Long considered the jewel in the crown of France's former West
African territories, a 1999 coup destroyed the reputation of Ivory
Coast — the world's largest cocoa producer — as an island of
stability in a troubled region.
A bloody presidential election in 2000 and a rebellion two years
later triggered an exodus of capital that undid decades of
development, dubbed the Ivorian Miracle.
With peace finally restored, French construction firm Bouyges <BOUY.PA>,
oil companies such as Tullow <TLW.L> and Lukoil <LKOH.MM>, and South
Africa's Standard Bank <SBKJ.J> are among those flocking to invest.
"We lost half of our companies during that time. The level of
poverty increased from 10 percent to almost 50 percent," Trade
Minister Jean-Louis Billon told Reuters. "Now we want to move
A brief civil war in 2011 allowed Ouattara, who won an election that
sparked the fighting, to secure the presidency and reunite a nation
still divided between a rebel north and government-controlled south
despite years of peace overtures.
With the former International Monetary Fund official at the helm,
Ivory Coast's $40 billion economy — comprising nearly half West
Africa's six-nation CFA currency bloc — embarked on a dramatic
It posted growth of over 9 percent the past two years and the
government is targeting double-digits in 2014 as it seeks to make up
ground on neighbouring Ghana, a new oil exporter.
"Ivory Coast could become one of the motors of economic growth in
Africa again," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told a
conference in Abidjan last week that drew 4,000 delegates and more
than $800 million in investment pledges.
Large-scale infrastructure projects, shelved during a decade of
political deadlock, are springing back to life.
A motorway linking the port of Abidjan to the administrative capital
Yamoussoukro opened late last year. Bouyges is pressing ahead with a
long-delayed third bridge across Abidjan's lagoon to unlock
Heavy investment in electricity generation aims to boost output from
1,600 megawatts to 4,000 by 2020 as Ivory Coast, already a power
exporter, seeks to become a regional energy hub.
Donors have thrown themselves behind Ouattara's reconstruction
programme. At a conference in Paris in December 2012 they pledged
$8.6 billion — double the amount requested — to improve
infrastructure under a 2013-2015 plan.
The International Financial Corporation, the World Bank's private
sector lending arm, wants to invest $1 billion over 2 to 3 years — equal to its total investment in Ivory Coast to date.
Ouattara has pushed through reforms to improve an intimidating
business climate. A new business can now be set up in under 48 hours
and a commercial court is up and running to arbitrate disputes.
Private investors, slow to arrive in the first years after the war,
seem ready to take the plunge.
"Ivory Coast has many advantages, like a high level of education and
its location as a gateway to the region," said Dominique Lafont, CEO
of Bollore Africa Logistics <BOLL.PA> which operates port and
railway concessions in Ivory Coast. "This government is eager to
deliver, not just talk."
Bollore, along with partners Bouygues and Maersk <MAERSKb.CO>, will
invest around 300 billion CFA francs ($618.91 million) in a second
container terminal at the port of Abidjan.
Long-neglected in favor of agricultural commodities, mining is
taking off with gold and manganese output rising rapidly.
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The oil ministry signed 18 production-sharing agreements in 18
months in 2012 and 2013, as investors bet Ivory Coast could emulate
Ghana's hydrocarbons boom. Companies including Anadarko <APC.N>,
Tullow, Lukoil and Total <TOTF.PA> drilled 10 wells last year alone — twice the number during the whole of the decade-long political
Interest in sectors from agribusiness to transportation
and banking is booming. The government relaunched national carrier
Air Cote d'Ivoire in 2012, with Air France <AIRF.PA> holding a
stake, aiming to restore Abidjan's place as a regional hub.
The African Development Bank is returning its headquarters to
Abidjan after 10 years in Tunis. Citigroup's <C.N> regional office
has moved back from Dakar and Standard Bank plans to open its first
West African office here.
"I very much hope that 2014 is the opportunity for people to invest
in a significant way and join the economic growth and development
taking place here," Mark Simmonds, Britain's Under Secretary of
State for Africa, told Reuters in Abidjan.
But not all the news is good. While Ivory Coast was among the
world's top reformers last year according to the World Bank's Ease
of Doing Business index, overall it still ranked 167th behind
nations including Afghanistan, Syria and Equatorial Guinea.
Forty percent of all government procurement was awarded via opaque
no-bid contracts in 2012 and that figure jumped to 80 percent in the
first quarter of 2013. Ministries are dogged by rumours of
corruption despite a public policy of zero tolerance.
"During the crisis, some very bad habits were acquired and they're
difficult to get rid of," Billon said. "We must fight it if we want
to protect growth and encourage investors."
Just as worrying is the political future of the country. While
Ouattara has succeeded in restoring security and stability, problems
linger below the surface. The army and police, hastily cobbled
together from rebel and government forces after the 2011 war, have
yet to be properly reformed.
The FPI — the party of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo who is in the
Hague facing war crimes charges — has boycotted the political
process. With presidential elections looming in 2015, millions of
Gbagbo supporters continue to feel politically excluded.
With a credible opposition challenge yet to emerge, many see
business-friendly Ouattara as a safe bet to win a second term, but
there is less clarity further down the road.
The crisis stifled the emergence of a new generation of leaders
prepared to take over the running of the country. Ouattara and his
dynamic Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan are in their 70s and it
is unclear who would replace them.
Optimistic observers point to the rapid progress made in the three
years since the war as an indication Ivory Coast is capable of
clearing its remaining hurdles. Those who wait will be missing a
window of opportunity, they say.
"The idea is to help Ivory Coast while they are on the right track,
to bet on their success in order to promote that success," U.S.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Bisa Williams told
(Editing by Anna Willard)
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