There’s a good degree of optimism about the future in Ivory Coast given how quickly the new government has set to work and the rapid improvement in security and peace. However, some are at risk of getting carried away, so let’s become devil’s advocate for a moment and think about possible reasons why the future may not be as rosy as some think when you consider the glass-half-empty perspective.
– it’s the same people. Yes, Ivory Coast has a new president and one with slightly more experience in development, economics and management than the previous one. However, many of the ministers were also part of the Gbagbo governments of the last few years, so don’t expect radical changes – the Prime minister, Guillaume Soro, plus Mabri, Achi, Sangafowa, Hamed Bakayoko, Diby, Moussa Dosso, Sidiki Konate, etc. The minister of economy and finance is Charles Kofi Diby, who occupied the same post under Gbagbo and is working with the same team. More generally, the entire civil service is exactly the same. Leadership from the top makes a big difference, but don’t expect miracles because the same people with the same bad practices remain.
– the Ivorian elite sometimes sound like spoilt children when they complain to western diplomats that they can’t understand why companies go do places like Ghana and Senegal instead of Ivory Coast, where “the infrastructure is far superior”. True, electricity, water and roads are relativley reliable. But, that’s not the whole story. How about replying to emails? How about being open, accessible and available for meetings with investors? How about being a bit more active instead of simply organising one seminar after another? How about responding to letters and paperwork in less than three weeks? The business environment is far more than living on the legacy of a strong infrastructure network. You only need to take a look at the current cocoa reforms being discussed to see that the reform ideas are virtually the same as those being considered under Gbagbo and seem half-hearted and impractical. Improving the business environment is vital, because although you can bring in big French business by telling the French government to send over their companies, most companies and countries don’t work like that. Rather, you need to create a friendly business environment, and then communicate. That would attract not just international businesses, but also create the right environment for the emergence of a stronger Ivorian entrepreneurial class.
– the security situation is still far from sorted out. What happens if one of the former rebel warlords works to undermine the state by continuing to profit from smuggling, extortion and theft? Is military power completely institutionalised or are there powerful armed groups, in some sense outside the military hierarchy? The arrest of the pro-Gbagbo Commander Seka Seka travelling with a Belarussian from Togo to Guinea is also worrying.
– the dust hasn’t quite settled on the crisis and it’s not clear what role the opposition will play. So far though, there’s little indication that they are prepared to admit they lost the election, that their leaders risked the security of the entire country in a bet that they could hang on to power, and that they’re quite prepared to move on with a critical but democratic engagement with the new government. If the opposition pursue the line that Gbagbo is still president and Ouattara is a puppet president and the agent of French recolonialisation, it could put at risk national stability. However the decision by the FPI leadership to cancel a planned youth rally this weekend has been widely saluted as well as their statement that they have no intention of being either violent or undermining the head of state. Admittedly, their threat will be limited by the lack of strong leaders not in detention on the opposition side, the division of the pro-Gbagbo group into tiny parties (already evident prior to the election in the LMP coalition) and whatever progress the Ouattara government can make in improving people’s lives.