EU Commissioner upbeat about Ivory Coast

Photograph: Helen Clark

Last week I got to speak to the European Union Commissioner for development, Andris Piebalgs, and I thought I’d publish a longer version of what he said than was possible elsewhere. The EU will almost certainly be Ivory Coast’s biggest donor over the next few years and already has a healthy envelope of 180 million euros, which I think doesn’t include the 60 million euros they’re offering for emergency humanitarian relief. This is a grant rather a loan (as in the case of the French millions announced in April)…

“Europe has been very much involved from the beginning [of the crisis] because I think we have taken very strong steps politically immediately supporting the president who won elections, then supporting the African Union to mediate and we also have taken sanctions quite rapidly, so we really have been engaged from the beginning.

“But now I think that after the situation is more-or-less clear, we need to come back with support as much as possible seen as there are risks in the country. Firstly, reconciliation is still needed. Secondly, there is a lot of people that are with guns; more than necessary. There are also mercenaries in the country. And then, there is also what there always is after a crisis – people’s expectations are extremely high and if they don’t see any change they will be extremely disappointed. After suffering, now they believe that there is a chance to be somehow re-compensated. And we know that we are the only ones with big funds available for countries, so I think it’s quite evident that it’s not only political support, but also financial support that we can provide, but then it’s important to understand which sector because we can’t cover everything. We can’t finance education, health, public reform, so we need to find the way for our impact to be best.

“Today I signed some projects that have already been prepared, but I believe that the main sectors that we should look at is security sector (DDR) and second to something for the private sector because this country has the particularity that the private sector is rather strong, if I compare it with a lot of countries that I deal with where you feel that the government is the main employer. If the private sector goes well, then we will perhaps avoid this North African problem where you have educated people and now jobs available. This country also has a particularity that the civil service is rather good and rather strong so it is not that you need to invest quite a lot in it to get the country running, and if they are paid we can expect that the administration will also do well, so it means that we have a good chance. And then if I can give my dream, with Nigerian elections going in the right way and we could expect that West Africa as a region could be much more prosperous, less poverty, and the most important thing, more stable, because in my job I have seen that the worst thing is conflict and then for years you are locked in the conflict, so my point coming here is that perhaps we have the chance to forget the conflict as fast as possible.”

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