.
“We’re living on credit,” he said.
The pre-election campaign has also brought up a barrage of charges of shoddy workmanship and corruption.
Seraphin Prao of the Audace Afrique think-tank pointed out that unusually heavy rains last year washed out the country’s just-built roads, underlining poor construction work.
“As for restoration work at the universities, nothing works, neither the ventilators, the electric sockets nor the microphones,” he said. “Given their state of ill-repair, it’s difficult to imagine the universities were restored.”
And after the High Authority for Good Governance charged that “corruption has become the norm, hitting every single sector,” Ouattara pledged to make the fight against corrupt practices a central plank of his policies.