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CIPE and the Private Sector’s Role in Cote d’Ivoire’s Fragile Democracy

Posted on the 10 May 2013 by Center For International Private Enterprise @CIPEglobal
A street market in Abidjan (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A street market in Abidjan (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In Cote d’Ivoire, CIPE is engaged in a multi-year program to enhance the capacity of Ivorian private sector associations, particularly in the small and medium enterprises sector (SME), to drive advocacy initiatives for market-oriented policy reforms and a functional democracy.

This new program in Cote d’Ivoire also takes account of the post-conflict nature of the society and the transitional phase of its economy. Recent political developments in Cote d’Ivoire indicate significant challenges to consolidating any democratic gains after the 2011 post-electoral crises. Oddly enough, the administration’s response to these challenges may be favorable to CIPE’s program and mission in Cote d’Ivoire, which would lead to the kind of fundamental impact that will ultimately foster more sustainable democratic gains.

My late grandfather had a rather colorful way of communicating the challenges to democratic governance in Africa: he would tell the story of a peasant farmer who met a genie early one morning as he worked his farm. The genie offered to fulfill the farmer’s most important wish, but on one condition – that whatever the farmer wished for, the genie would offer the farmer’s neighbor twice as much. The farmer pondered long and hard, and finally wished for the genie to completely impair his vision in one of his eyes.

According to my grandfather, this story highlights a fundamental challenge to democratic governance in Africa, namely that there appears to not be enough of a sense of community among individuals to enable sustainable democratic dialog and rule. In other words, people seemed rather predisposed to prefer being “less worse off” than their neighbor to being “less better off” than their neighbor, even when the latter situation would involve an overall improvement in their well-being. Democracy, as it is, is already “noisy” enough. My grandfather believed that, in Africa, this perceived ethos made democracy “deafening.”

Whatever the merits or flaws in his assertion, I could not help but think of him during my recent trip to Cote d’Ivoire on CIPE mission. CIPE recently had to abort a program in the country due to the post-electoral crises of 2010 and 2011. Since then, Alassane Ouattara became president and the former incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, is facing prosecution before the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

President Ouattara is a former Prime Minister of Cote d’Ivoire, a positional that is essentially administrative by design – meaning that the position precludes any political considerations and is strictly responsible for the daily management of the government. Prior to his role as Prime Minister, he was a Director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Governor of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO). Given his professional profile, he is known – with no small amount of derision – in certain circles in Cote d’Ivoire as the “Mario Monti of Cote d’Ivoire,” after the Italian Prime Minister, widely regarded as a technocrat, appointed to address Italy’s fiscal and monetary policy challenges.

With regards to President Ouattara, the derision in the comparison to Monti is in his perceived lack of political acumen, especially in a country like Cote d’Ivoire where decades-long ethnic and tribal tensions have led to multiple coups d’etat, a ten-year civil war, and the recent post-electoral crises. The belief within certain circles is that the country needs a President who is adept at “managing” the discord between the various ethnic, tribal, or political affiliations that dominate Cote d’Ivoire’s political life.

To such this end, President Ouattara inspires little confidence in many, especially among those in the opposition. A probable reason that President Ouattara is perceived as politically inept by some is his political alliances with former political rivals whose agendas are not necessarily aligned to his, but whose political approval guaranteed him ascension to the presidency. The belief is that such alliances preclude any serious resolution to the longstanding tribal and ethnic tensions that bedevil democratic consolidation in Cote d’Ivoire.

Insights about the political landscape  in Cote d’Ivoire and its intrigues initially evoked images of my grandfather’s fabled village of peasant farmers, who would rather lose one eye so that their neighbor loses both. The more I learned, the more Ivorian politics appeared like the most regressive kind of zero-sum game. On April 10, 2013, the news broke that President Ouattara was set to rule by decree, mainly on economic and social issues. He was afforded such a right by the Ivorian parliament, and the President’s reason for requesting to rule by decree is his urgency to promptly implement his economic development plan without delays from parliamentary maneuvering and wrangling. To be fair, there exists an Article 75 in the Ivorian constitution that allows for presidential rule by decree when other state institutions are dysfunctional. However, with a functioning parliament in which he holds a solid majority, the need for rule by presidential decree appears less convincing.

The bottom line here is that the essential nature of Ivorian politics is still to change. Metaphorically, the game of musical chairs continues: the music has stopped for now, former President Laurent Gbagbo is eliminated, and the remaining actors or players now occupy different seats. One could read into the latest development that even within his own governing majority, governing is still so much of a challenge that President Ouattara would rather bypass his parliamentary majority. Ivorian democracy seems so “deafening” that President Ouattara chooses to put on his earplugs and focus mainly on his forte: economics.

It is difficult to tell what these developments mean for CIPE’s current program in Cote d’Ivoire. Typically, much of a state’s sovereignty derives from its economic sovereignty -  in some cases, more so than from the state’s political sovereignty. China and the Chinese Communist Party would attest to this point. For CIPE’s Cote d’Ivoire program, which in its essence is animated by CIPE’s mission to strengthen democracy through private enterprise and market-oriented reforms, President Ouattara’s recent measures may augur well.

However, as I learned from many of the representatives of the private sector associations that are participants in CIPE’s Cote d’Ivoire program, there was little consultation between President Ouattara and Ivorian private sector associations and civil society during the initial implementation of his Plan National de Developpement (National Development Plan). Now, half-way through his presidential term, he is anxious to revise his plan and its implementation, and has begun outreach to private sector associations and civil society.

One main objective of CIPE’s Cote d’Ivoire program is to enhance the capacity of Ivorian private sector associations for effective public-private dialog so as to strengthen their voice in the policymaking process. Additionally, based on what I learned, Ivorian economic life appears much less afflicted by rancorous ethnic, tribal, and political tensions than its political life.

In short, Ivorian political actors may just have driven the “Mario Monti of Cote d’Ivoire” towards their economic counterparts, and possibly towards meaningful democratic progress. As Ivorian economic actors appear less “deafening” than their political confreres, we hope that President Ouattara removes his earplugs, so as to better listen to them. This will be a definite boost to CIPE’s Cote d’Ivoire program and to democracy in the country.

Yana Hongla is Program Officer for Africa at CIPE.

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