This week Ivory Coast signed a nearly $525 million compact grant with the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, money that will be spent over a five-year period to spur economic growth in the West African country and promote regional stability and security.
The Ivorian government will contribute $22 million to the various projects designed to support growth and private investment by building up workers' skills and reducing transportation costs.
“The money in education will be used to build classrooms to improve skills, because youth employment is an objective of the government, and it will invest in the transport of Abidjan because Abidjan is a city of 6 million people, and it’s congested and we need to find ways to improve the fluidity of movement in Abidjan,” Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara told VOA.
In a signing ceremony at the U.S. State Department, Jonathan Nash, the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s acting CEO, said a lack of training for workers has constrained the Ivorian economy.
“We’ll focus on improving basic literacy and numeracy skills in secondary education, complemented by an innovative technical and vocational training model closely linked with the actual needs of the private sector,” he said.
Active in nearly 50 countries, MCC was established by former President George W. Bush and has over the years benefited from bipartisan support. The agency works with developing countries that have committed to good governance and economic freedom among other benchmarks.
After passing only five of 20 policy indicators in 2013, the Ivorian government adopted MCC's scorecard as its road map for reform and it was not until 2015 that the nation met the agency’s demands to qualify for this grant.
Nash said this compact is expected to benefit 11 million people and is really about “opportunity for education, training, access, jobs -- all of which are critical, especially in a country where more than half of the population is under age 24.”
Only seven years ago, the Ivory Coast endured a deep political crisis when then-President Laurent Gbagbo was forcibly removed from office after refusing to accept the result of presidential elections won by Ouattara. But since 2012, the country has had one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, with annual GDP growth of about 9 percent.
Ouattara, the former Central Bank Governor and IMF executive, said discipline is key to maintaining this kind of growth.
“Good macro-economic policies, solid macro-economic framework that will attract foreign investments, and, if you have good governance and your money is used in the priority sectors, obviously this leads to growth.”
That growth has put a strain in the country’s power supplies, however.
Ivory Coast started producing power last week that will boost the country's electricity output by more than 10 percent. The new hydroelectric plant near the southwestern city of Soubre was financed by a $500 million low-interest loan from China's Export-Import Bank.
A day after the plants inauguration, however, the entire country experienced a power outage.
President Ouattara said the outage was caused by a minor technical problem and was repaired quickly.
“We now produce 2,000 megawatt of electricity, which is quite large; it’s half of the production of Nigeria, which has six or seven times the population of Cote D’Ivoire,” Ouattara said.
At Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, Ouattara noted that, as the world’s top cocoa and raw cashew nut exporter, Ivory Coast needs to be more aggressive on the processing side.
“We produce 40 percent of the world’s cocoa yet we only process about 30 percent. We are the first world producer of cashew nuts, yet we only process less than 10 percent," he said.
He said another challenge is the fight against terrorism. He recalled the deadly attack last year in the town of Grand Bassam and pleaded for more coordination and support for his country and the newly established G5 Sahel counterterrorism group.