ABIDJAN, 29 January 2010 – Improving the incomes of the urban and rural poor, and expanding access to jobs and basic service delivery is crucial for Cote d’Ivoire to stage a successful post-conflict economic rebound, said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick.
“Cote d’Ivoire can harness its enormous human and natural resources, its strategic location in West Africa, and the considerable size and importance of its economy to be a major force in regional integration and offer greater opportunities for its people, especially the poor,” said Zoellick as he wrapped up a two-day visit during which he met with President Laurent Gbagbo, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro and former president Henri Konan Bedie.
Recent research shows significant inequality and a dramatic increase in poverty in the country over the last 20 years. Poverty levels - based on the threshold established by the Ivorian government of US$1.50 a day – increased to 49 percent in 2008 from 10 percent in 1985, even as Cote d’Ivoire is expected to reach lower middle-income status with average incomes estimated at US$1,026 in 2009.
At working sessions with President Gbagbo and Prime Minister Soro, the World Bank president called for efforts to achieve debt forgiveness by reaching completion point (when debt relief becomes irrevocable) under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. With Cote d’Ivoire likely to receive up to US$12 billion in debt relief from its external debt stock of US$ 14 billion dollars, Zoellick said: “achievement of the HIPC completion point would lighten the burden of debt servicing and create the fiscal space the country needs to fund crucial social and economic development programs, notably pro-poor and infrastructure investments”.
Zoellick’s visit comes at a time when the Bank is preparing a new Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) for Cote d’Ivoire covering fiscal years 2010-2013. The CPS, which will be based on Cote d’Ivoire’s recently completed Poverty Reduction Strategy, seeks to bolster continued crisis recovery spending, the consolidation of the peace process, the restoration of investor confidence and the acceleration of progress toward elections.
During working sessions, the World Bank president told representatives of the private sector, civil society organizations, as well as pro-ruling party, ex-rebel and senior opposition officials in the divided country, including the 15 members of the Independent Electoral Commission, that he hoped they could ensure a successful ballot and help minimize the possibility of a relapse into conflict. Zoellick also met with the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General.
“Cote d’Ivoire must continue to enhance the rule of law, promote reconciliation, foster good governance, and protect and empower women and children”, Zoellick said.
During the visit, which follows a stop in Sierra Leone and culminates at the African Union summit in Ethiopia, Zoellick saw the 300 megawatt Azito gas-fired power project. He confirmed the World Bank’s interest in financing its second phase, which will add 420 megawatts. He commended Cote d’Ivoire for increasing the efficiency of the power sector, for building a successful public-private partnership, and for ensuring power exports to neighboring countries from a source that helps mitigate climate change.
“Improved infrastructure, such as more efficient, reliable, clean and affordable energy, can be of great assistance for private sector-led growth, job creation and regional integration,” Zoellick said, noting the added importance taken on by Africa’s huge potential of gas, hydropower, solar, wind power and other renewable resources.
The World Bank president visited a project by Nestle in the Yopougon neighborhood of Abidjan. The aim of the project is to help raise incomes for farmers of products containing cocoa, coffee and cereals through sustainable farming. Zoellick congratulated the government and companies like Nestle for efforts they have made to eliminate child labor and forced adult labor in the country’s cocoa industry through certification and independent verification of such reports. Child exploitation and trafficking has involved more than 600,000 children on cocoa fields in Cote d’Ivoire alone. He pledged continued World Bank support for initiatives to improve the lives of cocoa-coffee farming communities.
Zoellick used the opportunity of his visit to emphasize the growing role in Cote d’Ivoire and across Africa of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Bank Group’s private sector arm. IFC has seen its commitments in Africa grow to $1.82 billion in 2009 from $445 million in 2005. IFC Vice President for Africa, Thierry Tanoh, who is the first Ivorian citizen to serve in that rank at the World Bank, travelled with Zoellick who was also accompanied by the Bank’s Vice President for the Africa Region, Obiageli Ezekwesili.