Hotel Ivory makes a compelling case for being positive about Ivory Coast’s economic future, post-crisis. But there’s also a good deal of negative discussion of French-speaking Africa around at the moment (see this World Economic Form video); some blame poor economic growth on the over-valued CFA currency, fixed to the Euro (previously fixed to the French franc); others blame the fact that French-based banks have been little more than deposit-holders rather than investors. But another argument I often hear when chatting with Ivorian friends is that francophone education and perhaps even the francophone mindset puts Ivorians, Senegalese and others at a disadvantage. Could this hinder Ivory Coast’s chances of success?
‘Jeune Afrique’ recently reported on a survey of Cameroonian students (Cameroon combines regions run by French and British colonial regimes) on the perceived differences between the two cultures. The perceptions survey found that francophone students were considered haughty and corrupt, while anglophones were thought to lack style although they were considered more honest. The argument runs that a francophone education promotes rote-learning students that are poor at initiative-taking and working independently, with an over-developed submissive respect for hierarchy. As a bi-lingual African friend put it last night; the francophone will focus on the process, while the anglophone will concentrate on getting the results.
A friend of mine recently changed jobs from Orange Telecom to MTN here (respectively no. 1 and no. 2 in the mobile phone network market). I asked about the differences and he said that at MTN (South African) staff are encouraged to think of ideas and go-ahead try and put them into practice whereas at Orange change was a very slow process involving numerous hierarchical hurdles.
I also met a student recently who was writing her thesis. She said that every thesis here has to follow the plan given in a book written by an Ivorian academic about how to organise these things. There were about 30-odd separate headings that you had to follow in organising the work.
Finally, a British businessman who works at ports in Ghana and Ivory Coast says seeing a government minister and other high authorities in Ghana is a simple affair, whereas in Ivory Coast it’s like getting access to a king.
Is this more than anecdote-based cultural stereotypes? A few points to consider;
– in the African creative and telecoms industry, there is certainly a great deal more dynamism and excitement about developments in Kenya, Nigeria or South Africa than French-speaking Africa.
– anecdotally I repeatedly come across the following situation; for a variety of problems from the under-developed nature of Ivorian cinema to unemployment, the perceived solution is to form an association whose principal task will be to approach the authorities to appeal to them to do something to help.
– the new Ivorian minister for youth recently organised a jobs fair for young people and found that the key ambition for 70% of attendees wanted to be Ivorian civil servants.
– surely we can’t ignore the ten year political crisis in Ivory Coast. If francophone’s star performer had been in the game, perceptions would look a bit different with regards to francophone Africa (as they certainly would have if we’d been having this discussion 30 years ago). And having central Africa, a candidate for the planet’s worst governed region, firmly in the francophone camp doesn’t do French-speaking Africans many favours.
– whatever the negative aspects of a francophone education (and there are some positive points; polished presentation, high-technical standards), the new Ivorian president, Alassane Ouattara, carried out all his higher education in the USA, gaining his doctorate in economics at the University of Pennsylvania. The key ministries of Infrastructure (Patrick Achi, Stanford), Plan & Development (Albert Toikeusse Mabri, Washington University) and Mines & Energy (Adama Toungara) are filled by US-educated ministers.
So, if Ivory Coast does turn into a success it may prove francophone Africa can do it. Or perhaps just that anglophone-educated leaders can make the difference!