Ivory Coast’s Emergence – is the slogan realistic?

If there’s one word that’s almost impossible to escape nowadays in Ivory Coast, it’s ’emergence’. The presidential vision is to see the country become an emerging nation by 2020. You’re almost guaranteed to hear it every single evening on RTI’s 8pm bulletin, and it’s approaching the status of a mantra, in the true sense of the word: perhaps if we say it enough times it will become true. Abidjan’s many conference organisers are famously unimaginative in their selection of themes, so the classic now is to just to ask what your particular sector can contribute to emergence. Perhaps in September we’ll see ‘The role of grilled food in emergence’ from the Festival des Grillades.

It would be an interesting study to research the origins of the word in the Ivorian political context. I don’t recall the word being used in the 2010 presidential campaign, when for Alassane Ouattara it was ‘ADO Solutions’. Funnily enough, we don’t hear much more about solutions, which perhaps implies too heavily its counterpart of ‘problems’. But by 2012 at least emergence was a regular government theme.

Like many good political mantras, it’s meaning is rather unclear – perhaps it’s simply a new form of that old political idea: hope. In some ways it really just means – I promise that things will get better in the future. The date of 2020 gives more concrete information – we understand implicitly by the vision that it assumes Ouattara wins a second five-year mandate in 2015, and steps down in 2020 after achieving his target.

Beyond just being a synonym for ‘hope’ though, it implies rather firmly that Ivory Coast will be something it now isn’t, on or by 1 January 2020. The way it’s used suggests that being ’emergent’ or not is a clearly defined thing, but it’s hard to know if (a la Karl Popper) this is a falsifiable concept. A recent article in Le Sursaut (a new paper that’s generally pro government as far as I can tell) is more realistic than most in saying that in 2020 Adjame will remain ‘an open air market characterised by disorder and theft’ and Abidjan’s slums will still look like slums. Even if the most positive projections are realised, the majority will still be (and feel) poor in 2020. Emergence will not be a paradise (cf Russia, India, South Africa). Rather predictable in the 2020 election will be opposition parties saying ‘you tell us we’re emergent, but we still struggle to make ends meet’.

Looking around for definitions of emerging economies (for we are in fact talking about economies), we’re referencing economies that are far short of ‘developed’, but still well above the category of LDCs (least developed countries). Interestingly, this is already a category to which Ivory Coast belongs, according to this map from 2007. A similar category to emergent seems to be ‘newly industrialised‘, which adds a more detailed idea that Ivory Coast will need to boost industry.

Here’s one definition of an emerging economy:

1. Intermediate income : its PPP per capita income is comprised between 10% and 75% of the average EU per capita income.

2. Catching-up growth : during at least the last decade, it has experienced a brisk economic growth that has narrowed the income gap with advanced economies.

3. Institutional transformations and economic opening : during the same period, it has undertaken profound institutional transformations which contributed to integrate it more deeply into the world economy. Hence, emerging economies appears to be a by-product of the current globalization.

Just focusing on that first indicator, EU GDP per capita income in 2013 was $34,300 – so Ivory Coast would need per capita income of at least $3,430, whereas it is currently estimated at $1,529 (2013). To bridge the gap by 2020 would require about 12% growth every year, assuming the EU per capita income doesn’t change and the population stays the same. It’s noticeable though that the IMF ranks India at about the same per capita level as Ivory Coast, despite India being commonly recognised as emerging. As I think I’ve argued here before, one strategy could be just to re-base the national accounts as done in Ghana and Nigeria to have a sudden increase in the estimated GDP.

Anyway, I guess the main point is that if the Ivorian economy continues consistently growing at 8-10%, it’ll soon start getting an increasing amount of media/analyst attention, and it’ll start finding its way into lists of ‘countries to watch’ and ’emerging frontier markets’. The political message of ’emergence by 2020′ seems more concrete a change than this sort of gradual reputation-growth. And I wonder what they’ll point to in 2020 when they make the claim that: ‘Look we’re now emergent’.

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