Final Thoughts: Then and Now

Côte d’Ivoire was once known as a stable and prosperous nation among those in West Africa. Regional, ethnic, religious, and political groups were in relatively good terms, and its location was ideal for a thriving economy. However, all good things sometimes come to an end. Soon after the death of President Houphouet-Boigny, the first elected president of newly independent Côte d’Ivoire, the country entered a long period of political turmoil, economic regression, and cultural disputes.

Today, Côte d’Ivoire may finally be emerging from this unfortunate era of state failure thanks to the strong leadership of President Ouattara and support from the international community. On September 2011, the Brookings’ Africa Growth Initiative hosted an event with President Ouattara where he addressed Côte d’Ivoire’s situation and his administration’s future plans, followed by questions and an open discussion on how to more effectively manage the many problems facing Côte d’Ivoire. Here are some critical issues discussed:

“As a post-conflict country, there are a number of opportunities that [Côte d’Ivoire] could take advantage of financially despite the stigma of such classification.” This statement was noted during the briefing just two years ago and, since then, Côte d’Ivoire has taken advantage of numerous opportunities in order to address the country’s most pressing concerns. Five out of the seven issues I listed above are marked with an asterisk because they have been either partially or fully resolved. The attached hyperlinks are evidence for how each was accomplished.

What remains to be improved cannot rest solely in the hands of the President, his administration, or the citizens. A full recovery can be realized with the support of programs like the Millennium Challenge Corporation of the United States and the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Although Côte d’Ivoire has not yet received aid from the MCC, President Obama restored the country’s AGOA eligibility in early 2011. Côte d’Ivoire has clearly taken significant steps towards recovery and many international groups are providing additional aid because of this. Both the African Development Bank Group and the IMF emphasize the importance of improving the private sector to accelerate economic growth and state recovery. Despite their longtime standing as a weak state, I am confident in Côte d’Ivoire’s ability for a brighter, more prosperous future, and their return as the admired nation they once were.

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State Recovery is a Marathon, not a Sprint

In relation to last week’s discussion on Côte d’Ivoire’s path to recovery, I will continue to present examples of areas where the country has improved, needs improvement, and how to continue improving.

An article titled “A Tale of Two Countries: Is Côte d’Ivoire on the Path to Recovery?” written October 2013 provides an overview of events from the November 2010 presidential election until today, and how a country so deeply divided has been able to take positive steps forward. The author highlights these encouraging signs:

Of course there is still much more to be done, especially by President Ouattara as he seeks votes for the upcoming 2015 campaign. Here are some suggestions of areas where the president should focus his efforts:

  • Reconcile Ivoirians across the political, ethnic, and religious spectrum
  • Incorporate and meaningfully engage the FPI in the political process
  • Distribute equal justice for the grave human rights violations, both by Gbagbo and Ouattara supporters, that occurred between the post-electoral period and today

Now, in terms of how Côte d’Ivoire can continue recuperating from state failure, the following are two possible responses:

Traditional or Status Quo (Kraxberger 51)

  1. Maintaining existing territories
  2. Foreign aid in the form of money, tangible goods, and technical assistance
  3. Peacekeeping missions authorized by the UN or regional bodies
  4. Relatively short time horizons, usually around 2-5 years

Alternative (Kraxberger 62)

  1. Longer time horizons for state building projects
  2. Greater flexibility to redraw the territories of states
  3. Take into account the concept of regional contagion
  4. Reconsideration of state sovereignty or trusteeship models
  5. Allow dysfunctional regions to become “stateless zones”

“Especially in weak states (not failed states) that are already on a path to recovery, foreign aid can play a very helpful role in accelerating stabilization,” (Kraxberger 55). Because Côte d’Ivoire has shown positive signs, I believe a combination of increased foreign aid and a longer presence of development projects will be most beneficial. Although Côte d’Ivoire has received foreign aid in the past, I question whether some external powers are more valuable than others. In my next post, I will identify specific entities that established projects in Côte d’Ivoire and analyze their ability to remove this country’s image as a weak state.

A Path to Recovery

In a previous post, I introduced the subject of conflicts between northern and southern populations, and their effects throughout history. Today, I will explore this subject in terms of how current conditions demonstrate a path towards recovery. The government-controlled, Christian South no longer has greater political representation and support, as President Ouattara won the previous election. Has regional, ethnic, or political hostility changed throughout the course of two civil wars and one threatening election? Many of my classmates’ presentations thus far have confirmed the notion that a geographic or cultural ‘divide’ in many failed or weak states is not uncommon. Despite this deeply rooted division, however, Côte d’Ivoire’s path to state weakness may actually be altering its course for the better.

In July 2013, a briefing to the UN Security Council affirmed the importance of maintaining international support for Côte d’Ivoire as they begin an electoral cycle in 2015, especially because of the continued violence and political divisions. Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, spoke on behalf of the UNOCI when describing the President’s steps to “stabilize the security situation, accelerate economic recovery, and initiate key reforms.”

A united legislative assembly and successful municipal and regional elections this April demonstrate internal improvement, particularly within the political realm where most of the conflict subsists. This evidence highlights the ability of a more powerful national authority accepting responsibility for planning and protecting the voting process. In lieu of recent class discussions on the effectiveness of a democratic versus an authoritarian regime, Côte d’Ivoire’s emphasis on a successful voting process affirms their preference towards a democracy.

Another achievement for Côte d’Ivoire lies in President Ouattara’s plan to completely disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate all former combatants by the end of 2014. In one article summarizing this briefing, the author brings up one consequence of this ‘ambitious goal’: tens of thousands will require “durable solutions,” such as jobs, as they reenter society. If they are not offered employment or such support, serious threats to human rights and regional security could arise.

In the same article by a New Zealand Herald reporter, the author mentions other concerns such as the uncontrolled circulation of weapons, criminal activities, and violence between communities. Côte d’Ivoire’s western border with Liberia, for example, has experienced violent incidents, which were followed by the collaboration of both governments to increase security forces on each side of the border.

Despite President Ouattara’s deserving praise for demonstrating “remarkable resolve to tackle the many challenges the country is facing,” threats to the country’s long-term peace and stability persist and “should not be underestimated,” recommends the UN Peacekeeping Chief (The New Zealand Herald).

Benefits of International Aid

There have been many cases where the international community has assisted with issues regarding Côte d’Ivoire and, in some instances, the efforts have actually made a difference. For example, external support from France, the US, and the UN, played a key role during the export ban on cocoa in 2011. Because of their assistance and resources, the people of Côte d’Ivoire remained fairly safe as former President Gbagbo was finally drained of his finances, and therefore security forces, and was removed from office. Nevertheless, many still criticized the international community in 2011 as some nations turned their back on Côte d’Ivoire. The innocent unquestionably endured the most from the constant violence and displacement during this time, which also greatly threatened regional stability as more than 95,000 moved into neighboring Liberia (Dufka 2011).

Englebert and Tull emphasize two trends concerning the idea that external assistance lacks the “capacity and will to maintain the necessary commitment to rebuilding African states,” (129). The first is that reconstruction efforts to African nations are usually temporary. In the case of Côte d’Ivoire’s 2002 conflicts, international aid commitments were granted from the European Union, France, IMF, and the World Bank. Although these efforts successfully reunited the country’s politicians and organizations after the faulty presidential elections in 2000, there is a clear drop after 2002 (129). The decreased involvement into 2006 and presumably subsequent years did not account for the fact that Côte d’Ivoire’s internal disputes were nowhere near the end.

Englebert and Tull argue, “the international community is not well-equipped for creating effective state institutions, regardless of the scale and intensity of its involvement,” (137). They continue by stating that some institutions interfere too much and are not necessarily more successful than less-intrusive ones. Although I agree with the validity of their statements, I still believe external reconstruction can temporarily assist in stabilizing a country. The problem stems from the fact that development aid is often short-lived. For this reason, the international community should focus on “long-term construction of self-sustaining state institutions” provided to failing nations such as Côte d’Ivoire (137).

However, the focus should also be shifted towards the people of Côte d’Ivoire to take action and support those capable of alleviating the country’s many problems. President Ouattara seems to be that very person, as the international community has supported him since the election. In this video, President Obama speaks to Ivoirians as he encourages them to “reclaim [their] country and rebuild a vibrant economy that was once the admiration of Africa.” This idea that external aid can exist but must also construct self-sustaining institutions is validated by President Obama’s closing statement: “You deserve the right to determine your own destiny…and those who choose that path will have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”

As far as Côte d’Ivoire’s most recent endeavors, they are striving to recover political, economic, and social entities with the leadership of President Ouattara. The UN seems to be at the forefront of this plan with the creation of an active profile in their UN Peacekeeping webpage through the Better World Campaign, in addition to a project with the UNEP aiming to “address environmental and natural resource governance on a national scale and as a precondition for sustainable development and conflict prevention.” These are precisely the advocacy and support that weak or failing nations should have more access to and I hope it is only the beginning.

Effects on the Region and World

The effects of Côte d’Ivoire’s state weakness have greatly impacted not only the people residing within its borders, but also those in the region and around the world. In previous posts, I have described some of the social, health, and economic atrocities many have experienced due to the recent violent events. For more information about this, please refer back to my post titled “For the People of Côte d’Ivoire.”

Although locals endured countless instances of violence, displacements, and general social injustice, those in the surrounding countries of Burkina Faso and Mali, for example, now face ethnic, cultural, and economic concern. Ever since 1995 when former President Bédié began promoting the nationalistic concept of Ivorité, the term has remained a part of discriminatory Ivoirian culture. President Bédié claimed this was to increase cultural identity and not political exclusion. Critics deemed it divisive, xenophobic, and intended to eliminate political competition from President Ouattara, who was at one point not considered “genuine” Ivorian. Whether a person is “genuine” or “not genuine” Ivorian continues to be a source of regional conflict. Moreover, the government became concerned with immigration as the idea of a Muslim victory supported by domestic and immigrant Muslim communities was a possibility.

Finally, Côte d’Ivoire plays a key role in transportation and trade for its landlocked neighbors since it contains about 71 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Guinea. Because of the Port of Abidjan’s reputation as the busiest port in francophone West Africa, much of the business from Burkina Faso and Mali suffered a great deal after the export ban on cocoa in 2011. Many businesses were forced to halt their business relations, negatively affecting their commerce and economic activity. This was particularly detrimental to the countries because they are ranked at 35 and 38 on the 2013 Failed States Index Report.

Globally, the 2011 cocoa export ban meant cocoa traders, chocolate makers, and consumers were forced to wait for the effects of the supply and price of this important commodity. During the export ban, which was set ultimately with the purpose of removing President Gbagbo from office, there was a division between countries around the world about how best to proceed. More information about this topic can be read in my previous post titled “The Politics of Agriculture.”

However, another more recent action under President Ouattara has affected the cocoa industry worldwide. In July of 2013, security forces began flattening houses and forcefully removing farmers in order to phase out agricultural practices and diversify the economy away from cocoa due to its negative environmental impact. Three-fourths of West African country’s forests have disappeared in the past 50 years because of farming, including cocoa plantations. Ouattara expressed a willingness to pay this economic price in order to save the tropical forests and as an effort to reassert the state’s authority. In this case, Côte d’Ivoire’s state weakness may be turning around as a positive consequence towards regaining government legitimacy and control.

The Politics of Agriculture

Although once considered one of French West Africa’s most prosperous nations as it ranked third largest coffee producer and number one cocoa producer, Côte d’Ivoire faced issues with these export commodities contributing to its state decay.

In the 1980s, Côte d’Ivoire’s economy suffered from a fall in cocoa and coffee prices and a local drought during the 1983-1984 season caused severe cuts in the agricultural and hydroelectric output. Throughout this time, the industry GDP dropped 33%, services GDP down 9%, and agriculture GDP falling 12.2% (Mongabay.com).

Côte d’Ivoire is a West African country located along the Gulf of Guinea, bordering Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. Its relatively small size (a little larger than New Mexico; about equal to Germany) has not stopped Ivoirians from largely affecting agricultural and economic sectors around the world. The country contains about 515 km of coastline, including the city and port of Abidjan.

Prior to gaining independence from France in 1960, Abidjan was the capital of Côte d’Ivoire. Soon after 1960, the capital changed to Yamoussoukro but Abidjan retained much authority, becoming the major shipping and financial center of French-speaking West Africa. Today, Abidjan is the largest city of Côte d’Ivoire and contains the second largest port in all of Africa (“Abidjan”).

So what does this have to do with agriculture, politics, or the rest of the world?

Following the 2010 presidential election, internationally-recognized President Alassane Ouattara banned cocoa exports from January until April. Supposedly, major cocoa companies indirectly supported the illegitimate regime of former-President Gbagbo with the means to purchase weapons and ammunition that had suppressed his opponents and launched a new civil war. By temporarily halting exports, Ouattara hoped to starve Gbagbo of the finances needed to maintain security forces and hold onto power, and eventually remove him from office. Although they had no way to officially enforce the ban, Ouattara expected to reach the public’s conscience by dissuading them from exporting in order to “starve Gbagbo of cocoa revenues.”

Societal consequence?

  • African nations divide on how best to proceed:
    • Nigeria: military intervention
    • South Africa and Uganda: closer inspection of 2010 election
    • ECOWAS asked the US, UK, and France to intervene but all deferred to the UN
    • Widespread confusion as exporters and others in the Port of Abidjan decided whether or not to comply with the ban
    • Many questioned future business relations with Côte d’Ivoire, especially Burkina Faso and Mali (landlocked neighbors whose business, transportation, and trade rely on the Port of Abidjan)

Agricultural and economic consequence?

  • The price of cocoa jumped 15% in 6 weeks
  • Impact of ban would’ve been more severe if not for the 2010 bumper harvest (surplus of cocoa on the global market), according to the ICCO
  • Cocoa traders, chocolate makers, and consumers are forced to wait on effects to cocoa’s supply and price

Much of the information presented here was gathered from these articles relating to the ban; its impact on the international cocoa trade; and what happened after the ban was lifted.

Media Coverage: Friend or Foe?

International news media tend to focus on stories of violence, oppression, or oppression. This negative representation is especially visible for African nations, including Côte d’Ivoire. However, I’ve always wondered whether this is merely a trend occurring in American media, or if other countries also emphasize these issues. Why are positive news stories rarely in the media?

In order to examine this further, I conducted a search in three newspapers from around the world for articles within the past 6 months relating to Côte d’Ivoire. I chose the New York Times (USA), The Guardian (United Kingdom), and Le Monde (France). Here are the top headlines I found:

Headlines found online for three different newspapers when searching stories about "Côte d’Ivoire." The headlines under Le Monde were originally in French and translated to English by me.

Headlines found online for three different newspapers when searching stories about “Côte d’Ivoire.” The headlines under Le Monde were originally in French and translated to English by me.

Because Côte d’Ivoire was once a French colony and has maintained a relatively close connection to France, it didn’t surprise me that Le Monde would feature stories concerning the ICC and Ivorian politicians. However, it was refreshing to see more positive pieces listed in The Guardian, such as on the country’s barbershops, reconstruction efforts, and development of infrastructure. Although these headlines may not draw as much attention as those about war and suffering, it gives me a sense of relief to witness Côte d’Ivoire still trying to recover from its failing state status. In addition, those stories are encouraging and hopeful for the people who consider Côte d’Ivoire their home.

When I tried to search in top newspapers from China, India, and Spain, that cover world events, I found virtually nothing relating to Côte d’Ivoire’s political turmoil, ethnic divide, or economic crisis. Instead, the topics centered on the country’s soccer team and their participation in the World Cup, or contained no articles at all. At first, I found this fact discouraging. How could such large and powerful countries not report on the awful events in Côte d’Ivoire? Do they not realize how important it is for the world to know about these issues in order to put pressure and end the violence?

And then I read an article about media coverage and how it misrepresents the causes of conflict in Côte d’Ivoire. In one part, the author referenced an interesting quote by Bono, the lead singer for U2 and committed activist, from the NY Times where he emphasized the World Cup’s positive impact on Africa.

“… A few years ago, Ivory Coast was splitting apart and in the midst of civil war when its national team qualified for the 2006 jamboree. The response was so ecstatic that the war was largely put on hold as something more important than deathly combat took place, i.e. a soccer match. The team became a symbol of how the different tribes could — and did — get on after the tournament was over.”

Although this can be viewed as somewhat controversial and thoughtless, I give him credit because I believe the news should not always cover the “bad” stuff. People truly need the “good” in order to look forward for a better future, and it seems Côte d’Ivoire is in the right direction.