10% economic growth and no China hangover — Ivory Coast presidential candidates line up, as it continues to rise

What is Ivory Coast getting right? And on the back of such growth can President Ouattara - who says he won't play third term tricks - really lose?

YOU wouldn’t exactly think it but it is a very good time to be an Ivorian.

Just five years ago Ivory Coast was in world headlines for the worst reasons - a disputed presidential election had descended into violence that claimed thousands of lives and hurt the economy of the biggest economy in Francophone Africa, and the ninth largest in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Today it’s a comeback kid,  boasting a booming economy that its prime minister says will touch 10% growth this year and next. It is has been largely insulated from the upheaval in global markets sparked by China and the chance to vault past a key election suggests Ivory Coast is on to something, showing Africa’s famed ability to overcome adversity.

The first chapter in Ivory Coast’s upcoming landmark presidential vote opened Wednesday with the official announcement of the nine candidates who will run against incumbent Alassane Ouattara, who succeeded Laurent Gbagbo—currently held at the International Criminal Court.

No third term

The country’s Constitutional Council released the names of 10 candidates for the October 25 poll, kicking off an election campaign that officially begins October 11. The ballot is viewed as crucial to return the country to stability. The last presidential vote, in 2010, triggered deadly violence following a 10-year political and military crisis.

The conflict, which drew in scores of countries looking to resolve it, claimed more than 3,000 lives and shattered the once thriving economy of the world’s top cocoa-bean producer, and of the West African nation once dubbed France’s star former colony on the continent.

Ouattara, 73, will seek a second term on the strength of the economic comeback after the damaging conflict five years ago triggered by Gbagbo’s refusal to step down and acknowledge Ouattara’s victory at the polls.

He was eventually toppled in April 2011 by forces loyal to Ouattara, who was backed by the UN and France.

Days after the October vote, Gbagbo on November 10 will be taken into the dock of the International Criminal Court at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity for his role in the five months of 2010-2011 post-election violence.

A total of 33 Ivorians had applied to run for the country’s top job including the head of Gbagbo’s party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), Pascal Affi N’Guessan. He was among the 10 listed by the Constitutional Council along with former premier from 2005 to 2007, Charles Konan Banny, and former parliament speaker Mamadou Koulibaly.

In that sense, again, Ivory Coast differs from its northern neighbour Burkina Faso where the constitutional council last month barred several members of ousted long-ruling strongman Blaise Compoare’s Burkina Faso’s constitutional council has declared no fewer than 40 people linked to former President Blaise Compaore’s former ruling party the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) ineligible for the October legislative election. 

Ouattara has promised that if he gains a fresh mandate in October he will not seek a third term, in reference to the third term debate that has been playing out in the continent, roping in countries such the DR Congo, Rwanda, the Republic of the Congo and Burundi.

Growth and electoral victory

But it is the Ivorian economy that almost guarantees a win for Ouattara—you generally don’t lose on the back of double-digit growth, even in Africa. In an interview with Bloomberg news agency published on September 1, prime minister Daniel Kablan Duncan said the economy had benefited from the stability of a currency pegged to the euro, helping it so far escape any fallout from the economic slowdown in China that has left many other countries on edge.

This is despite China being the nation’s third-largest trade partner, after Nigeria and France.

And the stability is resonating with investors in a global market that at the moment is very easily spooked. Bloomberg data at the time of the interview showed the CFA franc has depreciated 7% against the dollar this year, compared with the 24% decline in the Ugandan shilling and 29% plunge in the Zambian kwacha, Africa’s worst performers.

Yields, an indicator of the risk investors place on a debt issuer, on its successful $1 billion of international bond due July 2024 have risen more slowly by 74 basis points to 6.84% since the end of April, about half the increase of Ghana’s $1 billion, 2023 Eurobonds.

Ivory Coast’s dollar debt has fallen 3.8% in that period, compared to a 2.4% loss for emerging markets, according to the data.

“The figures related to the Eurobond speak for themselves,” said Duncan, 72. “I can understand that some people fear for the coming election, but we have taken the necessary steps for that and we’ll have an open, transparent and peaceful election next October.”

In addition to continental lender African Development Bank’s (AfDB) return to Abidjan, which is of significant symbolism, multinationals have also been on the move into the country. Standard Bank, Africa’s largest lender, last year opened its representative office in Abidjan, which it hopes to use to expand into West Africa. 

But there will still be some nervous faces. The opposition coalition has demanded talks, saying there is “still time”. It wants the election commission which it says favours the incumbent disbanded, and all militias disarmed. 

But it is of note that they are participating in the vote, possibly with an eye on the post-Ouattara order.

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