WASHINGTON -- April 20, 2011 - Development partners at a roundtable in the sidelines of the 2011 World Bank-International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings said they will launch a common needs assessment exercise to get a realistic grasp of the resources that are required to help Cote d'Ivoire rebuild from the country’s violent post-election crisis.
The four-month stalemate following disputed presidential elections last November, which followed nearly a decade of an armed insurrection that left the country divided since September 2002, has dealt a severe blow to Cote d'Ivoire's standing with creditors.
“For the first time in Cote d'Ivoire's history we found ourselves unable to pay salaries in March 2011,” the Economy and Finance Minister of Cote d’Ivoire, Charles Koffi Diby, told roundtable participants. “Unless something is done urgently, we may find ourselves in an infernal spiral of arrears,” he added.
A ban on exports of Cote d’Ivoire’s leading export (cocoa), a massive run on banks, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and an outflow of refugees have all made the crisis worse over the last few months.
“We must act in a coordinated way, responding to the humanitarian situation while at the same time sending a strong signal in terms of jobs,” World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region Obiageli Ezekwesili told participants at the roundtable.
Longstanding development partners of Cote d'Ivoire, including the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the African Development Bank, the African Union, ECOWAS, as well as officials from China, France, and the United States, attended the discussion chaired by Ezekwesili.
“We need to get the citizens of Cote d'Ivoire engaged in a coalition that will help bring their country back on its feet,” Ezekwesili added, suggesting that lessons contained in this year's edition of the World Development Report, which focuses on conflict and development, could benefit Cote d’Ivoire.
The report shows that countries emerging from violent conflict are often characterized by a low level of trust in public institutions. The report advises authorities in such circumstances to implement high-visibility confidence-building measures in the areas of peace and security, equal access to justice, and job creation. One such confidence-building measure in Mozambique involved the appointment of one of the key officers from the rebellion was named second-in-command in the unified armed forces that emerged when the conflict ended.
“Strong signals of change are needed, and these should include making sure that the private sector can thrive again,” Ezekwesili said. In that regard, the simplification of business regulations can go a long way, according to the WDR 2011, which cites a six percent increase in Rwanda’s formal sector growth and a 10 percent increase in registered businesses just as a result of a change in its contract enforcement regime.
Another way to create jobs would be to support self-employment through small grants and training for entrepreneurs, including women. Small and medium-sized enterprises contribute about 18 percent to Côte d'Ivoire’s gross domestic product and employ up to 23 percent of the country’s formal workforce, according to a World Bank study released last year.
Preliminary estimates show that between three and seven percent of Cote d'Ivoire's gross domestic product was lost as economic activity came to a halt due to heavy fighting.
“I carry with me the suffering of the Ivoirian people,” said Diby, explaining that poverty rates have worsened across the country where medical supplies and other emergency materials are badly needed.
Some development partners of Cote d’Ivoire have already pledged support. Last week France announced a US$400 million assistance package for Cote d'Ivoire, and additional help is currently being planned by the French development agency. French authorities have also announced they intend to help Cote d'Ivoire clear its arrears with international agencies in the coming days.
Expectations are that the IMF, the World Bank and the African Development Bank will be able to reactivate their existing portfolio once arrears owed them are cleared.
The crisis in Cote d'Ivoire originates from longstanding issues ranging from nationality to social and economic inclusion that are common to many post-colonial societies across Africa.
It has had significant regional implications. Liberia is suffering the most immediate impacts, with some 125,000 refugees having arrived since December creating new pressures on a country itself recovering from conflict and already struggling to provide minimal basic services. The re-arming of some Liberian groups has also created concern for that country’s stability.
Other countries, such as Burkina Faso, are taking emergency measures to cope with the disruption in electricity and petroleum products from Côte d’Ivoire, and transit trade with Burkina Faso and Mali has been disrupted.
“I appeal to you not only on behalf of Ivorians but, indeed, on behalf of the 80 million people of the entire West African Economic and Monetary Union,” Diby told donors Monday at the roundtable.
“Regional integration will also suffer as long as the crisis persists. Côte d’Ivoire’s economy represents about 40 percent of the total GDP of the WAEMU, and without its active leadership it will be difficult to make progress on the regional agenda,” World Bank Country Director for Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Togo, Madani M. Tall, told the roundtable.
“While violent conflicts leave no clear winners, with thousands dead and over a million displaced, there is little doubt as to who lost the conflict: they are ordinary men and women of Cote d’Ivoire, teachers, merchants, traders, entrepreneurs and communities,” Tall said. “Violent conflicts hurt countries and their people more than anyone else.”
Tall described a frontpage image of the French weekly Courrier International published in April 2011 that he said captured the impact of conflict: “It published a picture of an elephant – Cote d’Ivoire’s national symbol – leaning heavily on its curved tusks, painfully piercing its own body. This is no state for Cote d’Ivoire to be in.”