A booming Ivory Coast

Exactly a month ahead of presidential elections on Friday, Reuters published a glowing tribute to the Ivory Coast boom. On the same day they also published a story on the start of work on a brand new Heineken beer factory in Abidjan, and published new IMF growth estimates that predict 8.4% growth this year and next with minimal inflation. If Ouattara needed a boost ahead of the poll, the barrage of articles will further enhance his reputation for economic management. His press team must have been doing cartwheels.

Reuters aren’t always gushing, notably with their recent detailed reporting on the continuing powerful influence of former rebel warlords. But it did underline that the last four years have seen a remarkable comeback. Given that the reforms are likely to continue, and that the elections will almost certainly run smoothly, I think we can expect Ivory Coast to increasingly become a poster child for the African growth story.

What the Reuters article didn’t speak about much, was the reasons for the growth. Fortunately the story has nothing to do with oil, which while promised as a major growth area for the Ouattara government has failed to splutter to life. The business climate has improved a lot, but the agricultural sector has been the real star – with never before seen cocoa production levels, at a time of high world prices, and all with reforms that guarantee farmers a greater percentage of the world price. The cotton and cashew sectors have also hit record production.

That leads me to two immediate questions. Firstly, why don’t other countries in the region have the same agricultural productivity? Some countries get lucky with oil or minerals, but I’m not aware that there’s anything special about Ivorian soil. What is it about Ivory Coast that has made it an agricultural powerhouse on the continent?

Secondly, we all know the first Ivorian economic miracle under Felix Houphouet-Boigny saw two incredible decades which were then quickly lost as the cocoa price collapsed. Cocoa production is likely to fall next year, but can the ‘boom times’ survive a low world cocoa price? Diversification has and will help. But I think the verdict is still out. You can’t assume cocoa revenues (through production and price) will stay as positive in coming years. Is the growth robust enough? Especially with headwinds from China.

I recognize that for all the ‘boom time’ stories in the international media, most Ivorians struggle to get by, and don’t feel particularly prosperous. One hopes though that if things can continue, most will at least feel the decade has been good to them come 2020.


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Abidjan’s ‘Club Croissances’ calls it a day

Let me tell you a story that goes back to the early days of blogging in Cote d’Ivoire. One of the pioneer blogs focused on business stories linked to the West African Stock Exchange or BRVM. The blog was the initiative of a Congolese medical doctor then based in Abidjan. The website eventually became Okibourse.com (no longer functional) which included one of the first examples in the country of an e-book (a guide on investing in the stock exchange).

From the blog came the project ‘Club Croissances’, an investment club formed on 18 April 2009 which brought together 20 people (including two women). They signed up for ‘shares’ in the Club and as joint-owners discussed investment decisions at regular meetings. The blog itself gave updates on how the Club was doing. As a regular reader of the blog, I noticed growth in the early days was pretty spectacular.

Although membership was fixed at a ceiling of 20, the statues gave provision for additional ‘partners’ of which (to my knowledge) there were only ever two. One left almost as quickly as they joined, and the other was me. The minimum investment for a partner was 100 club ‘shares’ which had then risen to 11,500 cfa ($20) each (November 2010), plus a joining fee (I think around 50,000 cfa ($100)). Along the way some members dropped out and I was quickly admitted as a full member, allowing me to take part in discussions. A key reason for joining was to be part of what seemed like an interesting group of people and hearing other people’s views on how different companies were doing.

The Club was due to run until 2019 but things have been largely moribund for the past few years. In the last month, the decision has been taken to disband the club. Along the way, some members had already sold up, and so we’re 13 members at the end of the day. Unfortunately for me, I joined just as the Ivorian election crisis got going – a rather inauspicious time to invest in anything in Abidjan. But incredibly, the crisis had very little impact on the stock exchange (although the exchange closed for a period), although it did push the club founder to head back to Congo, and with him much of the vitality left. We tried to meet a few times, but things never properly restarted.

Financially though, the club has done well. My initial investment now leads to a payout this month of 4,722,000 cfa ($8,000), or a fourfold increase in just under five years. The portfolio of shares basically didn’t change since I joined due to inactivity. And as the newest member, I’ve gained the least. The average investment growth for club members since 2009 is 461%.

I wanted to share this experience to pick out some lessons. Firstly, even though you need to be really careful about investment projects in this low trust environment, there are good people out there, and there are gains to be made. Secondly, even with a small amount of funds, it’s possible for Ivorians to club together and invest in the stock exchange. Thirdly, the Club opened the doors to my own separate investment in the BRVM which although not growing as fast, has also done well. Fourthly, it shows the value of blogging – the Club and Okibourse.com was a blog that opened eyes to investment opportunities in Abidjan, and was a great example of the communication channels opening up outside traditional media.

For the Club itself, a few of us are starting out on another similar adventure, this time with more dynamism. I’m putting back in everything I earned with the first Club. Who knows, eventually my initial $2,000 investment might come to enough to buy a place to live.

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Promoting investment

On a flight back to West Africa yesterday I picked up a free copy of ‘The Africa Report’ magazine, and was interested to read a two page advert taken out by the Centre for Promoting Investments in Cote d’Ivoire(CEPICI). These sorts of adverts are very common in magazines like AR and Jeune Afrique, with even some of the most tinpot countries promoting the dazzling investment opportunities available in their country with pictures of bridges, dams and ports. In general, I would have liked to see more precise fact-based promotion rather than rather vague comments like ‘Cote d’Ivoire has competitive ports’ or ‘Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa bean producer, processes some of its output’.

What did catch my eye though was the following comment: “In the food industry, the goal is to process 65% of cocoa (35% today) and 100% of cashew nuts (14% today) by 2016.” Regular readers will know I like to keep track of these targets, which seem to always promise something just over the horizon (but fortunately almost no-one notices when the horizons get pushed back). This is the first time I’ve seen the 65% target – until very recently the target has focused on ‘half the crop’. I also don’t think you need to know anything about Cote d’Ivoire to know that for a country to go from processing 35% of a 1.5 million ton crop to 65% in the space of 12 months, or for the world’s second biggest cashew nut exporter to go from 14% processing to 100% in 12 months requires a massive leap forward.

As far as I can see there’s no such policy/investment in place for a giant leap. If the figures change by more than 5% percentage points in the next 12 months I’ll be surprised. For regular Cote d’Ivoire watchers, it looks like the advertisement is playing a bit fast and loose with what’s realistic. I suppose for most though, it will just look impressive.

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Are Ivorians racist?

A reader of this blog asks ‘People say Ivorians do not welcome strangers. Is this true?’ More bluntly, a taxi driver in Freetown recently asked me: ‘Is it true that Ivorians are racist?’ The question is surprising when you consider that the first two lines of the national anthem (‘L’Abidjanaise‘) are:

Salut Ô terre d’espérance!
Pays de l’hospitalité.

Officially then, Cote d’Ivoire is the ‘land of hospitality’. When Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and other footballers sing the national anthem, that’s what they are saying.

Why would anyone think otherwise? Well, countries only tend to hit the headlines when bad things happen, and the Ivorian crisis certainly gave the country a high profile in the first decade of the 21st century. The crisis was marked by a strong focus on ‘identity’, including whether Alassane Ouattara was Ivorian enough, and whether the country as a whole was under threat from foreigners (mainly migrants from the Sahel, but in November 2004 also the French).

That side of the political spectrum was exploiting a useful device that made sense to many people in the context of the economic decline since 1980, and in particular the shortage of land in rural areas, where ethnic groups from elsewhere in the country, and from elsewhere in the region, had been encouraged to take-over the land, under the motto that ‘the land belongs to the one who cultivates it’. More widely in the 1960s and 70s, nationalism was less demarcated and the country had a reputation as being open to the brightest and best from around the region, often coming from countries with limited opportunities, conflict, and/or poor leadership.

I won’t go any deeper into Ivorian history beyond that broad-brush sketch, but it helps make a few very general points:

  • The 1998 census and the recent 2014 census show that the number of non-Ivorians in the population is around a quarter, many of whom have lived in the country for several generations, and seem to be happy to do so
  • Economic growth is stronger than it was, reducing the societal tension at the bottom that can provide a bedrock for anti-immigrant protests
  • The political side that had more of a tendency in some quarters towards anti-immigrant discourse is no longer in power
  • The Ivorian legal code is far more liberal than many of its neighbours and non-Ivorians are free to own urban property, buy houses etc. Nevertheless under the 1998 land act, rural land cannot be owned though it can be rented
  • Nationals from poorer African nations often occupy a lower class in Ivorian society. My wife grew up in a family with a servant from Ghana. In rural areas, a farm hand is frequently a job  synonymous with nationals of Burkina Faso and Mali.

Would some Ivorians consider themselves a cut above other West Africans? You’ll find some, and that’s probably also true in most countries. I’ve heard people say it’s less true for Cote d’Ivoire than it was pre-1999.

Overall, I’d want to say that Ivorians are generally extremely welcoming people, and beyond the rhetoric, I think there’s a strong element of truth in the country being a land of hospitality. As I’ve written here previously, when I speak to people who’ve spent time working in Cote d’Ivoire, it’s common to hear them say that the best thing about the country was the people.

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Les malentendus

One of the key words that bring a wry smile for followers of Ivorian politics is ‘malentendu’. The fiercest political disagreement or falling out of yesterday is today simply excused as being all down to a mere ‘misunderstanding’. The word crops up frequently, perhaps not surprising in a country that after Houphouet-Boigny saw Gbagbo allied with Ouattara against Bedie (1995), and then Gbagbo allied with Guei against Ouattara (2000), and then finally Ouattara allied with Bedie against Gbagbo (2010). It’s fair to say that there are a number of political characters characterized by two local sayings: that one should ‘dry your clothes where the sun shines’, or that ‘birds don’t stay in the tree when it falls’.

I was prompted in these thoughts by reading a review of a new book on ‘Ivoirite’. Apparently, Ivoirite was all a ‘malentendu’ and that the intellectuals in the 1990s were only thinking pure helpful thoughts without any exclusionary intent.

I wonder if malentendus can survive the internet age – it’s fair to say that the assumption of ‘la memoire courte’ (short-term memory) is more difficult where you can access the political pronouncements of yesteryear on YouTube, and newspaper articles can be searched and read far beyond the old lifespan of the daily paper. I tend to think the Ivorian public is more intelligent than their politicians sometimes give them credit for. But you can be sure that if Gbagbo and Ouattara ever smoke the peace pipe, the past events will be described as a malentendu. It’s a useful tool to sidestep any discussion of someone being to blame for something. Everyone was innocent.

The idea makes one rather cynical, and hints that perhaps it was really just a political game, and that alliances and positions change to suit the times. No-one is apparently guilty of making a mistake, or needing to ask for pardon. It was all down to a simple misunderstanding.

When you see fierce political debates today – those for and against the ‘Appel de Daoukro’, those on both sides of the FPI divide – tell yourself that in future years these will simply be described as a malentendu.

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The first candidate

I couldn’t help being amused by reading about the first presidential candidate to drop off his papers at the electoral commission in Abidjan. It turned out to be a certain Eloi Bolou Gouali.

No, I haven’t heard of him either. This dark horse doesn’t appear to have any presence on social media. From the photo, he looks in his early 40s, if not 30s, with a receding hairline and a slight build. In his official declaration, he said his candidature would be for stability and he would ‘fight for victory’.

As for the paperwork, you need a leglised declaration, tax form, nationality certificate, proof of no criminal record etc – according to reports in the press Mr Eloi had none of these and his handwritten declaration had not been legalised. The 20 million CFA ($40,000) deposit was not provided either.

I’d love to know more about this guy – clearly he’s too minor to be showing his political muscle like bigger names from 2010 and 2015 who might win a place at the table even if they have no chance of becoming the next head of state. Did he have a cause to thrust into the limelight? Seems unlikely give the limited statement he made, and the failure to exploit any of the free online platforms. Would love to know why people do this.

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Reading the comments

Reading the comments section of anything online can be pretty depressing, no matter how high-brow the platform. Nevertheless, it was particularly disappointing to read the comments on this news article on an opposition rally in Yopougon yesterday.

The news event itself was reasonably good news, and heralded as such: a modest sized opposition rally with (I understand it) no trouble to speak of. Of course, it shows in part that the government are hardly quaking at the thought of the opposition’s threat in October’s polls, and opposition speaker, Mamadou Koulibaly, said as much. But hopefully it also shows that people are prepared to let politics take place in a more reasonable context – previous attempts to hold meetings in the same place had seen clashes with pro-Ouattara youths and security forces. Whether the anti-opposition feeling was top-down or bottom-up was hard to tell, but there was clearly a lot of bitterness.

What the comments section on the article shows, is a particular hardline set of opinions from what one would assume to be overseas Gbagbo militants (I suspect they would call themselves ‘patriots’). The believe the following:

– Ouattara is the worst possible leader any country could ever have

– France put Ouattara in power and he’s given them complete control of the country

– Gbagbo clearly won the 2010 election, and is innocent of all charges

– No Ivorian could ever support Ouattara

– Ouattara is a radical Islamist persecuting Christians

With the exception of the third point, Gbagbo supporters I know in Cote d’Ivoire, wouldn’t echo these thoughts. Do the writers themselves believe it, or is it just an organised political campaign? I suspect a bit of the latter, but also a fair dose of the former. The Ivorian crisis was marked by a strong ideological strand, witnessed in the ‘parliaments’ and ‘agoras’, which gave a particularly visceral edge to the dispute and subsequent violence.

These debates seem like relics of the 2004. In 2015, if you wanted to criticise the Ivorian government, there are certainly grounds to do so for those who are so inclined, and if the opposition are to win a future election, they will need to focus on these points to really hit home. These include the major problems in the education sector, power cuts, the lack of jobs, continuing corruption and persistent poverty. Perhaps the aim for now is to keep a core of militants in the game by speaking to traditional issues, and then when they again become a serious challenge in future elections (2020?) to broaden the appeal with a different message.

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Ivory Coast in the rankings

At the start of the Ouattara presidency, blogger Hotel Ivory said that the various global rankings would be a good way to measure the success or failure of the new government. So with the election now just four months off, how did things go? It’s been interesting that the government itself has prioritized improving Cote d’Ivoire’s rank as a key aim, especially as it seeks to attract investors. Note this paragraph from the government’s recent ‘Letter of Intent’

“Reforms aimed at improving the business climate, transparency, good governance and competitiveness will continue to be pursued proactively. Such reforms should place Côte d’Ivoire in the upper 50% of countries ranked at the top of the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking, Transparency International’s anti-corrupting ranking and the global competitiveness ranking issued by the World Economic Forum. They should also allow Côte d’Ivoire to rise considerably in the UNDP’s human development ranking”

In a dream world, like standardized tests, rankings would help us get an objective view on government performance. In reality of course, statistics can hide as much as they reveal, and many things just can’t be captured, however good your proxies. In addition, rankings can be about giving the message that ‘Cote d’Ivoire should be like Switzerland or Singapore’, when of course the country is and never will be anything like those places and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not always helpful to view lower ranked countries as ‘Singapore minus X’.

Anyway, with that in mind, below is some data that I’ve picked out from the web. If there’s an overall theme, it’s that the country is improving, though it remains a long way down most lists (out of the top 50% so far except in football and press freedom), and often a long way off two West African countries I’ve picked out as useful comparisons: Ghana and Senegal. There may be some time lags as well, but the rankings do give the impression that Cote d’Ivoire is a pretty sub-standard country to live in if you were looking around the continent, when my personal view would be that it’s well above average in terms of development, living standards and business.


Transparency International’s Perception of Corruption Index

2010 – 146th

2011 – 154th

2012 – 130th

2013 – 136th

2014 – 115th (Ghana = 61st, Senegal = 69th)


World Press Freedom Index (RSF)

“After a deep fall from 2010 to 2012, Côte d’Ivoire rose sharply in the 2015 index as it continued to emerge from the political and social crisis caused by the civil war in late 2010. Radio and TV broadcasting is due to be opened up to the private sector in 2015 but there is concern that the process will include provisions for censorship. There is no shortage of media diversity but the media are very partisan and lack independence. The National Communication Council is not independent of the government and tends to use a heavier hand with opposition newspapers than pro-government ones. This tendency must be monitored in 2015 in an effort to avoid the appalling post-election media excesses of 2011.”

2010 – 118th

2011 – n/a

2012 – 96th

2013 – 96th

2014 – 101st

2015 – 86th (Ghana = 22nd, Senegal = 71st)


Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG)

I don’t seem to be able to get rankings for previous years. But Ivory Coast’s score out of 100 has been 36.2 (2010), 38.4 (2011), 42.4 (2012), 44.3 (2013), 44.3 (2014).

2014 – 40th (Ghana = 7th, Senegal = 9th)


Doing Business Report (DBR)

The DBR has been THE key global rankings indicator that the government has decided to focus energies on, settling out to be in the world’s top 50. For the last two years the country has been in the top ten biggest improvers. While the Ivorian media has focused on this, what’s often hidden is the lowly global rank of the country (147th in 2015).

2010 – 168th

2011 – 169th

2012 – 170th

2013 – 177th

2014 – 158th (originally 167th)

2015 – 147th (Ghana = 70th, Senegal = 161st)


Global Competitiveness Index (WEF)

2010-11 – 129th

2011-12 – 129th

2012-13 – 131st

2013-14 – 126th

2014-15 – 115th (Ghana = 111st, Senegal = 112nd)


Human Development Index (HDI)

I don’t seem to be able to get rankings for previous years. But Ivory Coast’s score out of 100 has been 0.439 (2010), 0.443 (2011), 0.448 (2012), 0.452 (2013).

2013 – 171st (Ghana = 138th, Senegal = 163rd)


FIFA World football rankings (January rankings)

2010 – 22nd

2011 – 21st

2012 – 18th

2013 – 14th

2014 – 23rd

2015 – 29th

Posted in Economics, Politics | 2 Comments

Latest IMF publications on Cote d’Ivoire – facts and figures

The publication of IMF country reports on Cote d’Ivoire is just about the only time of the year when you can really get hold of decent statistics and information on the performance of the Ivorian economy, and government economic management. Of course, we do well to remember Morten Jerven’s warnings about the reliability of data on the continent, but keeping that in mind, it’s still about all we’ve got.

So what do we learn? To save you wading through the documents, I picked up some of the key facts below from the government side of thing. It’s always worth bearing in mind that you get two long documents at the same time – the government’s Letter of Intent, and then a review by IMF staff. The former has the tendency to look at things in a rosy light, while the latter is still diplomatic but is more hard-hitting about what the IMF wishes the country were doing more of. So, starting with the former document, I’ll cite the stats that jumped out, and then I’ll move on to the Staff Report.


Stats from Cote d’Ivoire government’s Letter of Intent:

– GDP per capita up by more than 21 percent over last three years (2012-14)
Expectation of 9.4% growth rate in 2015 with inflation at 1.7%. [Interesting as this is the restart of acceleration since the immediate post-crisis bounce back in 2012.]
– Investment expected to rise from 16.1% of GDP in 2014 to 18.6% in 2015 (10.7% of which from private sector)
– GDP growth rates have been 10.7% (2012), 9.2% (2013), 8.5% (2014)
– 40% increase in Foreign Direction Investment 2012-2014
– 43,393 increase in net jobs (formal employment rose 6.2%). Formal jobs 2014 = 799,890
– Growth was driven by primary and tertiary sector (industrial sector continues to be the laggard, which is a little worrying given this is key to ‘emergence’)
– Food prices down (-2.1%) and transport prices also down (-0.4%)
– Trade balance in surplus, terms of trade improved by 3.2%
– Credit to the private sector increased by 27.4% [this is positive – a key frustration in the private sector is the difficulty of obtaining bank loans]
– WAEMA (the West Africa CFA monetary zone) growth was 7%
– BRVM stock market capitalization rose 11.4% and trading volumes increased 75.6%
– 6,487 new businesses created last year
– The average time for procurement, from examination of the call for tender documents to approval of contracts, decreased from 322 days at end-2013 to 126 days at end-2014.
– More than 15,000 classrooms built since 2012. The gross school enrollment rate increased from 76.2 percent in 2008 to 94.7 percent in 2014.

Two sentences jumped out at me from the government report that I thought a good number of Ivorians might question:

“On the political front, political institutions, such as the Independent Electoral Commission, have been reinforced and have the confidence of all political parties and the civil society.”

And then a sentence that’s not entirely clear but seems to indicate the Ivorians saying their economy is bigger than Ghana, which isn’t true from the measures that I see (though it could also be interpreted as saying the opposite):

“reclaimed its position as the second largest economy of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) after Nigeria”

For Ivorians interested in the recent announcement that electricity prices seem set to rise, the document is the best source of information on the reasons for this. [A clue – look up HVO (Heavy Vacuum Oil).]


So now on to the IMF staff report…

The overall summary reads as follows:

“Performance under the Fund-supported program continued to be strong. Over 2012–14, the growth in real GDP per capita has reached 20 percent. All performance criteria and all but one indicative targets for end-2014 were met. Significant progress has been made toward improving the business climate and the tax administration, and some inroads have been made towards public bank restructuring.

The fiscal stance for 2015 remains appropriate despite emerging budgetary pressures. The planned adjustments to the 2015 budget, which include additional revenues and spending cuts should allow to contain the overall deficit to 3.7 percent of GDP. Despite these adjustments, the budget remains broadly growth-friendly and pro-poor, with significant increases in public investment and poverty-reduction expenditures. The recent discovery of extra-budgetary spending is worrisome. However, the April 23, 2015 Communication by the Council of Ministers reaffirming that extra-budgetary spending should be avoided is welcomed, as is the government’s commitment to forcefully apply the provisions of the 1998 decree aimed at avoiding extra-budgetary spending, including through sanctions.”

Some bullet points…

– Major risks – political / social tensions especially around the upcoming election.

– Growth in 2014 seems to have been 7.9%, but 1.3% points of that comes from a reported 74% increase in cassava production (which seems a little strange).

– Some small banks continue to be below the regulatory minimum capital adequacy ratios.

– An interesting graph with figures from Bloomberg shows 10-year bond yields for Cote d’Ivoire are below those for other frontier market economies (Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal and Zambia).

– If off-budget expenditure (private schools + military fuel) had been included in the government financial data, performance targets wouldn’t have been met (or rather adjustments would have needed to be made in order to hit targets).

– Delays in three areas of structural reforms – financial sector reform strategy implementation, reorganizing public debt department, and paying domestic arrears.

– The IMF’s growth predictions are considerably lower than the governments – 7.9% in 2015. As a reminder, the government sees 9.4% growth in 2015. The government seems to predict a big increase in private sector investment once the election goes smoothly (and the Ebola outbreak ends in the region). The IMF sees that as too uncertain to be included.

– There’s been a bit of concern about public debt levels among the political opposition and the general public. The IMF says it’s around 43% of GDP. Debt servicing levels are rising to around 13% (from 10.8% in 2014).

– The IMF thinks there are few external and internal risks to growth.

– There’s an interesting side-bar explainer on the automatic fuel price mechanism, which includes the detail that above a certain level, petrol prices subsidize diesel prices (politically sensitive). It also says that not all international fuel price drops have been passed on, leading to the potential of greater than expected fuel tax revenue.

– Private companies complained to the IMF that it was taking a long time for the government to pay them, and that they were being harassed by the tax department, allegations the government denies.

– Petroci and SIR don’t seem in amazing shape. In fact the oil sector has performed well below promised.

– The government says it’s aware of weaknesses in the statistical department – it is requesting technical support.



If you’ve made it just far, I’ll just say that plenty of reforms seem to be being carried out, which should leave public institutions much stronger when Ouattara steps down in 2020.

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Student life in Abidjan under Ouattara

Since I wrote last week’s post listing Ivorian blogs, I realised that much of the recent blogging action has been on RFI’s Mondoblog platform, which I’d more or less neglected. I’ve since discovered that that does now seem to be the location of choice for new Ivorian bloggers. One of the picks of my recent discoveries there is Au Pays des Elephants (‘In the land of the elephants’), which has an excellent new six part series on life as a student in Abidjan. It really shows the strength of blogging – giving the space and time to talented writers (who are living these realities) to express themselves on issues that are ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media.

Some of you may remember that the state universities were in a pitiable state after the 2010-11 post-election crisis, having been used as a base for Gbagbo’s Liberian militias, and being a hotpot from the militia-like student movement, the Fesci. Post-crisis, student halls were used to house the Ouattara forces, and indeed some of these irregular forces have only been booted out in the past three weeks in Abobo and Port Bouet. The Ouattara government invested a fair bit in a massive refurbishment (reportedly around 100 billion CFA francs), which changed the look of the university (as I documented here), but which has still left things far from satisfactory. It’s possible some of the money was diverted. It’s possible to conclude from reading this blog series that almost nothing has improved.

The current state of student life is well-documented by Aly Coulibaly at ‘Au pays des elephants’. His series of posts cover:

– Poor adaption of new LMD system

– The daily combat of finding a wifi connection [a first world problem perhaps]

– The ridiculous state of student transport

– Corruption in the distribution of the now tiny student grants

– You have to queue for hours to get your subsidised student meal, and even then the quality leaves much to be desired

– The landscape gardening seems to get more attention than the students

Behind the sadness of the current state of student life, what’s apparent in the blog posts is the continued existence of a nostalgia that was ever-present in the years of decline (1980s and 1990s) but which still seems today – to my surprise – to be strong. That is, that student life in the 1960s and 70s was a paradise now lost, in which students were looked-up to, well served and on a track to a future career in state employment. Sadly the realism that these days are long gone, doesn’t yet seem to have settled in.

That leads me to think that a wide-scale reflection on higher education in Ivory Coast has yet to take place. Is it realistic to expect the state to provide massively subsidized housing, transport, food and education to the tens of thousands of Ivorians who pass their BAC exams every year? Is the dream still practical that any farmers’ son can graduate from school (even if he just scrapes through) and expect the state to look after him for the next three years, so that he can join the unemployed ranks of sociology graduates and others with degrees in their pocket, and limited professional skills? Of course, the Ivorian model is heavily influenced by France which still heavily subsidizes higher education (tuition fees are around 300-400 euros a year).

Perhaps more importantly though, the blog highlights the continued corruption, incompetence, and lack of organisation in the sector, while at the same time Ivorians are constantly told on state media that they’re living in a modern paradise.

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