Security, recovery top list for Ivory Coast’s Ouattara

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Restoring security and basic services topped the to-do list for Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara yesterday as he outlined his new government’s priorities.

Ouattara’s administration is struggling to restore law and order to the top cocoa-growing nation after a violent power struggle with former President Laurent Gbagbo over a disputed November election tipped it back into civil war.

He talked much of economic priorities at the start of a two-day government seminar, but did not mention debt service as one. Bond investors are watching for signs Ivory Coast will restart payments on its defaulted US$2.3 billion (1.4 billion pounds) Eurobond, on which it has missed two coupons since December, although the Finance Ministry has promised timely repayment.

The conflict, triggered when Gbagbo refused to step down despite losing the poll, wrecked the long-struggling economy of West Africa’s former star before Gbagbo was captured in April.

From a modest 2.6 growth last year, the economy is projected to shrink 7.5 percent this year.
“This seminar … comes in a difficult socio-economic context in which the population is placing a lot of hope in the government to consolidate peace,” Ouattara said.
“The post-electoral crisis has severely degraded the nation’s social fabric, (and) disorganised the administration.”

The meeting aims to thrash out priorities for the coming six months, Ouattara said.
“The two main challenges we face are, of course, the security of people and their belongings and consolidating peace through reconciliation,” Ouattara said.

Security has improved, but remains dicey, especially since the rebel fighters who installed Ouattara remain at large.

Ouattara is due to launch a “truth and reconciliation” process aimed at allowing the country to put the painful past months behind it, but his government is also pursuing Gbagbo and aides for war and economic crimes — aims that may conflict.

Restoring basic services — “clean water, health, education, electricity and hygiene” — were next on the list of priorities.

Ouattara listed economic priorities as “creation of employment, rehabilitation of infrastructure, modernisation of agriculture and better management of mineral resources.”

Ivory Coast feeds some 40 percent of world demand for cocoa, but lack of investment in farmers has held it back.

Its oil industry is a significant government revenue earner.

The council of ministers passed a 3.05 trillion CFA francs (US$6.6 billion) budget for the rest of 2011, which thanks to donor willingness to plug the gaps, has a zero deficit.

Ouattara did not talk about the country’s huge debt, including the Eurobond. A debt forgiveness programme for US$3 billion is on hold and government sources admit that, with 42 percent of the budget already spent on debt service, and funds urgently needed, paying creditors is for now low on the list.