Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Houphouet-Boigny: Behind The Ivorian Economic Growth

Ben Mensah

The Ivory Coast and Ghana are two neighbouring West African countries with spectacular differences and similarities.

The official language of the Ivory Coast is French while that of Ghana is English by virtue of the fact that the former was colonised by the French and the latter by the English. But this fundamental difference has not broken the brotherly links between the peoples of the two countries.

The Akans, the predominant ethnic group to have emanated from the same stock and point out that President Houphouet Boigny's original Akan name is Fofo (Kofi) Boahene. And his birth place is Yamoso Krom (town) instead of Yamoussoukro.

For the purpose of this article the linguistic proof of similarities between the peoples of Ivory Coast and Ghana is sufficient. The other factors of similarities such as cocoa, coffee, pineapple being the main cash crops of the two countries will rather serve to prove their differences.

For a start Ghana achieved her independence from British rule in 1957 and as the first African country south of the Sahara to have gained independence Ghanaians have never missed the opportunity to make it abundantly clear to whoever would listen about their enlightenment and advancement which compelled the British to decide to give the former Gold Coast self government while the others too made themselves ready.

The Ivory Coast got their independence in 1960 but they could not be teased by Ghanaians because the French colonial policy was different from the British.

Yet as soon as the Ivory Coast became independent at a time Ghana was on the threshold of becoming a Republic and one party state under President Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People's Party (CPP), the Ivorian President Houphouet Boigny and President Nkrumah were alleged to have entered into a competition as to whose economic policies would deliver his respective country from poverty.

The emphasis on President Nkrumah's economic policies was to build as many industries to process the country's agricultural raw materials such as cocoa and coffee instead of exporting them to Europe. President Houphouet Boigny of the Ivory Coast however chose to develop his country's cocoa and coffee farms into large scale plantations and continued to export the raw materials to Europe, particularly France.

Again President Nkrumah pursued a policy of Africanisation under which many British administrators and experts were replaced by Ghanaians while President Houphouet Boigny retained as many of the French experts as possible. Even today there are some 45,000 French expatriates and massive French commercial interests in the country.

President Nkrumah was overthrown in a coup d'etat in 1966 for reasons which have been over discussed while Houphouet Biogny has survived all intrigues and remains the Ivorian President.

Every talk today about Ghana is centred on the economic mess of that country which has resulted in an unprecedented diaspora of her people, some of whom, interestingly, serve as labourers in plantations in the Ivory Coast.

The latest World Bank economic report on Ghana states that nowhere in West Africa has the economic crisis been more acute, or indeed more chronic, than in Ghana where for the past decade exports, imports, investment and production have all been in decline.

This is not to suggest that all of President Boigny's policies have brought bliss to the Ivory Coast. Her dependence on numerous French experts has, for instance, saddled the economy with an annual repatriation to France of about 4,000 million Francs in terms of consultancy fees, salaries, company profits and trade balance.

In a recent austerity package announced by President Boigny, housing allowances to civil servants and teachers were drastically cut leading to a nation wide strike by teachers.

In one-party society where opposition to President Houphouet Boigny is muted, the strike by the teachers coalesced into a major threat to the authority of the President who for once was on the defensive and was compelled to explain the source of his millions in Swiss bank accounts.

On the continental scene, President Boigny’s flirtations with apartheid South Africa in pursuit of a dialogue policy with that racist country drew sneers for himself and his country.

The World Bank lists the Ivory Coast among only three countries in West Africa whose gross domestic product (GDP) grew at rates slightly less than the population and there is no doubt that the exceptionally long drought and bushfire which destroyed large acres of coffee and cocoa plantations contributed to this somewhat gloomy picture of the Ivorian economy.

But the evidence is overwhelming that the Ivory Coast under President Houphouet Boigny has scored an economic miracle where all her neighbours have succumbed to the international economic recession.

Her per capita income of $1,200 is the highest among all the twenty countries of the West African region, above Ghana's $ 400, Nigeria's $870, Cameroon's $880 and the Congo's $1,110.

The Ivory Coast has a population of 8½ million compared to Ghana's 12 million. Yet it has overtaken Ghana as the world's number one producer of cocoa with over 300,000 tonnes a year.

Ghana's under 250,000 tonnes constitutes over sixty percent of her exports while in the Ivory Coast coffee, cocoa and pineapple compete with each other as the country's largest export produce.

Another area of comparison is that whereas Ghana spends nearly sixty percent of her foreign exchange earnings to import oil, the Ivory Coast, as a result of sound economic policies and political stability, has been able to attract enough foreign investment into its oil exploration.

The result has not only been the discovery of oil but also self-sufficiency in petroleum products. Domestic consumption is about one and a half million tonnes per annum but this is covered by the 500,000 tonnes from Belier and a million tonnes from Espoir fields. This saves the country 150,000 million CFA.

Credit for what has been aptly referred to as the 'Ivorian Economic Miracle' goes to all the peoples of the Ivory Coast but their hard work was mobilised and harnessed by a leader whose old age has not dampened his enthusiasm and drive.

He is President Felix Houphouet Boigny, a pragmatist who led the Ivory Coast to independence from France in 1960 and celebrates his seventy-eighth birthday on October 18.

Born in central Ivory Coast in Yamoussoukro to a wealthy chief of the Baoules Houphouet Boigny was appointed Prime Minister in 1958 after serving as a cabinet Minister in six French governments. He was overwhelmingly elected first President of the country at independence and as the chairman of the sofe legal party, the PDCI-RDA which he founded in 1946, he was re-elected every five years.

Within the confines of a one-party state, more than one PDCI-RDA candidate is allowed to stand in each constituency during elections.

Houphouet Boigny maintains that there is genuine democracy in the Ivory Coast and feels that a young country with 60 different tribes, each with its own dialect and customs, can not risk a political free-for-all on western lines.

"If we imitate multi-partyism in a servile fashion, the struggle between ethnic groups will surge up afresh", he claims. In a paternalistic manner President Houphouet Boigny dismisses the succession controversy that may erupt after him and says he and the party would choose a Vice-President in their own good time. "If something happens to me tomorrow, the Ivory Coast will carry on as normal", he is reported to have said.

Perhaps the biggest reward to President Houphouet Boigny while he is alive is the decision by the national Assembly to move the country's capital from overcrowded Abidjan to the President's birthplace, Yamoussoukro.

talking drums 1983-10-17 Houphouet-Boigny Ivorian stability - Ghanaian women economic backbone or saboteurs