A Comparison with Australia

Reality Check

Looking at the Ivorian government budget, I thought it would interesting to compare it to a developed country.  To avoid adjusting for population size, I checked if there were any developed countries with about the same population as the Ivory Coast:

Turns out Australia at 22.9 million comes very close.  The latest available budget for Australia is for 2010-2011 (the one for 2012-2013 is published tomorrow) and the total budget size is 356 billion aussie dollar which, using the current AUD/EUR exchange rate, is equivalent to 276.8 billion euro.

The 2012 budget for the Ivory Coast on the other hand comes in at 3.16 trillion CFA Franc which is 4.8 billion euro. That makes the Australian budget 57 times greater than Ivory Coast’s.

So there we have it, while the gap between the developed and developing world is narrowing, especially for indicators such as life expectancy or child mortality, there is still a pretty big gap in economic terms, at least for Sub-Saharan Africa.

I kind of like budget figures, because they are much more precise than GDP.  I looked at GDP as well, and I would have expected a smaller gap there as tax collection in the Ivory Coast captures a smaller part of the economy than in Australia leading to a smaller budget.  However, the Australia – Ivory Coast GDP gap using IMF figures turned out to be about the same as the  budget gap.  Explanations could be that I’m only looking at the federal level in Australia – not including regions, that Ivory Coast’s budget is augmented by support from international bodies and/or that Ivory Coast’s GDP is underestimated.

Receipts and Expenses

Looking at tax receipts, Australia took in 302 B AUD (234.8B EUR) in 2011, whereas the Ivory Coast budgets to bring in 1949 B CFA Franc (2.97 B EUR) in 2012. That makes Australia’s receipts 79 times greater.

Here’s where the receipts (largest categories) came from:

The thing is income tax, company tax and VAT only touch the formal economy in the Ivory Coast, whereas everybody have to pay import and export duties. With time I would expect Ivorian receipts starting to look more like the Australian.

Now for expenses (largest categories):

Australia’s profile is pretty typical for a modern western liberal democracy, with the welfare sector dominating expenses.  First I didn’t find anything at all resembling social security in the Ivorian budget, but at the end there was a small “Affaires sociales” post with contributions to orphans, social centers, war victims, but most of it to administration.

Going back 100-200 years the budgets of western countries looked more like present day Ivory Coast than Australia. (See US historical budgets in the Customs post.)  What’s remarkable about the Ivory Coast budget, and sets it apart from 19th century US budgets, are the investments – in among other things the third bridge over the Abidjan lagoon.   Despite the Australian budget being 57 times greater, Ivory Coast’s investments are actually comparable to the Australian ones in absolute numbers. And that should be a good sign for the future!

Flights to Abidjan May 2012

Europe to Abidjan

I’ve been looking at flights from Europe to Abidjan.  Basically if you want a single ticket to Abidjan – and not do  more adventurous stuff like flying to Accra and taking the bus from there – you’ll have to pass by one of these cities:

Addis Abeba

There are direct flights between Beirut and Abidjan as well, but the route appears to cater for the Lebanese community and it doesn’t seem to be possible to buy a Western Europe – Beirut – Abidjan ticket.

Here are the cheapest economy prices I found from some European cities with an outbound flight in May and return in June:

Continue reading “Flights to Abidjan May 2012”

Encouraging Signs 2

I’ve been collecting encouraging signs coming out of the Ivory Coast lately, and couldn’t help noticing a few not so good signs as well. First the good news:

Privatisation/liquidation of Banks

In the end of January Ivory Coast’s President Ouattara said that four Ivorian state owned banks “only existed  to finance certain political leaders”, and opened up for them to be closed down or privatised. “If we (the state) should own a Bank it should respond to a specific objective or be liquidated progressively.” Ouattara said.

Source: L’Inter: Depuis Paris, le chef de l`Etat annonce la privatisation des banques publiques

Now what actually happens is a much stronger encouraging sign compared to what politicians say, so this is to be followed up on.

Even countries at the top of the Transparency International Corruption Index have problems with corruption at state owned enterprises, so how the Ivory Coast deals with these kind of things matters for grand corruption. Just the fact that Ouattara is frank about how these banks operated is an encouraging sign. I can imagine a situation where someone in Ouattara’s position would have kept the Banks going just like before, but for the benefit of himself and his inner circle instead of the previous regime.

Liberalisation of the Media

According to an AFP story from the beginning of March, the ivorian government plans to offer licences for 5 new private TV-channels to complement the public RTI and RTI2 channels.

Again, this is politicians speaking of what’s going to happen in the future and not something that has happened, but I see media and especially TV as a bellwether for authoritarian tendencies.  One of  Putin’s first priorities when coming to power was to stop a  humour show making fun of Russia’s politicians, and after that he proceeded to make all major tv-channels propaganda arms for the government, while still allowing critical voices in print media.

Gbagbo actually had a policy similar to Putin’s. Gbagbo was forced to allow opposition voices on the TV in the run-up to the 2010 elections due to UN pressure and the peace process, but when the result were out, national TV was straight away turned into a pro-Gbagbo propaganda machine and foreign cable channels were blocked, while opposition newspapers weren’t dealt with as quickly.

Guess it’s a dictator’s calculation that few people read newspapers and that TV is a much more efficient tool to reach the masses. So if a leader works on creating five new private TV channels – it’s a good sign. Someone with authoritarian tendencies would instead focus on controlling the existing TV channels.

More flights to Abidjan

Here’s a very concrete encouraging sign for the Ivorian economy: Brussels Airlines announced in the beginning of March that they will increase the frequency of flights from Brussels to Abidjan from 4 per week to 7 per week.

Praise from the IMF

The biggest positive news came from the IMF on the 15th of March.  Essentially, the IMF said the Ivorian economy is stronger than expected, that execution of the budget was above expectation, that good progress was made on various reforms and that conditions for the  IMF-World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) scheme were met. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard such a positive statement from the IMF.

Here’s the Reuters story about it:

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Ivory Coast’s economy will grow 8 percent in 2012 after contracting 5.1 percent in 2011, on stronger-than-expected post-conflict recovery, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday after meeting with Ivorian authorities.

The IMF also said the world’s top cocoa-growing nation has made progress in reforming its cocoa sector, a key condition which would enable it unlock debt relief under the IMF-World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) scheme by June.

“The rate of economic growth for 2012 will be 8 percent and inflation below 2 percent,” IMF mission chief in Ivory Coast Doris Ross told journalists after the meeting.

“The economic recovery is stronger than expected and we are pleased with the efforts made in the reform of the cocoa sector,

and mission appreciates the execution of the 2011 budget and revenue growth in 2012,” Ross said.

Ross confirmed the World Bank’s view, which said in February that the reform of the cocoa sector, meant to provide farmers with a minimum price for their produce, was on track.

“Ivorian authorities have made considerable efforts and could benefit from a substantial debt reduction through the HIPC in June,” Ross said.

Emerging markets strategist at Standard Bank Samir Gadio said the IMF’s suggestion that the HIPC completion point could be reached by June was good news because the market had factored in the possibility of a delay over the reforms which have not been fully implemented.

He added that the good news, as well as the smooth power shift in the country with the appointment of a new prime minister, contributes to making “the upward price trend of the Ivorian Eurobond … virtually self-fulfilling.”

And from pro-government newspaper Le Patriote [in French]:

Elle a souligné que les autorités ont accompli des progrès considérables dans la réalisation des déclarations des déclencheurs relatifs au point d`achèvement. Et l`aboutissement pourrait servir de base pour l`atteinte du point d`achèvement Ppte d`ici fin juin 2012 et permettra à la Côte d`Ivoire de bénéficier d`un allègement global de sa dette. « Les résultats économiques en 2011 ont été mieux que prévus. (…) L`exécution du budget a aussi été mieux que prévue. Les dépenses sont restées dans la limite des objectifs fixés dans le budget et les allocations pour les dépenses d`investissement et de lutte contre la pauvreté ont été utilisées dans leur totalité. Tous les critères de réalisation quantitatifs pour fin décembre au titre de l`accord Fec ont été respectés. », a relevé Doris Ross. Précisant que de “ bons progrès ont ét réalisés dans l`avancement des réformes structurelles“. « La mission se félicite de l`achèvement du recensement dans la Fonction publique, l`approbation de la reforme du régime de retraite dans le secteur privé, la mise en place de tribunaux commerciaux, l`adoption de la loi sur l`exécution des décisions d`arbitrage et la création de centres de facilitation aux entreprises », a déclaré Ross.

Less encouraging signs

As to the bad news, nothing really serious, but worth mentioning:

-Ouattara started out imposing strict work hours with an early start for his ministers.  Now it seems – according to a second hand account – that it wasn’t possible to enforce an early start in the long run, and that the government has gone back to starting the work day later.  Also, I don’t think anything came out of the plan to give government ministers individual marks. Ok, maybe it wasn’t as good an idea as it originally sounded, but it would have been interesting to see.

-In handling the informal sector, my take is that the Ivorian government should strive to legalise, establish property rights and regulate it (lightly). I don’t have much data yet, but there seems to have been occasions where livelihoods of people in the informal sector have simply been destroyed by the government. It’s done for arguably good reasons like public health, but it’s still a worrisome sign.  Here’s one story from Reliefweb: Côte d’Ivoire: Livelihoods lost to bulldozers

-The transport sector reforms.  I’ve already mentioned the proposed import restrictions, but it also seems the government want private businesses in the transport sector to get subsidised loans to import new cars of a certain brand  (Mercedes) selected by the government. Apparently the Minister for transport Gaoussou Toure visited a Mercedes plant in Stuttgart  in Germany recently. I think there just isn’t enough purchase power for urban transport in Abidjan to support taxis and woro-woros being expensive new Mercedes. If the government pays for it by subsidising loans – well, it seems a waste of money compared to use older (but still good and environmentally sound) cars.

Also this whole reform sounds like a French style “dirigiste” plan for the government to manage and run private sector activities, which in Africa (and elsewhere) quite often end up in corruption and disaster.

I’m still kind of hoping that the Mercedes are only for bus or minibus use, and that public transport will be strengthened, but that the taxi / woro-woro business will be left mostly alone. The details are not yet clear.

Chicken Republic

Can’t tire of African entrepreneurship stories

I just read an unusually interesting and inspiring story in CP-Africa and CNBC Magazine about  Nigerian entrepreneur Deji Akinjanju, who built a multi-million dollar fast-food empire from scratch in 10 years:

Setting up a food-retailing business and moving into what he [Akinjanju] calls “the chicken space” has happened in a roundabout fashion. “It was manufacturing and retailing businesses that initially interested me. But then the idea of fast food came up and it seemed like the obvious thing to do.” His degree in the US and masters in the UK, followed by consultancy experience at Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) in London taught him to “analyse and reason” and “learn from mistakes” – and he got practical experience from his first business based out of Johannesburg, supplying UN survival kits in Burundi and Rwanda.


As he leaves the restaurant to watch his beloved Arsenal football team play Chelsea on TV, he reflects on how far he’s come. “I left Nigeria at 18 and came back at 34. Since then I do believe I’ve created a brand that stands for something strong. It’s not just about number of outlets. I’m chasing happy customers, happy investors and real service quality.”

After 16 years in the United Kingdom, Deji Akinyanju returned home to found one of Nigeria’s most successful food retailers.“I felt driven to go back and make an impact,” he said on his decision to return home.”It was at the time of transition from military rule to democracy and I wanted to help build an entrepreneurial private sector.”

Today, 42 year old Akinyanju heads one of Nigeria’s fastest growing retail chains valued at about $120 million. With about $2 million (N320 million) in seed funding raised from family and friends, he initially had a franchise deal with Chicken Licken, South Africa but quickly established his own brand Chicken Republic.

But he admits he has learnt most on the job, drawing on his own doggedness to carry him through the tough times. “When I started, I didn’t have much experience. If you have passion, the rest is easy to learn, but you can’t teach somebody to be passionate.”

When reading this, my first reaction is Hey, I can do this in the Ivory Coast!   Akinjaju was at about the same age as me when he started, and just like Nigeria a decade ago the Ivory Coast has recently seen a big improvement in governance.  Though, I’ll admit the $2 million seed fund from friends and family is tough to match, and there are many smart people who have tried to set up fast-food retailers in Africa and failed:

From an article about KFC in http://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com:

“We have seen a number [of our] competitors go into markets in Africa and loose a bunch of money and withdraw. Some of the bigger South African brands have gone in, paid some very significant schools fees, and then had to either withdraw or scale down their operations … The potential in Africa is enormous, but you got to be very thoughtful, and go about it the right way.”

It seems to be working out for KFC though:

Around 2007, KFC earnestly started to consider opportunities in the rest of the continent. Keith Warren  [Managing Director of KFC Africa] says that Nigeria, with its population of over 150 million people, was a natural choice. And in December 2009, KFC opened its first branch in Lagos.

According to Warren, KFC was very well received in Nigeria. “Our original development plans for Nigeria were quite conservative, and within six weeks, I was [in discussion] with the franchisees, and they were saying, ‘Forget that, we are now going to build as many stores as we possibly can’. We are finding that the only limiting factor we’ve got in Nigeria right now is actually chicken supply, and finding suppliers who are able to meet our global quality standards in sufficient quantity.”

Chicken Farming

The chicken supply issue is very interesting indeed. Akinjanju and his Chicken Republic is having the same problem, and is now setting up a large chicken farm in Nigeria:

Akinyanju turned supply challenges into opportunity and, in a business epiphany, the company has just invested in its first production capacity, opening a chicken farm 200km south of Lagos.

The plant will supply his restaurants as well as supermarkets and such is the demand for chicken in Nigeria, Akinyanju is focused on becoming the country’s largest poultry distributor, supplying cheap chicken to the masses. Demand – which is growing as national eating habits shift and more poor people climb the economic ladder – way outstrips supply because of strict import restrictions designed to help nurture a domestic industry. “There is an unbelievable shortage of chicken in the country,” he says. “The Nigerian market is three times as big as South Africa’s yet South Africa’s largest chicken factories produce 3 million birds a week. In Nigeria it is just 100,000.”

The Ivory Coast is lowering import duties on chickens, but it’s the same story there with small scale producers, and an increasing demand from a growing economy and a growing population.  The fast food space isn’t as developed in the Ivory Coast as in Nigeria, but it seems set to inevitably follow suit.

Akinjanju says he  sees demand to open maybe 300-500 outlets in Nigeria and expand in other African countries. He says he sees a cultural change happening daily with a large and growing younger population eating out more and more.

Hear him speak in this video:

Avoiding Fraud

Rule #1: Don’t Lose Money   Rule #2: Don’t Forget Rule No #1

I think the no 1 reason for small scale  investments in Africa made by people living outside Africa to fail, isn’t poor infrastructure, political risks or red tape, but dishonesty on the side of the person managing things locally in Africa.

I’ve heard many stories of people getting ripped off by their partner in Africa. And it isn’t primarily a story of Africans fooling naive European investors. Most people that I know that invest like me in Africa, are Africans living in Europe, and most of them let family members manage their investments, but even then things can, and do go wrong.  When talking business with Africans in the diaspora, how to avoid your local partner taking your investment for his own benefit is always a major topic, and everybody seem to have stories of (extended) family members being dishonest with them.

I actually tried to tackle the issue of  how this problem can be so prevalent  in one of my first posts called The Issue of Trust.

Some specific advice

Regarding how to avoid fraud, here are a few ideas:

  • Don’t entrust all your investments to a single person. It’s not only about not having all eggs in the same basket. With a smaller size of the investment the risk/reward equation for dishonesty gets better.
  • Go to Africa often and check on your investments. Many Africans living abroad don’t go back for decades – and that makes the risk of behaving badly diminish for the local partner.
  • Minimize envy – this is what Africans in the diaspora have told me about handling family members –  don’t let them know about all your investments, only the ones they manage, and pay them decently. Seeing that your half-brother living in Europe is very successful while you are not, and handling his money, makes for a dangerous combination.
  • Divide up the investment in small amounts.  One big amount increases the temptation for dishonesty.
  • Require the local partner to transfer profits to you frequently. I have an Ivorian bank account where those that manage my investments can deposit cash, and I can check on the account through online banking.
  • Work with a law firm that can act directly on the ground if there is a problem. A big part of the fraud problem are weak legal systems across Africa combined with norms that include some toleration of white collar crime. With the new government in the Ivory Coast my trust in the Ivorian legal system has improved, and think there is a similar effect on ordinary Ivorians.  People know that laws matter more than before, and if you are dealing with someone who has a law firm working for them, being dishonest is taking a great risk.
  • Have contracts and keep things in the formal sector.  Otherwise the benefits of there being a reasonably functioning legal system aren’t very big. That’s given that there is a reasonably functioning legal system of course – in some places one might be better off in the informal sector.
  • Conduct very careful selection of partners where honesty and integrity is a key criteria. Having known someone for a long time so a track record is built up  is the best way I know to judge a man’s (or woman’s) integrity. Apparently there are some studies showing that the width of a man’s face matters for trustworthiness, which is interesting but I’m not sure if it’s very useful.
  • Choose partners that already have an income or some wealth. Incentives to be fraudulent for someone who has nothing are much stronger than for other people.
  • As Ronald Reagan said: “Trust but verify”.  I have someone who independently checks – in a friendly way – on the work of those who manages the investments.

Yes, it has happened to me

Since I started investing in the Ivory Coast I have been the victim of fraud twice, in both cases due to dishonest workers on the Cocody house. One builder that stole building material, and this year a carpenter that took an advance but didn’t do any work.  Fortunately none of it had any major impact on investments, but it’s two good reminders to be careful.

Import limits on used cars

I’m saying it again: Come on Ouattara, don’t disappoint now!

There’s been a lot of good news and propositions coming out of the Ivorian government, but think I’ve just found a bad one.  And it’s something that affects my business:  It seems the Ivorian government intends to introduce a ban on importing used cars older than a certain age.  The government seems to be aiming to set the limit to 5 years whereas the transport industry wants it raised to at least 10 years.

Quite a lot of West African countries have these kind of restrictions, from a quick surf I see:

Senegal – 5 years since 2003

Guinea – 5 years since 2011 

Ghana – No limit but penalty fees for cars older than 10 years (just like in the Ivory Coast right now)

Nigeria – 15 years (according to the Import prohibition list of the Nigeria customs) It seems that they started with a 5 year limit in 2001 and then progressively increased it.

The case for a restriction

The thinking behind these restrictions seems to be:

  • National pride – not wanting their country to be a dumping ground for old cars from the developed world
  • Aesthetics – a wish to make their country look better with more new cars on the roads
  • Environment – old cars pollute more
  • Congestion – with less cars imported, congestion on the roads could be mitigated

and maybe:

  • Protectionism – even if there is no domestic car industry, the limit could be an attempt to promote one or at least promote domestic assembly of car parts

The case against

And here’s why I still think these import restrictions don’t make much sense:

  • Cars up to 5 years old are expensive – a vast majority of Ivorian citizens can not afford them. A small elite that can afford new cars (and don’t use taxis) won’t be affected, but transport costs for everybody else will increase, thus increasing poverty, and reducing mobility and business activity.
  • Public transport in Abidjan is very limited, and has to a large degree been replaced by Woro-Woros (Taxis taking multiple passengers on a hop-on hop-off basis along a set route).  With a 5 year limit, the return on importing a Woro-woro is so low that it doesn’t make economic sense to import cars to make Woro-Woros. So that would mean game over on expanding my taxi business in it’s current form. Also, transport costs would go up as the supply of Woro-Woros grind to a halt making basic transportation unaffordable for some Abidjan residents.
  • But prices won’t go up so much so it makes sense to import 5 year old cars, due to the existing car park.  A limit actually causes old wrecks to be more valuable, so everybody will keep patching up the existing cars as long as possible. Contrary to the intention of the import restriction, the car park is likely to get older, nullifying any pride, aesthetic, or environmental benefits. You kind of get a Cuba situation (though Cuba happened to have quite beautiful cars prior to Castros revolution).
  • The elite that can afford new cars aren’t likely to buy many small Toyotas, so there won’t be a trickle down of cheaper cars suitable for taxi service.
  • It will create incentives for smugglers and for corruption of custom officers.
  • Government revenue through import duties will go down  as fewer cars will be imported – and as mentioned in the Customs post import duties is a very important part of government revenue.  Admittedly though,  the Ivorian government is also proposing to reduce import duties which I think is a good thing, but does contributes to reduce revenue.

All in all it’s a bit like a tax that – like all taxes – has a negative effect on people that pay it (in this case ordinary Ivorians paying for transport) but that instead of increasing revenue to the government does the opposite.  The only positive thing I can see is that it’s likely to mitigate the trend of increasing congestion in Abidjan a bit.

Senegal has had a strictly imposed 5 year limit for quite a while now. Here are some of the reactions to it I’ve picked up on Senegalese Internet forums:  [Sorry about the French, too tired to translate now]

Voila un système qui en fait provoque le contraire de ce qui est prévu. Qui au Sénégal a les moyens de se payer une voiture de moins de 5 ans? Qui ? Une certaine élite voila. Donc le résultat est que en fait les propriétaires de vielles bagnoles continuent de les rafistoler étant donné qu’ils n’ont pas les moyens de s’en acheter une autre et c’est en fait cela qui contribue à donner cette image de parc automobile poubelle.

Avec cette loi, la moindre poubelle vaut une fortune. Le Sénégal est le  pays d’Afrique de l’ouest où le parc auto est en aussi mauvais état

la seule motivation etait que Wade veut prèserver ses actions et celles de sa famille dans l’usine de montage à thies vos appreciations sont fausses vous confondez le confort de vos gros cylindre avec les vèhicules morgue roulante sur nos routes.le renouvellement de notre parc automobile se fait à deux niveaux, les riches et voleurs, ils n’ont pas de problème car l’augmentation des voitures neuves ne concerne que la minoritè riche de la societè mais fait un tour dans nos garages et l’interieur ,tu te rendras compte qu’il y’a un apprauvissement de notre parc automobile

le renouvellemt de nos vehicules ne se fera jamais de l’interieur seulement 5% des senegalais ont les moyens de par leur revenus de se tapper un vèhicule neuf et autre echec les accidents deviennent de plus en plus cruels

vous parlez de cette mesure de limitation des voitures importèes, pour moi c’est une grande BETISE, le senegal ne fabrique pas voiture, et ces dernieres coutent maintenant tres chères là bas, essayez de prendre un taxi 90% des taxis,une fois dedans tu pries pour arriver chez toi sans problème

Sensing a new trend

Oui, on va rentrer

In the last six months when talking to Ivorians and Africans in general living in Europe, it seems like everybody is seriously planning on returning to Africa for good.  Two or three years ago I didn’t at all hear the same talk, so it looks like a new trend.

And it makes a lot of sense with a stagnating (at best) European economy and many African economies doing better than at any time since independence.  Also, if you are reasonably well off, there are plenty of business opportunities as well as advantages in terms of lifestyle (weather, childcare, affordability of maids etc) when living in Africa. On top of that I think issues such as hidden xenophobia and a sense of feeling snubbed contribute to incentives to moving to Africa.

What’s surprised me recently is hearing several Ivorians living in Europe for over 10 years, with good jobs, children growing up in Europe, and European passports, having moved to Abidjan or saying they are planning a permanent move. One said he was happy to switch from going up early to go to work in the cold and rain, to having his own business and own office in Abidjan.

Temporary Migration

All of this doesn’t mean less people will want to emigrate out of Africa though.  With Africa getting wealthier, I believe emigration will actually increase as the effect of more people having the means to emigrate is greater than the effect of increased number of people wealthy enough not to have economic incentives to emigrate.  Difference in average living standards between a growing Africa and a stagnating developed world will still be large enough to push migration for quite some time. (Though more Africans may choose to go to Asia instead of Europe in the future.)

What’s happening is that migration is temporary and circular. Philippe Legrain explains it well in an Economist article entitled Moving out, on and back:

“Circular” migration, in which people come and go between destinations, is on the rise, as is “on-migration”, where a migrant moves first from China to Canada, say, and then on to America. OECD researchers reckon that at least 19% of migrants who arrived in America at the turn of the millennium had left for other destinations five years later. On-migration is also common among migrants from Africa and Asia. Europeans, for their part, tend to live abroad for only a limited time.

“The notion that migration is a one-way movement of permanent settlement is outdated. Most of it is temporary—and it’s time the debate about immigration recognised this reality,” argues Philippe Legrain, an analyst of immigration and the author of “Aftershock”, a recent book analysing economic changes in the wake of the financial crash.

Far from disappearing in the wake of the crash, Ms Sumption says, migration is still “a sensible long-term investment for many people.” Although hard times may change migrants’ destinations, they do not sap the will to move in search of a better life. This is good news: migrants did not contribute to the economic crisis, and they may yet help to overcome it.

Our current release schedule does not include the Ivory Coast

A typical release is planned many months in advance,  and regrettably, your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition

On the online banking website of the bank where Im a customer, you can send money to Burkina Faso, Togo and even to “US Minor Outlaying Islands” which according to Wikipedia have no permanent residents. However, you cannot send money to the Ivory Coast.

In March 2010 I asked them about it and got the following answer:

Apologies for the delay in coming back to you on your query. I have investigated this with our International Payments area and have been advised that currently there are EU and US sanction in place against Ivory Coast. Until such time as these sanctions are relaxed there will be no option to make a payment to this country using Internet Banking.

Since the sanctions are gone, but the Ivory Coast is still not on the drop down menu for international payments I emailed them last week and got the following response:

Dear Martin,

Thank you for your email. I acknowledge that currently the Internet Banking website does not offer the International Payment facility to the Ivory Coast.

I assure you that we endeavour to meet the needs of our customers and continually benchmark our product offering against our competitors. We operate a scheduled release system for updating Internet Banking. A typical release is planned many months in advance, unfortunately our current release schedule does not include the addition of the Ivory Coast for International Payments.

However, thank you for your feedback. We have taken note of  your suggestion and will submit it for inclusion in our future Release Plans.

Yup, that’s a lovely bureaucratic answer. My local bank is clearly not owned by Richard Branson, and  I can start seeing where Douglas Adams got inspiration for the Vogons in the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

People of Earth, your attention, please. This is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council. As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system. And regrettably, your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Earth minutes. Thank you.

There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for 50 of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now. … What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs, that’s your own lookout. Energize the demolition beams.

Letting Entrepreneurs Create Wealth

Hackers and Painters

I’m currently immersed in a book I got for Christmas, Hackers and Painters – Big Ideas from the Computer Age by Paul Graham. It’s in parts absolutely brilliant and, even better, I think I can connect it to the Ivory Coast without too much of a stretch.

From the chapter “How to make Wealth”:

Making wealth is not the only way to get rich. For most of human history it has not even been the most common. Until a few centuries ago, the main sources of wealth were mines, slaves and serfs, land and cattle, and the only ways to acquire these rapidly were by inheritance, marriage, conquest, or confiscation. Naturally wealth had a bad reputation.

Two things changed. The first was the rule of law. For most of the world’s history, if you did somehow accumulate a fortune, the ruler or his henchmen would find a way to steal it. But in medieval Europe something new happened. A new class of merchants and manufacturers began to collect in towns. Together they were able to withstand the feudal lord. So for the first time in history, the bullies stopped stealing the nerds’ lunch money. This was naturally a great incentive, and possibly indeed the main cause of the second big change, industrialization.

A great deal has been written about the causes of the industrial revolution. But surely a necessary, if not sufficient, condition was that people who made fortunes be able to enjoy them in peace. One piece of evidence is what happened to countries that tried to return to the old model, like the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent Britain under the labour governments of the 1960s and early 1970s. Take away the incentive to wealth, and technical innovation grinds to a halt.

Encouraging signs and trends for Africa and the Ivory Coast

Both in pre- and postcolonial times, as an African, if you set up a successful enterprise of any kind, you would be likely to run into the ruler or his henchmen (colonial ruler / homegrown dictator depending on the era) sooner or later.  For a very long time incentives to create wealth in most of Africa have been quite lousy – warriors and politicians regularly squashed entrepreneurs. However, looking at Freedom House scores, the World Bank’s Doing Business survey and other places, it seems that there has been a positive trend since the early 90s that has also resulted in higher growth figures.

In the Ivory Coast, it’s still early days for the Ouattara government, but there are plenty of encouraging signs that the government and the public administration in general, are strengthening the rule of law, and to a lesser extent than before use their power to put wealth created by ordinary Ivorians into their own pockets.

As to risks of things getting worse, I do not think the main problem is Gbagbo’s supporters coming back to power. That would indeed be bad, but I don’t think they can. They don’t have enough support to win a democratic election, even if they were united which they are not.  I think Gbagbo’s figures in the 2010 elections were augmented by his party controlling the state, but even then it wasn’t enough.

As to taking power through a military coup, many exiled Gbagbo supporters certainly would like to, but I don’t think they have the necessary resources or a neighbouring country prepared to offer military support.

Instead my main worry is that Ouattara’s government is behaving itself not because of a strong and independent media (Ivorian media isn’t), not because of strong institutions, civil society, or pressure from the Ivorian people, but because the person of Alassane Ouattara.   Ouattara is turning 70 years soon, and is not going to be there forever.  Hopefully when Ouattara eventually steps down,  institutions and checks and balances have strengthened so that things will work out even if the next guy isn’t as great.  Wealth created by entrepreneurs should contribute to increasing the size of the middle class which in turn is great for strengthening the civil society and democratic institutions. It’s tough being a dictator in a country with a large middle class.

Letting the nerds keep their lunch money

Back to Paul Graham, here’s the follow up on the text above:

Startups are not just something that happened in Silicon Valley in the last couple decades. Since it became possible to get rich by creating wealth, everyone who has done it has used essentially the same recipe: measurement and leverage, where measurement comes from working with a small group, and leverage from developing new techniques. The recipe was the same in Florence in 1200 as it is in Santa Clara today.

Understanding this may help to answer an important question: why Europe grew so powerful. Was it something about the geography of Europe? Was it that Europeans are somehow superior? Was it their religion? The answer (or at least the proximate cause) may be that the Europeans rode on the crest of a powerful new idea: allowing those who made a lot of money keep it.

Once you are allowed to do that, people who want to get rich can do it by generating wealth instead of stealing it. The resulting technological growth translates not only into wealth but into military power. The theory that led to the stealth plane was developed by a Soviet mathematician. But because the Soviet Union didn’t have a computer industry, it remained for them a theory; they didn’t have hardware capable of executing the calculations fast enough to design an actual airplane.

In that respect the Cold War teaches the same lesson as World War II, and for that matter, most wars in recent history. Don’t let a ruling class of warriors and politicians squash the entrepreneurs. The same recipe that makes individuals rich makes countries powerful. Let the nerds keep their lunch money, and you rule the world.

Click to get to a chapter of the book in pdf

Ivory Coast online – New Sweep

Popular sites

Time for a new sweep on what’s happening online in the Ivory Coast. Here are the most viewed sites by internet users in the Ivory Coast according to Alexa:

1. Facebook.com (+2) [Global rank: 2]

2. Google.ci (-) [Global rank: 4,010]

3. Yahoo.com (-2) [Global rank: 4]

4. Abidjan.net (+2) [Global rank: 6,556]

5. Youtube.com (+3) [Global rank: 3]

6. Google.com (+3) [Global rank: 1]

7. Google.fr (+2) [Global rank: 25]

8. Live.com (-4) [Global rank: 8]

9. Msn.com (-2) [Global rank: 12]

10. Wikipedia.org (new) [Global rank: 6]

Numbers in parenthesis are changes compared to my last Ivory Coast online check in March 2010. No dramatic changes in other words, with Abidjan.net keeping its position as the by far most viewed Ivory Coast-specific site. It makes sense, it’s a great site, and I check it out daily to get my Ivory Coast fix.

Here’s Abidjan.net traffic rank over the last two years clearly showing an increased interest during the Ivorian crisis:

Beyond the top 10

Beyond the top 10 I find the following interesting/locally produced sites:

12. afrik11.com [Global rank: 35,395] – A site about African football seemingly based in the Ivory Coast as 90% of its traffic comes from the Ivory Coast.

14. Atoo.ci [Global rank: 46,419]  – A portal for all things Ivory Coast just like Abidjan.net just not as popular

15. educarriere.ci [Global rank: 51,883] – A relatively new Ivorian site for jobs and education, that also has an active dating section (which might be the secret behind its prominent ranking)

20. Gbich.com [Global rank: 51,883] – The site of the Ivorian humoristic newspaper Gbich!

24. GoMagazine.ci [Global rank: 88,463] – The site of Go Magazine, Ivory Coast’s response to Cosmopolitan

25. rfi.fr [Global rank: 5,205] – Radio France Internationale

26. cnseci.com [Global rank: 206,752] –  Support site for the Ivorian national football team

27. twitter.com [Global rank: 9]

29. JeuneAfrique.com [Global rank: 16,700]

38. Deco.ci [Global rank: 164,185] – The Ivorian Ministry of Education’s site for exams

47. leBanco.net [Global rank: 169,215] – Ivorian news and politics site

49. youporn.com [Global rank: 86] – Would have thought porn sites would have higher ranking internationally than in the Ivory Coast, not because of ivorians being more puritan than elsewhere but because of the use of internet cafes – but apparently not.

51. gouv.ci – The official portal of the Ivorian government

60. ivoire-blog.com – Blogsite, Ivory Coast’s blogspot

61. Ivoirbusiness.com – Yet another Ivorian news/politics site, this time with a pro-Gbagbo bias

62. Ivoirmixdj.com – A site for DJ:s and music lovers

76 Abidjanshow.com – Promoting concerts and show business events in Abidjan

87. Onuci.org – United Nations Operations in the ivory Coast

96. ChelseaFC.com – Chelsea Football Club

109. thepiratebay.org – The Pirate Bay, and the first Swedish-built site on this list

145. FratMat.info – The highest ranked mainstream Ivorian newspaper

What are Ivorians interested in?

Something has clearly happened since I last checked Alexa rankings. Tech sites are less prominent, sites created in the Ivory Coast (or rather Abidjan) for the Ivory Coast are more prominent, and one can actually start using Alexa rankings to get an idea of what Ivorians are interested in.  And that would be social networking, news, celebrity gossip, football, dating, music, porn, exam results, more football, humour, education and jobs. Pretty much like in the rest of the world.

I checked Swedish Alexa rakings and we got the same thing, but with a little less football and more e-commerce sites and online banking (and more porn). And with tabloid Aftonbladet.se replacing Abidjan.net as the only local site among the top 10, which is quite a trade-down.

As for e-commerce, the whole buying stuff online and getting it shipped model is practically non-existent in the Ivory Coast (for multiple mainly non-tech related reasons).  Online ads for all sorts of stuff exist though, and it’s handled by the portal sites, so it’s a bit like the 1999 vision of the internet coming true.  Abidjan.net is among other things the craigslist of the Ivory Coast, but I doubt it will also be the ebay, amazon and match.com of the Ivory Coast, so there should be a business opportunity for these services sooner or later.

A photo for the grandchildren

This hi-rise building in the Plateau district is the most visible sign of the ivorian crisis I noticed in Abidjan.  The damage is from small arms fire in the beginning of April when the fighting reached very central Abidjan.

I’m thinking that it’s a photo to save for the grandchildren, that will hopefully look as surreal and remote to them as  World War II photos of Europe look to me.

Small arms fire - typically not great for real estate values

Continue reading “A photo for the grandchildren”

Animals of Abidjan

Gotham City?

The Ivory Coast may not have much big game like other parts of Africa, but yet it happens that I’m in awe of the animal life just in Abidjan.

I’ve seen a few times when the sky over Abidjan is full of bats – thousands of them. No idea why, but it’s an impressive sight. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to capture on camera. Here are the attempts I made last time:

Continue reading “Animals of Abidjan”

A Window to Another World

Skype hitting critical mass in Abidjan?

I use skype a lot for communicating with the Ivory Coast.

Usually I have been talking to people I know very well, where I was the one introducing them skype and helping out downloading and installing it.

However, in the last months it seems something has happened, I see more and more people start using it independently, beyond the young well-off connected people that have been using it for many years.

The other day I had my first skype conversation with a junior guy at the law firm I’m working with. It’s a great guy, and he has been very helpful in a lot of situations. If he starts his own firm I’ll be his first client, but unlike most other people in the Ivory Coast I talk to over skype, I’ve never been in his home and I don’t know his family.

So I’m sitting in my living room at home in Europe. He turns up on the skype video chat, and in the background you have his relatively barren home – I think it’s in Abobo – with noises of cooking, children playing and people talking and occasionally showing up on the screen.     It’s a weird kind of feeling, like having a window to another world, a direct channel between the developed and developing world, right in your living room.

More wise words from Niklas Zennström

Today I watched an interview with Skype founder Niklas Zennström at Techcrunch Disrupt Beijing. Interviewer Sarah Lacy seems to get the importance of skype in the developing world as she opened up with:

I’ve just become a huge huge fangirl for skype, because I’ve spent 40 weeks travelling in the emerging world and it was the only way I could stay in touch with home, stay in touch with work and anyone in the US. I don’t think many americans realise how transformative this product is until they use it, and it’s become one of the few companies I really can’t live without.

Yup, amen to that.

Techcrunch Disrupt Beijing (click to get to the video)

Zennström usually has something interesting to say, and this interview was not an exception. Here are two questions that caught my attention:

You know, it was not a lay-up. you got turned down by 25 VCs,  it was a very hard time in the market   I mean it was not  an obvious idea  you guys were not becessarily an obvious team, you had this distributed strategy. Why did none of these things hold you back, was it the power of the product,  was it luck, what was it?

I think a bit of everything, one thing is  determination, because there were a lot of times in the early days, the first year  leading up to the launch of skype  it was very very hard we couldnt raise money.   You know, it was just difficult times, so I think one thing was determination; never give up, and we  just kind of kept building and kept doing it, and then also we were lucky in terms of timing.  We just happened to do what we did at the right time. And then the product just took off and became viral – but we didnt know if it would. It was the time broadband starting becoming commonplace and for some reason no one had addressed what we were doing.

What have you learned from your failures?

One of the big problems is that people are afraid of failure. Because when you start your  company you are so exposed. If it doesn’t work and it’s obvious that it doesnt work,  and then there you go: You wasted time. You lost money, you lost investors money, your money, and you lost your job.

I think what Silicon Valley is great at is the culture that when  someone says my company failed people  say: “Ok good, what did you learn from it?”  And thats the right approach  if you look at a failure as an experience that  you can learn from it’s pretty good and then don’t be afraid of it.

The worst thing that can happen… sure investors lose the money but hopefully a part of their business model is that you have some good investments and some bad investments, so that’s not the end of the world

If you then as an entrepreneur, if you start a company, it doesn’t work out, then you probably learnt a LOT from the experience. You probably learnt much much more than you would  from going to a business school or having your job at this  big company.

And the other thing also is it has been that people are afraid of… maybe you  have a job somewhere at a good company and you have a good career so you are leaving that, you are leaving your job security.  But you know, with the economy in this shape   job security in big companies doesn’t exist any more, so that’s another thing you know the risk is not so … the alternative is also risky.

The crisis of 2008 made this point hit home in my case.  The big company I worked for had three rounds of lay-offs – I kept my job but it became pretty clear that job security in big companies is not what it was. As mentioned in the Fragility and Robustness post, I’m thinking that the returns from my investments/businesses in the Ivory Coast could be safer than my day job salary.   And well, the whole safety thing is usually the main impediment to become an entrepreneur, and now it seems to be gone.

As for learning, business schools and formal education, I mean I spent five years getting a Master’s degree in engineering. I don’t regret it, but I’ve been starting to think that formal education could be a bit overestimated and entrepreneurial experience underestimated. I recall when my younger sister who is studying engineering said that she that MIT lectures available freely online were better than the actual lectures given at her university. I would hire someone (from the Ivory Coast or elsewhere)  with no formal degree, but who has gotten relevant experience by setting up a business and/or had the passion, determination and motivation to delve deeply into a subject through online resources like the Khan Academy and others.

I guess one still need universities or something like it for the human interaction important in learning, getting a network, and (unfortunately) as a gatekeeping function, but it’s got to be possible to organise the whole thing differently and better, and still get the same benefits.

Pros and cons of living in Africa

Given that the longest I have stayed continuously in Africa was a 4 month stint in Senegal in 2002, this is a somewhat tough post to make.  Nevertheless,  I’d like to outline what I think are the advantages and disadvantages of living in Africa (focusing on the Ivory Coast), from the perspective of someone who has lived most of his/her life in Europe or North America:


High costs. If you want to have access to the same type of goods as in Europe, it’s possible but it gets expensive.  With the exeption of stuff produced in the Ivory Coast, most things cost more here than in Europe.  Consumer electronics for instance are so expensive that I’m bringing two laptops to the Ivory Coast that I’ve bought for ivorian friends (and the laptops could be sold at around 60% above what I paid)

Malaria. Every expat in Africa seem to have a malaria story.  Living permanently in Africa it isnt feasible to take profylactics, so sooner or later one is likely to have a bout of malaria. What people seem to be doing is to always have anti-malarial drugs (which are cheap and accessible at every pharmacy in Abidjan) ready at home.   Some say that a real danger is getting malaria while on a trip back to Europe, where doctors are less familiar with the disease and risk misdiagnosing it.

Slow internet connection. It’s a pain trying to watch youtube videos here.

Unreliable postal service. I didn’t think it was possible to order books from amazon to Abidjan, but apparently you can – you just don’t get them to your house but to a pick-up point.  Anyway, with ebooks and kindle it’s not really an issue.

Traffic Jams.  Abidjan is a 4 million city with a limited bus service as only public mass transport system. Even though there are much less cars than in a 4 million city in Europe, the traffic situation is pretty bad.  And despite the Ouattara government’s progress in building and patching up paved roads, things are likely to get worse in the future as increased population and increased wealth means more cars.  No road-building program can keep up, and Abidjan isn’t likely to afford a commuter train/subway/skytrain construction programme in the foreseeable future.

Death. Or well, increased risk of it. Looking at statistics of deaths by non-natural causes of US citizens in Africa, it seems that road accidents is by far the no. 1 cause, then we have crime at no. 2 and somewhat surprisingly drownings at no. 3.  Not sure if  its adventure tourists drowning or swimming pool accidents.  For Ghana from 2002 to now the US State department reports 9 deaths by vehichle accidents, 2 homicides, 2 “drug-related” and 3 drownings.

In the African version, Death has the option to distract his adversary with lightly dressed women dancing coupe decale in the background

According to Travmed.com “Motor vehicle accidents and drownings are the most important cause of deaths in travelers younger than age 55; there is an increased incidence of injury-related death and drownings in Africa (2.7x) and SE Asia (1.6x) compared to the U.S.”


The Weather. Growing up in Sweden one sometimes (typically when bicycling to university at -20C) wonders if our ancestors maybe would have been wise to reconsider their decision to settle in the sub-arctic parts of the world. Some say that the climate in West Africa is too hot and humid, and well I’m not one of them!  I think it’s been shown that cold weather and darkness affects people’s mood negatively, and Abidjan’s +30C all year round feels pretty good (maybe Dakar has the perfect weather though).

Been there. Done that. Got pneumonia.

Business opportunities.  It’s a young and fast changing continent less set in its ways than the developed world, and opportunities abound. More on this in the The Macro case for the Ivory Coast and Bureaucracy posts.

Joie de Vivre. I find that there is something about the people in West Africa, that makes almost any activity involving human interaction enjoyable.  Things that normally should be boring work/businessy affairs usually aren’t boring at all in West Africa.

Solidarity and the eradication of loneliness. People just care about each other on a whole different level than in the West.  There are downsides to it, like the expectation that your belongings are to be shared, consequently making it difficult to save money, and lack of one’s own private space.  As a foreigner it’s easy to kind of “cheat” by getting the upside (which is pretty darn great) and avoiding the downside by people accepting that you are a foreigner have your own strange rules, and by being able to afford your own place.

As for loneliness I have met many Ivorians in the diaspora who say that they truly didn’t know what loneliness was until they moved to the West.   As Africa gets wealthier these things are likely to change, but hopefully and probably they’ll not completely disappear.

Support system.  With low labour costs, the middle class can afford services (like maids) which they couldnt dream about in the West, making life less stressful.  Also, Africa seems to be a great place to raise children.  It’s a task everybody helps out with, thus creating a natural support system that seems to be superior to even the most child-friendly western welfare states.

Social gradient (one’s place on it)  There is this British study of civil servants called the Whitehall Study that’s been going on for decades and shows that people’s hierarchical position affect their health. Nobody really knows why though.  From wikipedia:

The first Whitehall Study compared mortality of people in the highly stratified environment of the British Civil Service. It showed that among British civil servants, mortality was higher among those in the lower grade when compared to the higher grade. The more senior one was in the employment hierarchy, the longer one might expect to live compared to people in lower employment grades.

The initial Whitehall study found lower grades, and thus status, were clearly associated with higher prevalence of significant risk factors. These risk factors include obesity, smoking, reduced leisure time, lower levels of physical activity, higher prevalence of underlying illness, higher blood pressure, and shorter height. Controlling for these risk factors accounted for no more than forty percent of differences between civil service grades in cardiovascular disease mortality. After controlling for these risk factors, the lowest grade still had a relative risk of  for cardiovascular disease mortality compared to the highest grade.

Given how the Ivorian/African society is structured with a poor majority and a few super-rich, moving from a middle class life in the West (regardless of one’s ethnicity) to Africa means a jump upward on the social gradient. If the Whitehall Studies apply more generally outside the British public sector (which they seem to), this jump on the social gradient could have a lot of positive effects. I think health is just one side of it by the way, chosen because it’s easy to measure objectively. Getting to know interesting influential people or having a greater pool of high calibre potential life partners would be harder to measure for example.

Photos from PK 18

Tour of Abobo

I was looking at potential plots of land to buy with a surveyor, who it turned out was from the PK 18 area in Abobo. That’s one of the hotspots of the Ivorian crisis and where the “invisible commando” urban guerilla first rose up.  The surveyor had lived through it all, and took me on an informal guided tour of Abobo and PK 18.  Below are some of photos I took.

Pictures above and below are from the Gendarmerie headquarter in Abobo. The surveyor said that it also housed pro-Gbagbo militia and that most of the Gendarmes fled after multiple attacks by the invisible commando. The commando eventually captured the headquarter and burnt it down. Continue reading “Photos from PK 18”

You cannot be serious!

Today (or possibly yesterday) is the 30th anniversary of John McEnroe’s classic “You cannot be serious!!!” outburst at Wimbledon. Some things cannot go uncommemorated even on a blog mainly about business in the Ivory Coast.

That ball was on the line! Everyone saw it in the whole stadium!

There is actually a link to the Ivory Coast as there have been tons of these you-cannot-be-serious-moments during the post-electoral crisis. Thinking about it, there were a quite a few in practically all interviews with Gbagbo or Toussaint Alain.

Here are my favourites:

  • Somebody managing to steal 5 large sized city buses in Abidjan. And I think it was the first time in many months that the top news story of any Ivorian newspaper was not about the post-electoral crisis.


  • This is from before the crisis, and it’s more the relaxed McEnroe of 2011 than the impassioned one of 1981. I’m on a regular Air France flight to Abidjan, the flight lands, and while taxiing someone puts on coupé décalé music and a great part of the passengers start dancing along – basically expressing joy of being back home. 

Freedom in West Africa

Scoring Freedom

I had a look at Freedom House annual Freedom in the World report where political rights and civil liberties are measured on a scale from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free) for all countries. It’s one of the measures I planned on using to keep track of Ouattara’s government’s performance. The latest report is for 2010, so it includes the Ivorian crisis, but not its resolution.

Freedom House writes:

Côte d’Ivoire’s political rights rating declined from 6 to 7 and its civil liberties rating declined from 5 to 6 due to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down or recognize the November 2010 electoral victory of opposition presidential candidate Alassane Ouatarra, as well as political violence that stemmed from the postelection standoff, including state security forces’ targeting of ethnic minority groups that supported Ouatarra.

In the graph below I plotted the average of political rights and civil liberties scores from Freedom House, for some key West African countries from 1972 to 2010:

Click to enlarge

From this graph we can deduce that there never was a golden age under Houphouet-Boigny, at least not in terms civil rights and political liberties. The Ivory Coast has been pretty bad on these measures all along, but it will be interesting to see what the figures for 2011 show.

As for the other countries one can clearly see the effects of:

  • Amadou Toumani Touré’s “good” coup d’etat against military ruler Moussa Traoré in 1991 in Mali
  • Sani Abacha’s dictatorial rule 1993-1998 and subsequent return to (somewhat flawed) democracy in Nigeria
  • The electoral victory of Abdoulaye Wade and his PDS party in year 2000 ending a 40-year rule of the Socialist party in Senegal
  • A stable and repressive dictatorship in Guinea under Sekou Touré (independence – 1984) and Lansana Conté (1984 – 2008), and then the rise and fall of Moussa Dadis Camara
  • Jerry Rawling’s first coup in 1979 in Ghana where he handed over to a civilian government, and his second coup in 1981 after which he banned political parties and quelled dissent.

Is anybody noticing what’s happening in West Africa?

The most interesting part of the graph is how it’s going to look like for 2011.

The two least free countries, the Ivory Coast and Guinea are likely to make big improvements. Guinea had a fairly free democratic election this year electing Alpha Condé who seems to be significantly more democratically-minded than previous Guinean presidents, though not necessarily better than the runner up Cellou Dalein Diallo. Nigeria also had a democratic election after the Freedom House data was compiled and seems to be on the right path despite local violence (and other issues).

Senegal which has a strong civil society is likely to make improvements once Wade, who has shown some authoritarian tendencies, is voted out.

Then we have Niger where the military carried out its promise to return the country to civilian rule this year, and elections widely recognised as free and fair were held.  Sierra Leone and Liberia are in a positive trend since the end of the wars.

So altogether it’s quite remarkable. West Africa is becoming a region dominated by democracies where citizens enjoy unusually high levels of freedoms in relation to GDP per capita, but also high on absolute terms compared to world averages. And there are network effects with leaders who do respect civil liberties and political rights, taking a stance against the remaining oppressive leaders in the region.

UPDATE:  Here are graphs for the other West African countries:



Flights to Abidjan

What’s up with Ble Goude?

I was at a get together for Ivorians in the diaspora last night to celebrate peace and reconciliation. Though still divided – no pro-Gbagbo showed up – they do know how to party.  One of the topics that came up (among us men talking on the parking lot outside, escaping the good but loud music) was whether Charles Ble Goude was still alive or not.

I estimate there was about a 2:1 split for Goude being dead, with arguments put forward that he has a loud mouth and that we would have heard of him from Ghana or somewhere if he was still alive, and that it was weird that Patrick Achi announced Goude was arrested just to retract it later.

Fancy a stop-over chez Gaddafi?

Another topic that came up is how to get to Abidjan and I thought I do a check-up on that.  Here’s how’s it’s looking today for departure around the 18th May and return around 19th June:

From Paris:

With Royal Air Maroc and stopping in Casablanca:   660€

With Air Afriqiyah through their Tripoli hub:  Ahh, maybe not

With SN Brussels and stopping in Brussels: 740€

With Emirates stopping in Dubai and Accra: 950€  (not quite the shortest route)

Direct flight with Air France: 1,100€

Used to be the cheapest option to Abidjan

Continue reading “Flights to Abidjan”


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!

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.

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