Source: EL PAIS
The country is hosting the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament 13 years after a bloody civil war that crippled the nation
Just 13 years ago, Ivory Coast was torn apart by a bloody civil war. On January 13, in Abidjan, the city once plagued by violence, President Alassane Ouattara inaugurated the African Cup of Nations (CAN). This event will not only showcase African soccer but also the amazing economic turnaround of Ivory Coast. With an investment of around $4.56 billion, the country has improved its infrastructure, including stadiums, roads, and lodging. The country anticipates two million visitors for the CAN tournament, aiming to showcase its reliability and safety while solidifying its position as an economic power in West Africa.
“Quantifying the CAN’s impact may be challenging, but it will yield positive results for the country’s infrastructure and reputation as an attractive investment destination,” said Moutiou Nourou, the Abidjan coordinator for the Ecofin information agency. “New roads have improved access to isolated areas and eased traffic in crumbling cities. Affordable real estate developments are emerging, benefiting the services sector. Our country is attracting growing interest from large foreign companies.”
Six soccer stadiums, roads, airports, hospitals, and hotels have been built or renovated in the five cities hosting the tournament: Abidjan, Buaké, Korhogo, San Pedro, and the capital, Yamoussoukro. The government invested $1.09 billion and the country received a loan of $3.47 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to host what President Alassane Ouattara calls “the most beautiful Africa Cup of Nations in history… that will achieve a resounding success to bring even more glory to our country.”
The current state of euphoria is built on strong economic foundations. According to the World Bank, Ivory Coast’s gross domestic product (GDP) has risen from less than $43 billion in 2013 to nearly $70 billion today. With an annual growth rate of 6%-7%, the country is on track to become the region’s second-biggest economy after Nigeria. This progress is largely due to the stability regained after the 2010-2011 civil war, alongside the export success of coffee, cocoa, and oil. As a result, Ivory Coast has become a prime investment destination in West Africa. Trust is the most frequently used word about the country, and its main objective in hosting the CAN is to showcase the country’s favorable business climate to the world.
CAN matches will be televised in 155 countries, and more than 5,000 journalists have been accredited to report on the 24 teams competing. Local companies have also jumped on the bandwagon. Dabali Xpress is a fast food company started in 2021 by Olivia Akouba Angola. Its remarkable success has led to its being chosen as the official food provider for CAN spectators in every stadium. Shortly after being selected, the company raised $1.6 million to enhance its capabilities. Known for local dishes delivered quickly to your doorstep, Dabali Xpress exemplifies the economic dynamism of the Ivory Coast.
Ivory Coast’s main challenge is for its newfound wealth to trickle down to everyone. From 2015 to 2020, the poverty rate decreased from 46% to 39%, indicating a significant portion of the population still faces severe challenges. In cities like Abidjan, the high cost of living is a common complaint due to inflation hovering around 4%. The impact of Covid-19 and the Ukraine war has exacerbated inflation in recent years. The government announced a 10% hike in electricity rates after the CAN, which is increasingly burdensome for those living on the edge. “Despite the progress made, we still have significant inequalities that persist. Addressing them through social measures continues to be a challenge,” said Nourou. While there are concerns about the country’s foreign debt (60% of GDP in 2022), the country is far from defaulting thanks to strong backing from the IMF.
France’s steadfast support
Unlike its neighboring countries Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, which have increased military cooperation with Russia after their respective coups d’état, Ivory Coast remains France’s last major ally in West Africa and is home to 900 French soldiers. While the northern border is threatened by Sahelian jihadism attacks, the overall sense in the country is one of security. The country has also been slowly recovering from the decade-long internal division that was not fully resolved after the civil war ended in 2011. After being acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, former president Laurent Gbagbo’s peaceful return to the country in 2021 helped heal more wounds.
Last October, President Ouattara appointed Robert Beugré Mambé, a Methodist preacher and civil engineer, as prime minister and put him in charge of overseeing preparations for the CAN tournament. Mambé was given the important responsibility of building and improving stadiums, roads, and bridges, leaving a significant legacy for Outtarra with elections scheduled for 2025 and the 82-year-old, three-term president considering retirement. In the coming weeks, Ivory Coast will capture the attention of the entire African continent, but this time it won’t be because of war.
THE AUTHOR: JOSÉ NARANJO