I’ve probably mentioned this before, but isn’t it intriguing that West African neighbours Ghana and Ivory Coast share so much in common, including a long border, but seem to be on such differing economic trajectories? I’ve just been reading an article from last month’s Guardian on how the Ghanaian success story seems to be coming apart. What initially sparked my interest was the fact that falling commodity prices, in particular ‘cocoa’, was mentioned as a key reason for the economic problems, when over the border in Ivory Coast, high cocoa prices are used to explain Ivory Coast’s spectacular economic growth in the last few years.
More widely, isn’t it odd that after independence Ivory Coast did so well for two decades, while Ghana did so badly. And then as Ivory Coast declined in the 80s and 90s, Ghana started getting its act together. In the 2000s, Ivory Coast had a decade horribilis, while Ghana became the poster child of Africa Rising.
Perhaps one initial lesson is that political histories and leaders matter. Two countries with similar land mass, populations, ethnicities and climates, with cocoa in the south, gold in the north and oil in the sea are following rather different tracks. If West Africa’s second and third economies were better intertwined, one would hope that growth in one, would provide benefits to the other, but sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case. In the days of the West African Power Pool, how can Ivory Coast have plentiful supplies of electricity when Ghana struggles?
Compared with the global economic story, Ivory Coast seems slightly closer to trends (though not entirely). Isn’t it weird that pump prices should be going up in Ghana as the global oil price falls so dramatically? That cocoa production and income should drop when world cocoa prices sit at historically high levels and Ivorian farmers enjoy record prices (I’ve never seen a good explanation of why Ghana’s cocoa production has dropped so significantly in recent years)? On the other hand, Ivory Coast seems to be bucking the trend with regards to the global economic slump (how long can this go on for?).
My main point though is that it’s disappointing how little comparative thinking there is whether in economic journalism, or in national politics and policy-making. Wouldn’t it be encouraging if you sometimes found the population (or at the least, the intellectual class) of one state, using the success of policies in the other state, to argue for better policy back home. ‘Hey, how come Ghana is attracting so many repatriates and why can’t we do the same?’ ‘Hey, how come Ivorians have a steady currency and power supply and we don’t?’