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Economic Problems Fuel Ivory Coast Conflict, says Analyst

Economic Problems Fuel Ivory Coast Conflict, says Analyst
Economic Problems Fuel Ivory Coast Conflict, says Analyst

Economist say source of conflict in Ivory Coast lies in drop in coffee and cocoa prices

Ivory Coast’s electoral stand-off has cost hundreds of lives. Independent monitors and the international community say Alassane Ouattara won the recent presidential poll, and incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refuses to step down.

But some observers say the real cause of the conflict is cocoa, the commodity that has boosted living standards in the country and made it one of the wealthiest in West Africa.

Over the past 20 years, prices have dropped, leading to lower standards of living and competition for the dwindling profits by ethnic and regional groups, including foreigners who come to work in agriculture.

Author and economist Eric Kacou of Ivory Coast recalls the 1980s, when he was a high school student receiving a government-subsidized education. “At the time Ivory Coast was called the “Miracle of West Africa,” he says. “People would go to Abidjan and compare it to capital cities in the west and talk about how much progress had happened.”

In an effort to boost the price of cocoa, the government cut back on the amount of the crop farmers were allowed to grow.

As the “national pie” began to shrink, people began to think of themselves in what the economist calls “pseudo-nationalist” terms: those who could trace their ancestral roots in the country said they deserved the remaining wealth.

The real solution to Ivory Coast’s political crisis lies in boosting economic growth and finding sources of export aside from cocoa, says Kacau, who has served as an advisor to a number of African countries.

“The real issue is how to we create a society which is a vibrant member of the global debate,” he says.

“We live in a global world where we have to trade, ideas, knowledge, and products and services,” he adds. “How do we make sure that we have a role within that global agenda that makes sense? If we can become relevant again economically, it will create the conditions where everyone [can] find their role, their place, within society.”

Kacau’s book, Entrepreneurial Solutions for Prosperity for Base of the Pyramid Markets, says the struggle is a common one.

It identifies what the author calls “a survival trap” -- the tendency in Africa for businesses and nations to focus on short-term crises at the expense of developing long-term strategies for prosperity.

He says governments tend to respond to their needs by setting short-term goals at the expense of long-term strategies.

“This vicious cycle,” he says, “keeps individuals poor, businesses struggling and nations under-developed.”

In the book, Kacou identifies some elements necessary for success -- the mindsets, business models and operational techniques. They are drawn from years of research and experience in low-income nations like Burundi and Rwanda, where he has been working for almost a decade.