I think journalist John James has just officially declared the end of the war in the Ivory Coast. He writes:

La guerre est terminee. Les commentaires FB ivoiriens retournent vers leur sujet traditionel – les frustrations feminines que les garcons ne sont pas fideles a leurs gos.

[The war is over. Ivorian Facebook comments return to their traditional topic – female frustrations that guys are not faithful to their girlfriends.]

I mean, that’s it, it’s official, we have PEACE!


What have the Romans ever done for us?

I just came up with a new reason it’s a good idea to invest in the Ivory Coast.

That is beside:

  • A young and growing population
  • Fertile land with potential to produce more agricultural commodities than today, commodities that seem set to be in high demand in the future (at least if you listen to Jim Rogers)
  • Offshore oil with potential for expansion
  • A business friendly government, that so far seems unusually competent
  • A democratically elected president that isn’t clueless about economics
  • War fatigue, hopefully ensuring that the next 10 years will be less violent than the last 10 years.  The best vaccine against war is war
  • Debt relief coming up
  • Support and investments from the IMF, World Bank and the EU
  • Potential for a post-crisis rebound in many sectors
  • By African standards very good infrastructure that was largely unharmed by the wars
  • IMF predicting a 6% growth in 2012 and that it will hold steady to 2016

Advantage Ivory Coast

Practically all western countries have since World War II increased the complexity of rules, regulations, certificates and tax codes that business owners have to deal with.   For example the Australian (yes, it’s a western country despite its location) tax acts and regulations had 1,324 pages in 1955, but increased to a whopping 15,698 pages in 2007.

The effect of this for someone starting up a business is that it gets very difficult to keep track of all rules and regulations, one doesn’t know what’s allowed or not, paying taxes takes a long time, and many things that were allowed in 1955 or not today.

In Ivory Coast one has to deal with a weak rule of law and arbitrary law enforcement, but at least the law and tax code is short, simple and easy to understand – reminding a lot of how it was in the western world in 1955. The Ivorian department for construction has for example published a great 10 minute long video that pedagogically explains all the taxes related to real estate.

As followers of this blog know, I have bought a house in a residential area in Cocody in Abidjan, and then had two small shops built on the premise facing the street. I bet that in most western countries, this would not have been allowed due to well-meaning regulations, or allowed but with crippling restrictions after a long bureaucratic process.

A corollary to Parkinson’s Law

As to why the complexity of laws and regulations has increased, there are multiple theories. The one I like intuitively is Parkinson’s law, ie that bureaucracy grows for bureaucracy’s own sake.  Then there is a guy called Berglas that has come up with a corollary to Parkinson’s law, Berglas writes:

But writing in 1955, Parkinson could not have foreseen the massive impact that computerized automation would have in the following decades.  This paper updates Parkinson’s law with Berglas’s corollary, namely that no amount of automation will have any significant effect on the size or efficiency of a bureaucracy.

Berglas is saying that with automation a lot more bureaucratic work could indeed be done faster and more efficiently than before, but at the same time more bureacratic work could be created using up any available resources and increasing complexity. Berglas is even arguing that it’s best if software projects aiming at automating bureaucracy fails:

Fortunately the project was a complete failure, at a cost to the tax payer of a few tens of millions of dollars.

But what a disaster if it had succeeded!  Once the two hundred existing permits had been automated hundreds more permits and regulations could have been easily created and implemented efficiently.

I recommend reading the whole piece called Why It’s Important that Software Projects Fail

As for the Ivory Coast it’s not by any means immune to growing bureaucracies.   During the Houphouet Boigny years it looks like the public sector grew in just the way predicted by Parkinson’s original article published in The Economist in November 1955 (which also is recommended reading).


…we must picture a civil servant called A who finds himself overworked. Whether this overwork is real or imaginary is immaterial; but we should observe, in passing, that A’s sensation (or illusion) might easily result from his own decreasing energy-a normal symptom of middle age. For this real or imagined overwork there are, broadly speaking, three possible remedies:

(1) He may resign.
(2) He may ask to halve the work with a colleague called B.
(3) He may demand the assistance of two subordinates to be called C and D.

There is probably no instance in civil service history of A choosing any but the third alternative. By resignation he would lose his pension rights. By having B appointed, on his own level in the hierarchy, he would merely bring in a rival for promotion to W’s vacancy when W (at long last) retires. So A would rather have C and D, junior men, below him. They will add to his consequence; and, by dividing the work into two categories, as between C and D, he will have the merit of being the only man who comprehends them both.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson (1909 - 1993) Photo from 1975

What’s the damage?

Post-crisis check-up

Time for a post-crisis check up on the business.  The problem is that for the apartments in Yopougon the crisis isn’t over. They happen to be in a part of Yopougon where there is still fighting going on with remaining pro-Gbagbo militia and mercenaries.   It’s possible that they are more fighting for themselves than for Gbagbo at this stage though.

Anyhow, it means I have no idea what has happened to the apartments, or if the tenants and their families are even still alive.

Houston, we have looters

For the house and the annexed shops in Cocody at least I have the full picture.   The house went through it all unscathed, but the shop selling cooking gas had a bit of an incident. The shop closed mid-way through the crisis, but the managers left empty bottles of gas that they couldnt take with them.  These bottles were looted and in the process there was a fire that damaged the back wall of the shop.

So all in all it’s probably at least one lost month’s rent for the Yopougon apartments (I’m not going to ask them to pay for times of state of war), a wall to fix in Cocody, and a couple of months worth of lost rents from the shops that closed. Overall, not a disaster.

Most frustrating is all the lost time, and that I didn’t reach the goal for the end of 2010 set in the mission/vision post. Now though, should be a great time to make up for all that, and I have a new project coming up that I hope will increase the income stream within three months.

Les Gaous Refondateurs

To conclude, today’s best twitter quote is:

1vendeur de matériaux de construct• à Abj m’a dit q’ils ont fait fortune avec les Gaous Refondateurs. Vendu pacotille au prix fort! #civ2010

[One construction material salesman in Abidjan told me they made a fortune with the clueless pro-Gbagbo people. Sold cheap junk at high prices!]

Something tells me they don’t only do this to pro-Gbagbo people, so this is a good reminder of what one is up against when trying to build something in Abidjan.

All in

Nowhere in the world you can have that return of investment as in Africa

I just read a Wall Street Journal  interview with Mo Ibrahim, founder of Celtel and the Ibrahim prize for African leadership.

Mo Ibrahim

He’s very upbeat on investment opportunities in Africa:

Secondly, Africa had a bad reputation in business circles. Of course some African countries have issues but the vast numbers of countries are actually okay. So the perception of Africa is much worse than the reality. And whenever there is gap between perception and reality there’s a fantastic business opportunity.

That last line was one of the main themes of this blog before the whole Ivorian crisis started. I’m thinking perceptions and reality could be more out of whack than ever in the Ivory Coast at the moment, and if Ouattara manages to sort out things  – which I am cautiously optimistic about – this should be the time to go all in.

WSJ: What were the challenges with getting funding for Celtel?

Mr. Ibrahim: It was extremely difficult because the banks wouldn’t lend us money. Again banks were ruled by the same misconceptions about Africa. We had to fund the company through equity. It is a very strange way to fund a telecom company.

And even stranger way to fund a real estate company, but it was pretty good to not have any debts to service when rent payments dried up during the crisis.

WSJ: You also back a private-equity firm called Satya Capital—what are the returns like?

Mr. Ibrahim: It’s a $200 million fund. It was started about three years ago and so far we’ve probably doubled our investment—nowhere in the world you can have that return of investment as in Africa.

WSJ: Where are you putting your money?

Mr. Ibrahim: We have invested in a telecommunications satellite company called O3B focusing on the other three billion people without broadband [primarily] in Africa and we think it’s going to be a great success.

We have [also] invested in retail, financial institutions, private health, mining food, and production. This is an emerging market with a huge growth potential. It’s a place to go and make money but you need to make it honestly.

Thanks for the t-shirts!

The gunfire this morning was playing havoc with my tennis serve

Throughout this crisis I have collected witty remarks from mostly the #civ2010 twitter tag but also other sources.  The best time for this collection was around the time of the second round, when the election results just wouldn’t be proclaimed, and when everybody was declaring themselves president.

After that, with the violence starting, the mood darkened a bit, and prospective Ivorian stand-up comedians seemed to transform into non-humourous political pundits. So guys, please transform back now, it’s over, we miss you!

The only thing I’ll miss from the Gbagbo-era is the  #civ2010 thread and its twitterers

[In most cases, I never saved the source of these comments, anyone that wants to take credit, let me know!  And it helps to speak both English and French here, I’m too lazy to translate. If you don’t speak one of the languages, get a girlfriend/boyfriend that only speaks the other language, you’ll learn much faster than in school!]

#civ2010 Merci pour les t-shirts!   [Anonymous comment, thanking both election campaigns ahead of the second round voting]

Ils ont fait pleurer Dieu RT @diabymohamed: #civ2010 Grosse pluie soudaine sur Abidjan.

#civ2010 RT @Christian_Douti: wikileaks à refusé de publier les resulats des elections de CI. selon eux cest trop compliqué les affaires ivoiriennes

Also, WTF Côte d’Ivoire, release the election results already. This is turning into a Waiting for Godot situation… #civ2010

Attendre des elections presidentielles en CIV la, c’est comme attendre devant une salle d’accouchement le bebe veut pas sortir

#civ2010 Pendant que vous discutez des résultats, les extra terrestres ont décidé de venir s’installer à Abidjan

#civ2010 Exclu. j’ai oublié de vous préciser que j’ai une webcam activée à l’interieur de la CEI. 50 euros pass 1 heure

#civ2010 le couvre feu aura pour vocation d’empêcher les maris d’aller voir leurs maitresses

#civ2010 1 min Dernier appel pour le petit tout petit bakayoko. Tellement petit qu’il a disparu

C’est passionnant les élections en #civ2010. Du drame , de l’humour, de la tragédie, de la comédie, des scènes Kafkaïennes à foison !

sixtem63 la seule chose qui va me manquer de l’ère koudou c’est le fil #civ2010 et ses twitters…

#civ2010 J’ordonne au CNCA de couper cette pluie qui apporte des informations mensongères sur le temps au pays

#civ2010 Flash infos. Le père Noel donne 48h à la cote d’ivoire au risque de se voir priver de tournée de cadeaux

#civ2010 La NASA a confirmé hier que Youssouf BAKAYOKO a bien embarqué sur le vol spatial à destination de Saturne

Hope Pickass never lives in an anglophone country.

Faut laisser ca, faut laisser ca!!! NDLR: C’est pas Damana Pickass, c’est mon petit frere qui veut pas me laisser la wiimote.

Continue reading “Thanks for the t-shirts!”

The ball is in your camp President Ouattara!

Congrats President Ouattara – Time to get to work!

Some say it’s pretty clear who the bad guy is in the Ivory Coast, but they are not sure if there is a good guy. Well, now we will see!

So congratulations to President Alassane Ouattara!   I have pretty high hopes on Ouattara being a reasonably “good guy” even considering events in the west of the country.

Come on – don’t disappoint now!

Here’s what I expect from the Ouattara government:

Immediate Post-Conflict Issues:

  • Prevent any lynchings against Gbagbo and his top brass, even though this is what a majority of the RHDP grassroots (and the population of Abobo) seem to want to do. I recently listened to a woman from Abobo on Abidjan.net voice chat who said that Gbagbo and Ble Goude shouldnt be put on trial, and instead she suggested that each woman in Abobo should be allowed to slap them.
  • Put those who have ordered or committed atrocities against civilians on trial – or send them to the Hague.
  • Allow an independent investigation of the massacres in the West and allow no special treatment for pro-Ouattara soldiers.
  • Set up a truth and reconciliation committee, that also deals with crimes committed by ex-rebel forces.
  • Stop and strongly discourage any reprisal attacks against Gbagbo supporters.

Longer Term Issues:

  • Strengthen the rule of law.
  • Make it easier to succeed in business without having friends and connections in the state apparatus.
  • Respect freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and press freedom, and other basic civil liberties and political rights. I don’t want to see any journalists or opposition politicians put in jail because of expressing their opinions or exposing corruption.
  • Make appointments to the state administration based on merit, not ethnicity. And not like Gbagbo nominate incompetent friends and mistresses to important jobs, and create a tribal-controlled state.
  • While I still expect Ouattara’s Ivory Coast to have a high degree of corruption – at least don’t make it a total “our turn to eat” scenario. Keep some sort of accountability at the very top.  I don’t want to see top cadres of the RDR party suddenly becoming extremely wealthy. Or well, they are most likely going to get wealthy, but there is a big difference between having a decent road and a hospital built and taking a cut, or just sending all the money to a bank account in Switzerland and not building a functioning road or hospital at all.
  • Do something to start clearing out land and other property rights, something a la Amartya Sen maybe.  At the moment it’s too much at the whim of the Minister in charge, and subject to a very slow-moving and capricious bureaucracy. Guess the whole strengthening institutions project comes in here, and that’s long and complex stuff, that I expect to at least be started.
  • Make Ivory Coast a country that welcomes foreigners again – especially ECOWAS citizens that were, to put it mildly, badly treated by the Gbagbo regime. And how about dropping visa requirements for people from at least the developed world.  Such visas bring in a bit of money, but are a huge net loss to the Ivory Coast in terms of lost investment, lost tourism and reduced international contacts.
  • I want to see clear improvements for the Ivory Coast on the following international metrics:
  1. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report gauging civil liberties and political rights
  2. World Bank’s Doing Business report measuring business regulations.
  3. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index
  4. Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom
  5. Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index

Ethnic killings in the West

I just read a recent Human Rights Watch report covering abuses by Ouattara’s republican forces in the West during their advance. And well, it’s really bad, much worse than I thought.  It’s seems to be systematic killings and abuses against civilians of the Guere ethnic group committed by not a few bad apples, but by a large number of the republican forces.

This is not going to stop me from celebrating the fall of Gbagbo which hopefully should happen soon, but it makes it impossible to wholeheartedly celebrate Ouattara taking power.   Soro visited the West  around the time these massacres happened and according to Human Rights Watch his visit did not appear to reduce the abuses.  So, now it becomes important that a thorough investigation is made, and that pro-Ouattara soldiers don’t have impunity just because they are winning the war.

Here’s an excerpt:

In village after village investigated by Human Rights Watch, Republican Forces combatants killed, raped, and pillaged the predominantly Guéré population. The Guéré are originally from western Côte d’Ivoire and largely supported Gbagbo in last year’s election. A 47-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch that she looked on as two fighters killed her father, husband, and 10-year-old son around the family’s cocoa farm near Doké. A 32-year-old man described pro-Ouattara forces entering Diboké and opening fire on civilians as they ran out to see which side’s forces had entered, killing at least three people right in front of him. In at least 10 villages around Toulepleu and Bloléquin, villagers said they hid in the bush and watched as the Republican Forces set fire to houses and buildings used to store crops and seeds, slaughtered animals, and stole everything of value.

Shooting like donkeys

What’s up at the bunker?

Today’s quote comes from French magazine Le Point interviewing a French military officer:

“Si on me confie cette mission, les premières choses que je coupe à Gbagbo, c’est l’eau et l’électricité. Sans climatiseur, sans énergie, et sans eau, si sa résidence n’a pas de source autonome, lui et son dernier carré seront très mal…” Mais l’ex-chef d’État dispose sans doute de gros stocks d’armes et de munitions ? “Peu importe ! Ils tirent tous comme des ânes, avec des consommations énormes. Tout a une fin !”

Freely translated to:

[“If I was given this mission, the first things I would do would be to cut Gbagbo’s water and electricity. Without AC, without energy, without water, if his residence doesn’t have an autonomous source, he and his last supporters will be in trouble…” But the former head of state seems to have large stocks of arms and munitions?   It doesn’t matter!  They shoot like donkeys, with enormous consumption of ammo. Everything  has an end!”]

Latest news is that French helicopters are attacking the area around Gbagbo’s bunker again, after the French residence was (according to the embassy) received mortar shells by Gbagb forces.   Sounds like another bad move by Gbagbo, but I guess he can’t stand life going back to normal in Abidjan with him in the bunker, so he has to do something.

And the latest from Yop

In other news I talked to a friend in Yopougon who said the water and electricity was back today after six days without it.  He stayed put the entire crisis, despite being of dioula ethnicity and having his front door marked twice.  He also said that there are plenty of pro-Gbagbo militias around but that his neighbourhood is controlled by Ouattara’s forces.

So that was really great to hear actually, now suddenly it feels very real that Ouattara’s forces are in Abidjan and that things are changing.

The Franc is mightier than the Kalashnikov

Gbagbo’s remaining forces in Abidjan

In Abidjan there are plenty of disorganised pro-Gbagbo militia armed with kalashnikovs, that seem to do more pillaging than fighting Ouattara’s forces. They are quite nasty, but I’m not excessively worried about them; with no Gbagbo arming and supporting them, Ouattara’s forces should, given some time, be able to stop their activities.

On the other hand, I was beginning to worry about all the seemingly well armed and well organised pro-Gbagbo forces controlling ground outside the encircled bunker/residence area where Gbagbo is holed up.  As long as these forces are active, there won’t be peace, and economic activity will not pick up easily.

Then it struck me that those fighting for Ouattara in the Republican Forces are getting paid (except volunteers), whereas those fighting for Gbagbo are not. And Ouattara’s PM Guillaume Soro just made a call to all members of Gbagbo’s army to join the Republican Forces.  That’s pretty strong economic incentives.

Central Bank vs Army     1 – 0

Before Ouattara’s offensive, I heard reports of Gbagbo’s Young Patriots militia fighting Gbagbo’s regular army over control of roadblocks which they say provided 100,000 CFA Franc per day in bribes/toll.  So that’s an indication of the power of economic incentives.

Actually economic might vs military might is a bit of a theme of this whole conflict.  Gbagbo’s goons could and did take over buildings of financial institutions and threatened bank employees to go to work, but never managed to get the financial system to work. And it looks like Gbagbo’s near-complete demise is much linked to him running out of money.

A Dictator’s miscalculation?

Still I don’t understand why Gbagbo didn’t take some of his most loyal forces from Abidjan and sent them to the frontline.  If they could stop Ouattara’s advance in Abidjan, I reckon they could have stopped it in Toulepleu as well.

Is this a typical dictator’s error due to overconfidence and being surrounded by yes-men, or did Gbagbo have a good reason or valid impediment not to mount a stronger resistance outside Abidjan? I don’t know.

What has come to light now is that UN’s weapons embargo seems to have been quite ineffective. Gbagbo was much better equipped in armament than what was thought, and Ouattara’s forces had a hard time countering Gbagbo’s heavier weapons (before they were destroyed by UN helicopters).


UPDATE: Today’s must reads are Venance Konan’s Op-ed in New York Times and Reuter’s Tim Cocks personal experience from staying in a hotel in Abidjan attacked by Gabgbo forces.


Is the bottom nådd?

Ok, the worst could be over.  Leaving Gbagbo in the bunker and moving on is maybe not such a bad idea.  The key now will be to get rid of all armed gangs and remaining pro-Gbagbo forces and militia in the rest of Abidjan.  Then it’s back to business!

My preciouss!

I never liked the idea of letting Gbagbo go into some sort golden exile abroad. The man is like Gollum, even in exile he would never stop claiming to be the President, and keep plotting a return.  A negotiated exile would be a bit the same mistake as the end of World War I, Gbagbo and his supporters would claim that he was never beaten, that it was just a French conspiracy and possibly even keep an anti-Ouattara insurgency going.

They also have the funny faces thing in common

Now hopefully with time, people will get on with their lives and stop worrying about Gbagbo in his cave in the Misty Mountains… err I mean his bunker, and then when he eventually comes out he can be put on trial.

Nightmare getting worse instead of ending

When writing the last post I expected combats in Abidjan to be relatively quick and leading to the fall of Gbagbo, given what had happened in the other cities, and the strengthened UN mandate.

However, what’s happening now in Abidjan  is not good at all.  There seems to be a spiral of violence where not only pro-Gbagbo forces commit human rights abuses and pillaging, but also pro-Ouattara forces plus, I guess, gangs not affiliated with either side. And it seems the violence could last for a while which is devastating.

Via Chris Blattman I found a great essay called Fragments of War written by humanitarian aid worker Mark Cannavera that shows Mark’s emotions about the tragedy of the ongoing violence. Excerpt:

When my friends see armed men on the street in Abidjan, there is no way to tell who they, orwhat they are fighting for, if anything. Is it fighting? Just hooliganism? If they cannot tell eachother part, if they cannot divvy and cordon off their identities, or their ideologies, how do theyknow who to shoot? Is it all discriminate? Isn’t war always indiscriminate? Indiscriminate killing– my, that is a stupid phrase.

Some “pro-Northern” fighters arrived at my Northern friend’s temporary house yesterday. He escaped from his encounter with them with only a head wound, knocked upside the head with a Kalash. Why?

Too many questions.

Regarding pro-Ouattara forces behaving badly – I get that the ex-rebel forces can be hard to control, and that young people from a poor background with a Kalashnikov in a situation where there is chaos and little accountability are likely to do nasty things.

But I expect leadership in the pro-Ouattara camp to do all they can to rein in their forces and be very clear about what is not acceptable, and stress that individual soldiers will be held accountable.

I have not heard very much along these lines yet, so that’s a bit of a disappointment.

UPDATE: Now Ouattara’s PM Soro has talked about the massacre in Douekoue saying exactly what I was hoping for, so that’s good. Hope it’s not just words.  More in Le Figaro [in French]

The End of a Nightmare

A Thug

I have heard the following said about Stalin:  “There are many ways to describe this man, but the word evil actually fits.”

For Gbagbo I’m more thinking along the line of thug or criminal gang leader.  Gbagbo is a history professor and a well educated man, who long was seen as the democratic oppostion to Houphhouet Boigny.  However, since he came to power,  he has been upholding a facade of being a democrat and playing by the rules, whereas in practice espousing all the worst traits of African dictators on a kind of non-grand scale, more like a gang leader than a Mubutu, Bokassa or Stalin. Gbagbo’s traits:

-Xenophobia – In the promotion of Ivoirite

-Tribalism – Putting people of his own Bete ethnicity in control of security forces and key roles within the public administration, and not quite trusting other ethnic groups. Dictators such as Stalin, Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein created a state of fear even among their closest men, as they could at a whim have persons who had been loyal to them many years assassinated. Gabgbo on the other hand (and I got to give him this) was entirely loyal to his tribe to the point of distancing supporters of other ethic groups such as house speaker Mamadou Coulibaly.

-Corruption and nepotism – Revelations of public funds stashed away abroad by Gbagbo’s inner circle are surfacing, and there are many stories of cushy jobs given to mistresses of Gbagbo and his closest men. Generally, an already bad corruption situation got worse during Gbagbo’s rule.

-Political violence – directed against any opposing voices to his power from journalists to demonstrators to comedians

-Genocidal tendencies – encouraging and assisting loyal militia groups to kill northerners and foreigners from ECOWAS countries

-No real efforts of nation building or vision beyond ensuring he and his inner circle stay in power and live a life in luxury

Scarface ending?

So now that Gbagbo is set to leave power within days or even hours, it feels like the end of a nightmare and soon time to start celebrating before starting to worry about the challenges that lie ahead.

Unfortunately it looks like some of Gbagbo’s militia and armed forces, and maybe even Gbagbo himself have chosen a Scarface ending.  Hopefully it will end soon without too many innocent victims and damage to Abidjan.

—————————————— “Say hello to our little friends”     ———————————Elements of the Republican Forces of the Ivory Coast loyal to Ouattara