Cote d’Ivoire was mired in its share of Africa’s political conflicts which cost the country an entire decade. The once admired 'model of peace' was briefly written off by much of the developed world as a dysfunctional and unstable jurisdiction. Since 2011 however, with security reestablished, the central government is no longer absent from whole sections of the country and private investment is flooding back in.
Perhaps most important, the country has recovered its place as a regional powerhouse -priding itself in being one of the top destinations for conferences and conventions regarding the continent’s future. Wrapped in pristine sunshine, Abidjan, its economic capital is at the center of it all. In 2017, the city's conference highlights included the African Union - European Union (AU-EU) Summit which brought together 80 head-of-states from both continents; the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA), which convened over 10,000 attendees; SWIFT African Regional Conference (ARC) gathered almost 400 delegates from more than 45 countries;the International Conference on the Emergence of Africa (ICAE) with some 400 experts from 54 African, Asian, European and American countries; and Unlocking Solar Capital Africa where over 350 decision makers gathered to discuss the continent's solar energy funding gap.
Cote d’Ivoire is the largest economy in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (also known by its French acronym, UEMOA). Since 2012, the country’s economy has been one of the fastest growing on the continent with annual GDP varying between eight and ten percent. Confidence is growing among the business community as this consistent growth has attracted a considerable amount of foreign direct investment and contributed to the expansion of the middle class.
A number of reputable institutions are relocating their headquarters to the country. Last year, in what followed a momentous decision, the International Cocoa Council (ICCO) proceeded with the relocation of its headquarters from London to Abidjan. Along suit, the continent's "premier financial institution", the African Development Bank returned 1,500 employees to its Abidjan headquarters after being forced to relocate due to the political turmoil in the country nearly a decade before. The bank’s president described the move as a “symbol of the renaissance of the Ivorian economy after a decade of recession and a symbol of the reconstruction of Ivorian society”.
A Solid Infrastructure
By developing countries' standards, Cote d’Ivoire has excellent infrastructure. The country made major strides in this arena during its first 30 years following independence in 1960, resulting in the construction of 20,000 km of road (9,000 km paved), two active modern deep water ports and a cross country railroad system. As a net exporter of energy, Cote d’Ivoire has a solid national power grid that relies on both hydro-power and gas-fired plants.
Despite a decade of crisis that impacted maintenance quality, Cote d’Ivoire continues to have one of the best infrastructures in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, betting on its development to bolster growth, the government is allocating a third of its annual budget to infrastructure investment, including an ambitious $49 billion project which will include: expansion of the main port, extension of an internal all-weather road system, rehabilitation of the railroad connection to neighboring countries, and boosting access of electricity to the general population.
Opportunity in Mining
Despite being highly prospective with an endowment of reserves across commodities such as iron ore, manganese, nickel, bauxite and gold, the mining industry in Cote d’Ivoire has remained relatively small, mainly due to the fact that agriculture has been the main driver of growth for many years. The country supplies nearly 40 percent of cocoa sold worldwide and is a net exporter of major cash crops such as coffee, palm oil, rubber, cotton, cashew nuts and bananas.
This, however, is changing rapidly as the government understands that the performance of the mining sector will be crucial for Cote d’Ivoire to maintain its seven percent plus GDP growth rate.
In fact since 2011, the contribution of mining to the Ivorian economy has gone up significantly with gold production doubling during that period (from 12 tonnes to 25 tonnes) and manganese production increasing seven-fold, from 50,000 tonnes in 2011 to over 350,000 tonnes in 2017. Exploration activity is also intensifying; encouraged not only by the natural resources endowment of the country but also by a new regulatory framework (adopted in 2014), described by many in the industry as one of the most attractive and competitive on the continent.
As investors discover that Cote d'Ivoire might just be Africa's best kept secret in mining, the renewed appeal is yet another good illustration of the importance of peace and stability in promoting economic development. The country must continue to see investment in a sound political climate, a secure and transparent policy environment and a reliable infrastructure as a means to sustain economic growth.