How diversification and investment drive growth in Côte d’Ivoire

Thanks in large part to renewed political stability, Côte d’Ivoire’s sustained high growth in the last decade ranks it among the best-performing countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Between 2012 and 2019 real GDP growth averaged around 8.5%, compared to less than 0.5% over the 2000-11 period.

The post-2012 period has been marked by ambitious public and private investment programmes, giving the economy substantial resilience. The country enjoyed high global prices for its cash crops during this period, while improved economic diversification and production capacity rendered the country less vulnerable to external shocks and price fluctuations.

Reflecting global trends, growth was adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; however, the country proved to be one of the most resilient in sub-Saharan Africa. Due to weakened global demand for exports and business disruptions, GDP growth slowed to under 2% in 2020. The country rapidly bounced back from the effects of the pandemic, with recovery efforts observed as early as the second half of 2020. Fuelled by strong domestic demand and high levels of public and private investment, as well as investment-related imports such as machinery and intermediary goods, growth in 2021 is estimated to have been around 7%, according to the IMF. Recovery efforts are expected to be sustained in 2022, with GDP growth forecast at 6%.


The service sector accounts for the most significant share of the economy, generating 42% of GDP in 2020 and employing 47% of the workforce in 2019, according to the World Bank.

The country’s telecommunications segment has been a vital driver of GDP growth. ICT institutions and the enabling environment have drastically improved, as evidenced by the World Economic Forum Network Readiness Index. Financial services, transport, retail and tourism also help propel the sector.

Generating 21.4% of GDP in 2020 and employing 40% of the workforce in 2019, agriculture is Côte d’Ivoire’s second-largest sector (see Agriculture chapter). The country is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa, with 30% of global production; one of the top-three producers and exporters of cashew nuts; and a major exporter of palm oil and coffee. The global share of cash crop exports has been on an upward trajectory in recent years. To enhance the sector’s competence beyond cocoa and cashew nuts, the government is looking to both diversify agricultural production and increase the share of higher-value-added crops, partly to shield the sector from the adverse effects of deforestation and climate change. It has turned to sustainability criteria to meet these ends. For example, the cocoa sector has adopted the African Standard on Sustainable Cocoa, which regulates labour and sustainability to penetrate the EU market. The government also aims to increase the domestic processing rate for cocoa beans, with 2020 figures at 50%, up from 30% in 2016.

The industrial sector accounted for 20.9% of the economy in 2020 and 13% of the working population in 2019 (see Industry & Retail chapter). The construction segment, a key contributor to growth of the sector, has benefitted from public and private infrastructure projects, notably the rehabilitation of industrial zones in Abidjan, the construction of Soubré hydroelectric dam, and upgrades to the Azito and Ciprel thermal power plants under public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements, as well as additional infrastructure works in secondary cities. The country’s manufacturing sector largely consists of low-tech industries, dominated by agro-processing. Medium- to high-tech industries account for a much smaller share of the sector, including chemicals, machinery production, and light vehicle, motorbike and bicycle assembly. Textiles, construction materials, plastics, cosmetics and fertilisers are also important industrial activities.


The country is home to a growing extractive industry, with 51 identified oilfields, four of which are in production and 26 in exploration, and an average output of around 70,000 barrels per day. The country’s gold output in 2021 reached 41.9 tonnes, up 10% from 38 tonnes in 2020. The mining sector is on track to reach its target of contributing 6% to GDP by 2025 (see Energy & Mining chapter).


A strong recovery from the repercussions of the pandemic – led by private consumption, stable exports, and high levels of public and private investment – pushed GDP growth in 2021 to an estimated 7%, according to the IMF, with real GDP per capita rising by 4.3%, and private consumption up 5%.

GDP reached $70.1bn in 2021 and was projected to hit $72.5bn by 2022. Thanks to the robust real growth rate in recent years, GDP per capita stood at $2533 in 2021, up 31.1% from $1932 in 2015, and is forecast at $2556 in 2022. GDP growth has been in line with the goal of achieving emerging market status by 2030.

Industrial production saw an increase of 6.5% in 2021, fuelled by export-oriented production. Due to weakened global demand, Ivorian agricultural exports contracted by 2.2% and the agricultural sector overall experienced moderate growth in 2021. Fallout resulting from the pandemic and the containment and mitigation measures taken has greatly disrupted economic activity in the services sector. With the lifting of such measures and the uptick in general economic activity, the services sector is expected to catch up in 2022.

Fiscal & Monetary Policy

Following a period of accommodative monetary policy and a low and stable average inflation rate of 0.7% between 2015 and 2019, inflation rose to 2.4% and 4.2% in 2020 and 2021, respectively, mirroring global trends. Inflation, forecast to increase to 5.5% in 2022, is to a large extent domestically driven, due to supply disruptions and labour shortages, and further exacerbated by security issues along the country’s northern border with Burkina Faso and Mali. Government measures such as price caps, subsidies and price adjustments are expected to help contain further increases, predominantly in food prices, which are the main driver of inflation. Global spikes in fuel, commodity and wheat prices stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will also have a direct effect on the consumer price index.

Strong and stable domestic revenue mobilisation can be observed on the fiscal side, owing to tax policies and government measures undertaken in the post-2012 period. The revenue-to-GDP ratio hovered around 15% between 2015 and 2020; it was estimated at 15.3% in 2021 and is forecast to fall to 14.2% in 2022. Total government expenditure is projected to hold steady at 20.9% in 2021 and 20% in 2022, up from its average of 17.5% in the 2015-20 period. This increase has largely been fuelled by public investment and is expected to mitigate the impact of inflation.

The government aims to reach its goal of 6.6% of GDP worth of expenditure on public investment by 2022 through continued spending on infrastructure, in addition to security, digitalisation and social policy-related measures. The fiscal deficit reached 5.1% of GDP in 2021, up from 2% in 2015 but 0.5 percentage points lower than forecast, as improved tax administration offset increased security spending.

Côte d’Ivoire has experienced a substantial increase in government borrowing coupled with strong credit growth in the private sector. General government debt as a share of GDP increased from 29.5% in 2015 to 38.4% in 2019 and 47.6% in 2020, reaching 52.1% in 2021, with the 2022 figure forecast at 52.9%, well below the 70% threshold set by UEMOA. The ratio of interest payments to GDP is expected to stand at 2.3% in 2022, up from 1.3% in 2016-18. The country’s financial stance remains stable, with a slight decline observed in non-performing loans and most banks able to maintain minimum solvency ratios.

However, global developments are expected to have an impact on borrowing. “Tightening monetary policy in Europe and the US will increase external borrowing costs and debt vulnerabilities across emerging economies. As a result, West African economies with market access such as Cote d’Ivoire may find it more attractive to borrow at home. However, local financial markets may gradually follow suit as the Central Bank of West African States recently raised its policy rate to prevent the spillover of commodity-driven inflation,” Hermann Yohou, country economist at the World Bank, told OBG.


External trade has recovered significantly following pandemic-induced disruptions, with exports up 32.1% and imports up 34.5% in 2021. This trajectory is expected to continue in 2022, with the growth rate forecast at 30.4% for exports and 35.8% for imports.

However, the country’s integration into the regional and global economy largely depends on a limited number of commodity exports. Cocoa beans and cocoa products continue to make up the largest share of exports, at 41.5%, for a traded value of $5.1bn. Gold constitutes 11% of exports, worth $1.5bn, followed by petroleum with a 10% share and $1.2bn worth of trade. Other important exports include fruits and nuts, with 10%; rubber (9%); and cotton (4%). In 2021 the Netherlands, the US, France, Switzerland and Malaysia were the top destinations for exports.

The country’s main imports are petroleum products, making up 19% of all imports; machinery and parts, at 9%; cereals, at 6.5%; and motor vehicles, at 6%. China, France, Nigeria, India and Belgium were the country’s largest import partners in 2021.

Export diversification and the transition from products with low economic complexity to those with higher value added is a key policy area of the government in the short and medium term, with priority given to cashew nuts, cotton, horticultural products, rubber and palm oil. Furthermore, through investment in transport infrastructure and Customs procedure reform, the country is looking to pursue increased trade with regional partners, which has been low in recent years despite its membership in ECOWAS and UEMOA. The reduction in tariffs and non-tariff barriers as part of the African Continental Free Trade Area is expected to have a positive impact on regional trade and various export-oriented sectors.

Labour & Education

Unemployment in Côte d’Ivoire is low and has experienced a steady decline since its recent peak of 7.2% in 2012 to 3.5% in 2021, according to International Labour Organisation estimates. The figure is slightly higher for youth, at 5.8%, and women, at 4.1%. Employment within the formal productive sectors is limited, however, with large parts of the working population employed in informal and semi-informal activities in trade, retail and distribution. The informal sector is estimated to account for 70-75% of the economy, according to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Côte d’Ivoire.

While labour productivity has historically been low, it has improved substantially in recent years. Indeed, the country’s labour productivity increased at a faster rate than its peers in sub-Saharan Africa between 2012 and 2021, according to the World Bank. Even so, low-productivity activity in agriculture and non-agriculture informal labour remains the largest subcategory of the labour force. The private sector also struggles to find skilled labour to meet its growing needs, especially in the manufacturing industries, where the workers often are not trained to operate the machinery needed to increase the competitiveness of the sector. Industries such as textiles, rubber processing, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics in particular face growth challenges due to the limited labour pool and could benefit from improved training programmes.

“Developing entrepreneurship in Côte d’Ivoire is crucial to support economic development. It is not just about creating, but also forming and building, and is something that needs to be mentored and supported,” Issiaka Savane, general director of Unacoopec, told OBG, highlighting the importance of a skilled workforce that can meet the requirements of the private sector.

The mismatch between the available labour force and the skills sought by the economy is being targeted through the vocational education and skill development programmes, apprenticeships, on-the-job certification and continuing education initiatives carried out by the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, the private sector and the country’s development partners. As part of the National Development Plan (Plan National de Développement, PND) 2021-25, the current roadmap is outlined in the Education Sector Plan 2016-25, which highlights the context for the education and training sector, strategic diagnosis and frameworks for its subsectors, as well as implementation capacities and their financing.


High levels of public and private investment have been the key drivers of growth in the post-2012 period. Gross investment increased from 17% of GDP in 2012 to 22.4% in 2020 and 25.6% in 2021, with a figure of 25.8% anticipated for 2022, according to the World Bank. Government investment increased from an average of 2.8% of GDP in 2000-11 to 6.7% in 2012-18, and stood at 6.6% in 2020 and 8.4% in 2021. Increased public investment is reflected in the reduction in the infrastructure gaps in transport and improved access to electricity. Public investment in infrastructure has been supported by successful PPP programmes in the road, rail and energy sectors (see Construction & Real Estate chapter).

The country’s accommodative monetary policy has also contributed to an increase in credit growth, which in turn helped support private investment growth. Although the global tightening of monetary policy is expected to have an impact on the public investment-driven growth model, the government aims to meet its investment goal of 6.6% of GDP in 2022, fuelled by infrastructure spending for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, to be held in the country.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows have been low historically, compared to other sub-Saharan African countries as well as other middle-income peers. Net FDI inflows as a share of GDP averaged around 1% annually between 2015 and 2020, reaching an estimated 1.5% in 2021. FDI in the country is mainly concentrated in the telecommunications, agro-processing, construction and extractive sectors.


Economic growth is expected to continue following the robust post-pandemic recovery, with a projected growth rate of 6% for 2022. However, the global inflationary environment and the geopolitical uncertainty caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as increased commodity and oil prices, are expected to have important implications for both household incomes and exports.

The government aims to achieve its public investment goals for 2022 in part through the successful implementation of PPP programmes in the road, rail and energy sectors to meet growing infrastructure needs for industry and transport. Export diversification, as well as the sophistication and capacity development of the manufacturing sector, will be key areas to help ensure lasting economic resilience. Additionally, the positive political and social developments experienced since the 2020 elections are expected to enhance political dialogue, which will be an important factor in the lead-up to the 2025 presidential elections.

The country’s overall growth and industrialisation strategy will continue to be shaped within the context of the PND 2021-25, which constitutes a holistic approach to achieving emerging market status and meaningful poverty reduction by 2030. The plan brings together overarching objectives of structural economic transformation in order to foster the development of human capital, reduce poverty, increase investment in infrastructure, advance digitalisation, promote transparency and good governance, expand effective environmental protection and eradicate regional disparities. As a result, Côte d’Ivoire’s ongoing economic and social transformation will depend largely on the successful implementation of the PND 2021-25.

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