BY MARCEL MAGLO AND FIONA GRATHWOHL
In the very first Failed States Index (FSI) in 2005, Côte d’Ivoire was ranked as the world’s most fragile state. Sixteen years later, the country once ravaged by two civil conflicts bears little resemblance to its past when it was torn along political and ethnic lines as Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and Alassane Ouattara of the Rally of the Republicans (RDR) fought bitterly for power. Though group grievance and political tensions persist, few post-conflict countries have experienced as rapid economic recovery as Côte d’Ivoire has in recent years. As one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Côte d’Ivoire has shown similar improvements on the FSI, with a cumulative 19.5 point improvement since 2006).
During the two civil conflicts, Côte d’Ivoire was a country fraught with political instability, economic slow-down and insecurity. Several factors contributed to this situation. The fragility of the country’s institutional and governance systems rendered them unable to cope with mounting pressures surrounding issues of resource management and, in particular, land conflicts. This, in turn, fueled a political crisis where existing cleavages around ethnicity, nationality and religion were manipulated and exploited by politicians trying to gain and consolidate power. In an already sensitive socio-political environment still reeling from years of conflict, the divisive politization of identity based on national origin undermined national unity and tore through the social fabric of the once prosperous country. After ten years of civil strife, a power-sharing deal brokered between Gbagbo and Ouattara paved the way for the presidential elections of 2010. Following the highly contested ballot results that led to the demise of Lauren Gbagbo, the country again descended into chaos which culminated in a spasm of post-electoral violence causing 3,000 deaths and displacing an estimated 500,000. The rise in violence prompted the deployment of an international peacekeeping operation to de-escalate tensions and help restore peace and security. Following the withdrawal of the peacekeepers in 2017, the overall security environment has continued to improve despite the systemic challenges, a shift captured in the Security Apparatus indicator score.
Though Côte d’Ivoire’s scores on the FSI have gradually improved on most indicators between 2010 and 2019, one has stood out prominently: the Economy indicator. In the aftermath of the crisis, Côte d’Ivoire, with support from the donor community, embarked on an ambitious development agenda to reform the security sector, strengthen the rule of law, and improve its overall performance through a series of economic measures aimed at attracting foreign direct investment and boosting domestic markets while laying the foundation for a medium to a long-term growth.
The country had emerged from the crisis weakened on several fronts. However, it has made steady and remarkable strides in its economic trajectory, posting a yearly growth average of eight percent since 2012, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB). The surging economic growth has primarily been driven by domestic demand for public and private investment and external demand for primary sector export products such as cocoa beans. Improved infrastructure, sustained consumption, and economic reforms also contributed to improved business environment, making the country attractive for investment opportunities.
Despite these reforms, the Uneven Development indicator score remains high. Although the economic outlook is encouraging, the country must still contend with internal pressures driven by development challenges, rising inequality and high levels of poverty. According to World Bank data, an estimated 46.3 percent of Ivorians still lived in poverty by 2015. This is in sharp contrast with the macro level growth and the day-to-day reality of many. Far-reaching reforms and inclusive economic development approaches that can tackle the underlying causes of these structural vulnerabilities will be necessary to address these disparities and lift up the economically disadvantaged and most vulnerable members of the society.
On the political front, while the number of fatalities related to violence and insecurity in 2019 still remains very low compared to 2006, a recent rise in communal strife that rocked the western, central, and other regions of the country with a history of political tension and violence led to a worsening of the Group Grievance indicator for the first time since 2012. Some of these incidents resulted from clashes over land and access to resources, compounded by longstanding feuds between community members that degenerated into violence.
As Côte d’Ivoire is entering a critical phase to consolidate its young democracy, the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for October 2020 will test the country’s ability to remain united. The same structural vulnerabilities that gave rise to political tensions and conflict in the past could indeed rise again. Certainly, both the signing of a presidential ordinance in 2018 granting amnesty to detainees prosecuted for crimes related to the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis and the various other institutional reforms enacted to rebuild trust and participation in the political system are encouraging signs that could strengthen social cohesion and foster national reconciliation. In the short term, to preserve the once-again vibrant country, it will be incumbent on both government and civil society to work together by taking bold and pragmatic steps to consolidate Côte d’Ivoire’s impressive gains, and not allow the past to rise up again to challenge the future.