While economic growth has been strong in recent years, it has not always been inclusive. There are significant differences in regional growth rates between the commercial centre of Abidjan and the rest of Côte d’Ivoire, as well as more broadly between the north and south of the country. Interregional redistribution efforts have been insufficient to offset these discrepancies or address broader inequalities. In the near term, the fall in cocoa prices is likely to exacerbate disparities in living standards between rural areas across the south, especially in Abidjan. To address this, the authorities have introduced measures to help balance regional development, including investments in infrastructure.
Abidjan ceded its status as the political capital to Yamoussoukro in 1983, but it has retained and reinforced its position as a commercial centre. With around 5m inhabitants, Abidjan has nearly one-quarter of the nation’s population and is the fourth-most-populous city on the continent. According to Professor Alban Ahoure, director of the Cellule d’Analyse de Politiques Economiques branch of the Centre Ivoiriende Recherches Economiques et Sociales, Abidjan also hosts 90% of the formal firms in the country. Therefore, the city dominates both manufacturing and services.
Inequality in economic activity is not primarily based on urbanisation or technological advancement. There are stark and long-standing differences in economic performance and living standards between Côte d’ Ivoire’s regions, particularly between the north and south. Climate and topography have meant that cocoa-producing regions – and the relative prosperity the cash crop brings – are concentrated in the south, exacerbating ethno-religious tensions. Addressing social and geographic inequalities will be essential to ensure long-term political stability and equitable development.
The government has undertaken various initiatives to make growth more inclusive, especially through investment in infrastructure and public utilities in secondary cities and rural areas. The development of San Pedro’s port and airport infrastructure also aims to reinforce the city as an economic counterweight to Abidjan. Similarly, the restoration of road links between the north and south of the country has been a priority since 2011. The government has also created investment incentives and special economic zones to better disperse economic activity, albeit with limited success.
The Travaux à Haute Intensité de Main d’œuvre projects aim to bring young Ivorians – particularly ex-combattants – into the labour market. Often financed by multilateral donors, these labour-intensive works guarantee participants six months of paid work. They also offer training to boost subsequent employment prospects. Furthermore, targeting the poorest rural households, the filets sociaux (social safety net) pilot programme was launched in January 2017. Under this $50m World Bank-financed initiative, 35,000 households with children under the age of 15 in the north, centre and west regions are to receive quarterly payments of CFA36,000 (€54) until 2020. The three regions chosen have particularly high rates of poverty and malnutrition, as well as weak health and education services.
Despite government efforts, much remains to be done if social and regional inequalities are to be narrowed or reversed. A lack of resources among subnational governments is a major constraint on this. “Promoting balanced regional development is particularly challenging in Côte d’Ivoire because local and regional governments have neither the financial nor the institutional capacity to make the necessary investments,” Ahoure told OBG. “There are often too many actors – or levels of government – involved in making decisions, while the division of responsibilities between them is often unclear. The government needs to rationalise decision-making processes while focusing on results-based management with the appropriate evaluation and control systems.” He noted that fiscal decentralisation, particularly through community-based incentives, would be necessary to address this.
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