Business Magazine

In Tumultuous Cote d’Ivoire, the Private Sector Perseveres

Posted on the 01 March 2013 by Center For International Private Enterprise @CIPEglobal
Informal entrepreneurs make up 60% of Cote d'Ivoire's economy. (Photo: United Nations)

Informal entrepreneurs make up a large part of Cote d’Ivoire’s economy. (Photo: United Nations)

In Cote d’Ivoire, as in most nations in Sub-Sahara Africa, the government has pronounced its commitment to the creation of an entrepreneurial economy as a means to address the country’s sizable informal sector — despite the significant challenges posed by armed conflict and the legacy of civil war. CIPE’s current program in Cote d’Ivoire is aimed at enhancing the participation of the informal sector in policy reform processes and improving access to information on government economic and regulatory reform initiatives.

The existence of an informal sector in Cote d’Ivoire, along with a business organization to represent its interests, presents quite a contrast to the economic situation in the country during the immediate decades following its independence. Prior to its descent into civil war in 2002, Cote d’Ivoire was known to be the engine of stability, growth, and jobs in West Africa, with a more advanced private sector than most other sub-Saharan African countries.  The economic capital, Abidjan, was known across Africa as ‘le Paris de l’Afrique’ – the Paris of Africa. However, the fact was that Cote d’Ivoire was experiencing political and economic dynamics that were a legacy of its colonial and post-colonial ties to France: autocratic political rule that was supported by economic etatisme or dirigisme.

In 1993, the death of autocratic ruler Felix Houphouet-Boigny coincided with a significant drop in the price of cocoa, the country’s main export commodity. These led to a rocky transition from autocracy to democracy, culminating in a civil war in 2002 that split the country into two regions, along ethnic lines. The ensuing period of prolonged political instability fostered political patronage and neo-patrimonial networks that exacerbated the country’s post-colonial economic predicament, thereby creating a sizable informal sector.

In 2009, with the country finally seeing strong prospects for re-unification and a national presidential election scheduled for 2010, CIPE partnered with the Federation des Artisans de la Cote d’Ivoire (FEDACI) on a program with the objective to enhance FEDACI’s capacity to effectively represent Cote d’Ivoire’s informal sector in the impending democratic reform processes. FEDACI is the only independent business federation representing the informal sector in Cote d’Ivoire, and is made up of 25 associations representing economic sectors such as construction, forestry, metals and textiles manufacturing, artists, and electricians.

The approach was two-pronged: The first phase focused on improving the capacity of FEDACI and its member associations while also helping the organization expand its base to become more inclusive and representative of the entire country.  These activities were to lay the foundation for the second phase, which aimed to make the voice of the independent informal sector stronger through intensive advocacy training and targeted advocacy campaigns on key issues affecting the informal sector. CIPE and FEDACI completed the first phase, but could not complete the rest of the program due to the outbreak of armed conflict following the 2010 presidential elections.

Since the post-electoral crises, the current administration of President Alassane Ouattara has tried to arrest Cote d’Ivoire’s decades-long democratic backsliding. The Ouattara government, through its National Action Plan, seeks to introduce a functional democracy and create a more entrepreneurial society. A particular focus of the Plan is addressing the challenges presented by the country’s informal sector.

FEDACI, meanwhile, credits its recent partnership with CIPE for providing it with the tools to preserve its organizational capacity and best practices in internal governance throughout the post-electoral crisis. As a result, its membership base remains significant and well-organized. FEDACI has even been conducting public-private dialogues with the Ministry of Commerce and the Informal Sector on core challenges that its members face across the country.

Finally, FEDACI was recently elected to the presidency of the Confederations des Artisans de l’Afrique de L’Ouest (CAAO). The CAAO is a West African confederation of individual national federations of Artisans, which as a leading organization of the Union Monetaire des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (UMEAO) – West African Monetary Union – is mandated to coordinate the agendas and activities of its members. As the presiding organization of the CAAO, FEDACI will be responsible for leading collective actions in designing and implementing national and regional advocacy initiatives on private sector policy reforms.

Slowly, but steadily, all roads lead to free-market principles.

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