The financial war in Ivory Coast: Five key questions answered
The real battle for the world's No. 1 cocoa producer isn't happening on the streets of the commercial capital, Abidjan. It's unfolding in bank corridors.
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While Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade lobbies for a West African-led military invasion in Ivory Coast, the Ivorian military is threatening to mount a devastating defense on behalf of incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, who just about every major world leader considers the clear loser of the Nov. 28 election.
But the real battle for the world's No. 1 cocoa producer isn't happening on the streets of the commercial capital, Abidjan. It's unfolding in the bank corridors where cocoa revenues are wired, where tax reserves are cashed, where government debt is issued, and where government debtors come to collect their "coupon."
Understanding Ivory Coast's financial war is key to fathoming the calm exuded by supporters of President-elect Alassane Ouattara, who have been playing cards at the Golf Hotel where their candidate, an economist and former deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has been living off helicoptered-in food for weeks.
Some rosy day, Ivory Coast may have a president – or its version of a 38th parallel – but until that dawn, here are the five questions that should determine the outcome of what must be the most convoluted conflict of the year.
1.) Who controls the Central Bank?
Unlike Kenya or Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast's power struggle is taking place in an economy that was never set up for full-fledged independence from its colonial power, in this case, France. The country's currency – the West African CFA Franc, a banknote used in eight West African countries – serves as a nummary expression of how geopolitically pegged the country is to France and the other West African nations she colonized.
What that means for the two men who would be president is that the currency they use to pay their shadow governments isn't born in Ivory Coast. It's born in Dakar, Senegal, where, on Christmas Eve, the Central Bank told journalists that it will no longer recognize Mr. Gbagbo as president.
It could take an epoch before that principle becomes a bureaucratic reality. Last Friday, the Burkina Faso-based monetary union that sets policy for the bank brought bank officials to an orientation session in Mali with a "get a move on it" message.