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Op-Ed: Hope Lives On

May 21, 2011

Madani M. Tall, World Bank Country Director for Côte d’Ivoire Fraternité Matin, Côte d’Ivoire’s lead daily (Issue No. 13950, May 26, 2011, page 3)

YAMOUSSOUKRO, May 21, 2011 —  On this day and in this mythical place rich with symbolism, Alassane Ouattara was sworn in as President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. As I witnessed the jubilation of the people and, in particular, the outpouring of emotion at this ceremony, I was reminded that this event could and should have taken place six months earlier.  This event prompted a number of personal reflections, discussed below.

While this day may have been long in coming for some, it could have been even longer.  However, what is six months in the lives of a people?  During the period between the November 28, 2010 election and the inauguration of the President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, this country went through all the phases of a descent into hell, inching closer, with each passing day, toward what could have been all-out conflict or civil war.  All the ingredients were present for what had seemed like a simple change to become major transformation in the genetic sense of the term – an irreversible change in Ivorian society’s genetic and hereditary DNA.  The agent of change assumed several forms, with the common denominator being power at any cost, including the lives of thousands, and the stifling of hope that has always embodied Ivorian society.  I have asserted, in other contexts, that in a matter of six months, a country that was once the most shining example of hope and euphoria in West Africa became mired in warfare and awash with hardship, horror, and desolation.  As the world was getting ready to celebrate the restoration of Côte d’Ivoire’s status as the engine of the subregion and the CFA zone, history dragged its feet, forcing everyone to suspend all celebratory preparations and become powerless witnesses of events that came close to snuffing out hope.

However, on May 21, 2011, on the home turf of the founder of modern-day Côte d’Ivoire, the late Félix Houphouët-Boigny, history caught up with the suppressed emotions of some and the undisguised disenchantment of others.  Mysticism, the sole keeper of certain secrets, made an unannounced appearance to remind all the faithful that hope lives on in Côte d’Ivoire; hope never dies!

However, prior to the inauguration ceremony, which was a mere epilogue, other events occurred that cannot be sidestepped if we wish to grasp fully the critical elements marking the denouement of the post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.  Of these, I think that one is of great importance and warrants close examination – the May 4 decision of the Constitutional Council recognizing the new President of the Republic.  It was this same Council which, on December 3, 2010, had proclaimed the definitive (?) nature of the results of the presidential election.  Here and abroad, this decision has prompted a plethora of comments and interpretations, and has even invited derision.  As far as I am concerned however, it is another manifestation of the grandeur of the Ivorian people, reflected in their high court.  By steadfastly hewing to the sacrosanct principle of law, defined as a hierarchy of legal principles, particularly as it relates to the precedence of international conventions over domestic law, the high court not only paved the way for an end to the crisis but managed to get rid of the millstone around its neck without entirely losing face.  Furthermore, by reconciling the issue of legality claimed by President Gbagbo with the principle of legitimacy that was on President Ouattara’s side, the action of the Constitutional Council reminded me of Montesquieu who, in his masterpiece “The Spirit of Laws” taught us that something is not just because the law makes it so; but   should be law because it is just.  Parenthetically, it bears asking at this point whether the legal arguments advanced on December 3, 2010 were based on the soundness of the electoral outcome, that is, on justice in the ethical sense of the term.  In any event, the decision of May 4, 2011 proved to be crucial.  Beyond the sense of relief it generated, it served to restore hope – hope among the people of Côte d’Ivoire and, in a broader sense, of Africa that this decision will set a legal precedent for the African Union, whose decision took precedence over Ivorian law, and a legal precedent for the other members of the Union.

The hope is also that the wishes expressed by the new administration in Abidjan will heal the wounds of over ten years of crisis and exorcise the demons of division and hatred through a process to include the Commission for Dialogue, Truth, and Reconciliation.  Though still in a fledgling phase, this Commission already crystallizes so many hopes and expectations to the point where some would like to see it as a replication of the South African model.  Certainly, the South African experience is still etched in the memory of some.  However, one can question the wisdom of applying models which, from a social science perspective, are purely contextual.  While possibly drawing on the accomplishments of others, the situation in Côte d’Ivoire is specific to this country, and the problems that spawned this crisis that has assumed myriad forms since the 1990s are quintessentially Ivorian.  Without a doubt, the time has come for a national catharsis and the wisdom expressed in Ecclesiastes serves a powerful and apt reminder that  to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven; a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;  a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;  a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.  Now that hope is alive, the time has come for the reconstruction of Côte d’Ivoire and the infusion of fresh hope for the vast majority of Ivoirians, especially the youth, whose future grew bleaker with the outcome of the recent elections that had been presented to them as a panacea or miraculous cure-all. 

The reconstruction process will take place and should be carried out very quickly by taking advantage of Côte d’Ivoire’s vast opportunities, the first of which is the country’s tremendous potential that makes it the envy of all.  The second is the goodwill of Côte d’Ivoire’s friends and partners, among them the World Bank.

If I had to relate Côte d’Ivoire’s history to my daughter, I would tell her quite simply that, among other things, Côte d’Ivoire has land, water, and sunshine; 75 percent of its 330,000 km2 of land is arable; the country has a sea front; it has virtually seven months of rainfall; and its subsoil harbors a wealth of oil, gas, and minerals of all kinds.  Investors of every stripe eye this country longingly; and like the United States, one-third of its population originates from elsewhere. I would also tell my daughter about the country’s achievements in the 1970s and 1980s that were inaccurately described as the “Ivoirian miracle.” I would tell her that what happened was not a miracle since all the ingredients for success were present.  I would tell her that in 1960, when this country gained its independence from France, it was better off than countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan, North and South Korea, Thailand, and Tunisia.  I would tell her that, during that era, the quality of life in Côte d’Ivoire was better than it was in China; the country became the leading producer of cacao and made Switzerland the leading producer of chocolate; and that it produces some of the best natural rubber in the world used to make tires in France and, increasingly, in China.   My daughter loves cashew nuts so much that I bring them back for her whenever I visit the United States.  I would tell her that the cashew nuts I buy at Giant Food in Washington, the wrapper of which states “processed in India,” are produced in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading exporter of this product (350,000 metric tons).  In addition to its past, which could have been more glorious, I would tell my daughter that ten years of political crisis marked by armed confrontation have no doubt left deep wounds but have not undermined the ability of this country to rebound very quickly, more quickly than one can imagine.  I would tell my daughter that despite the crises, Côte d’Ivoire remains the second leading exporter of non-oil products in Sub-Saharan Africa, just behind South Africa.  Despite everything, the country’s backbone remains extremely solid.  One single example amply illustrates this: Côte d’Ivoire is the leading producer of cocoa – 1.3 million metric tons per year.  The productivity of an Ivorian cocoa producer is roughly 350 kg per hectare while the productivity of other major producers in between 800 and 1,200 kg per hectare.  This means that if sound agricultural policies are implemented, in particular the replacement of the aging orchard, the use of high yield varieties, and higher revenue for the farmers who grow this crop, Côte d’Ivoire has the ability to double its production in fewer than ten years.  Much more importantly, a business climate conducive to private investment and local processing of cocoa, including the production of chocolate, would create value added in the form of thousands of jobs (both direct and indirect), taxes for the government, intermediate consumption – resources for the electricity, water, and telephone, sugar, packaging, etc., and dividends for shareholders.  Beyond the cocoa sector, Côte d’Ivoire’s hope resides in large measure in the creation of conditions for processing its raw materials, particularly in the area of agriculture, following the example of Brazil which is certainly a shining example of prosperity fueled by agroindustrial dynamism.  The plans announced by the new Ivorian authorities are undeniably in line with this vision and the unwavering support of the development partners has been secured, judging from the keen interest displayed at the round table of partners of Côte d’Ivoire organized by the World Bank on April 18, 2011, when a true coalition was formed to support Côte d’Ivoire, with each partner pledging support to President Ouattara and his team, based on individual capacity and expertise.

The contributions of Côte d’Ivoire’s partners to its revival will be multifaceted and activities will be spread over time, based on the priorities and milestones set by Ivorians themselves.  A number of urgent and immediate activities have managed, among other things, to boost the morale of civil servants, who have received all their backpay, to clean up the city of Abidjan which resembled a giant garbage dump and an open air incinerator just one month ago.  Other activities will take place soon in the area of reintegration of all former combatants, community rehabilitation, social cohesion, youth employment,   energy, transport and   infrastructure, which are essential to improving the quality of life of Ivorians.  In one year, the circle of solidarity surrounding Côte d’Ivoire should lead this country to the HIPC completion point, thus providing the country with relief from its colossal debt to the tune of 6,000 billion CFA F ($12 billion).

Without a doubt, this solidarity or coalition stems from the fact that Côte d’Ivoire is the subreigon’s development hub.  Its economic health affects all 80 million residents in the eight WAEMU countries and beyond.  However, this solidarity is also, and especially, an indication that these partners remain optimistic that Côte d’Ivoire will get back on a path to progress. 

However, it bears noting that nothing, absolutely nothing, and no foreign contributions, no matter how big, can replace the resolve and desire of Ivorians to make their country once more a haven of peace, a melting pot, and a subregional economic locomotive, qualities that it should never have lost.  President Ouattara’s fervent pledge of unity, reconciliation, and reconstruction in Yamoussoukro on May 21 sounded like a call to make common cause; a cry of hope that will, I hope, echo in the ears and touch the hearts of each of Côte d’Ivoire’s 21 million residents.  Hope lives on; hope never dies.

Media Contacts
In Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
Madani Tall
Tel : +225-22 400 401