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Why Ivory Coast's economic comeback could be brisk

Three economists interviewed by The Christian Science Monitor forecast Ivory Coast's annual economic growth to accelerate to an impressive 6 to 7 percent toward the end of 2011.

By Drew HinshawCorrespondent / April 12, 2011

Local residents celebrated the capture of former President Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast's main city, Abidjan, on Monday.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

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Ivory Coast, today’s giant emergency, may be tomorrow’s emerging giant.

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Or, the most fertile economy in West Africa could continue to endure low-scale civil war for weeks, months, or even a second decade to come.

This past week, the market bet on hope. Both the nation’s cash crop – cocoa – and slips of paper representing its long overdue debt traded at their most optimistic prices in months on news that rebels backing the elected president had finally captured the defiant former president who plunged the county back into civil war with his refusal to step down after losing the Nov. 28 election.

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Three economists interviewed by The Christian Science Monitor forecast annual economic growth in the utterly disarrayed economy, West Africa’s second largest, to accelerate to an impressive 6 to 7 percent toward the end of 2011, as shopkeepers rush to fill looted shelves, and workers reboot desktops in vacant offices.

That postwar boom would rank Ivory Coast among the top 15 fastest growing economies of 2012.

Indeed, if elected President Alassane Ouattara – effectively installed last week by rebel soldiers – can bring peace to his country, economists say this erstwhile star of Africa could be reborn.

“It certainly used to have the potential to [become a middle-income country], and it still could,” says economist Yvonne Mhango with the Renaissance Capital investment research group based Greenwich, Conn. “It’s definitely not difficult to conceptualize. It’s just that, at this point, things could go either way.”

The wilting of the 'African Miracle'

Until 1999, the nation of 21 million reigned as the exception to a region of war and stagflation. Pat Nixon, wife of former US President Richard Nixon, called it "a land of hope for people all over the world," when she made her 1973 second visit to the once-prosperous nation.

In the past decade, however, the country has become a drag on hope in a region that now includes some of the world’s fastest growing economies, like Liberia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Ghana.

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Before his capture Monday, outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo had been bunkering in an underground tunnel while an untold number of civilians – at least 1,500 – above ground died in Ivory Coast's second civil war in a decade.

That tunnel connects Ivory Coast’s Presidential Palace with the French ambassador’s home – a perfectly umbilical metaphor for the nation’s troubled relationship with its former colonizer. France lavished billions of francs to transmogrify this former colony into what was so nearly Africa’s first middle-income country. Even after a decade of sporadic war, Ivory Coast still boasts Africa’s second-biggest port, its second-best refinery, roads as wide as endangered whales, enough electricity to power a resplendent megacity, and the world’s largest church – all French-backed infrastructure that made this nation the “African Miracle.”

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