Article: The Regional Economic Impact of Côte D’Ivoire’s Conflict

[Crosslinked at Future Challenges Organization‘s blog]

Seasonal migrant laborers from Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali face a prospect of unemployment as a result of the upheaval caused by the political conflict between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and contested President Allasane Outtara. The conflict in Côte D‘Ivoire has displaced an estimated one million Ivorians. This is the aftermath of the November 28th election. There are reports of xenophobic attacks on migrant workers from these countries by Pro-Gbagbo militia forces (the self-titled ‚Young Patriots‘). Some two million Malians live in Côte D‘Ivoire and they live in increasingly dangerous conditions even as the United Nation‘s and France‘s military intervention draws the conflict to an end. The fabric of Ivorian society has been undeniably torn – as evidenced by reports of mass graves in Duékoué, in western Côte D‘Ivoire and the displacement of a million or more Ivorians.

Furthermore, the conflict has already proven a hindrance to Côte D‘Ivoire‘s argicultural exports. An estimated68 percent of Ivorian workers are in the agriculture industry. The Ivorian economy is heavily dependent on the export and sale of agricultural products including coffee, cocoa beans, bananas, palm kernels, corn, rice, manioc (tapioca), sweet potatoes, sugar, cotton, rubber and timber. Cocoa and coffee alone account for forty percent of Côte D‘Ivoire‘s gross domestic product (GDP).

Côte D‘Ivoire is the world‘s number one producer of cocoa. Since the election on 28 November, about 475,000 tons of cacao beans have been placed in storage due to a ban on shipments by Ouattara and European Union sanctions. In the first week of March, Gbagbo nationalized the cocoa industry, imposing an export tax. Meanwhile, smuggling of cocoa beans into neighboring Ghana has continued in spite of the power struggle between Laurent Gbagbo and Allasane Outtara and their respective allies.

The cessation of corn exports from Côte D‘Ivoire to Niger would further undermine Nigeriens‘ weak food security – especially if corn harvests and exports from Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Burkina Faso are decreased this year due to drought. Niger‘s food security and high unemployment rates are pre-existing driving factors for transnational immigration within West Africa. The potential food insecurity and food inflation would only exacerbate the food crisis that affects Nigeriens.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggests that the conflict in Côte D‘Ivoire could have a destabilizing effect in West Africa, dampening exports, and the influx of remittances and the flow of business capital in the region. The banking sector is seizing up in Côte D‘Ivoire and has been run aground since mid-February. Gbagbo‘s move to seize the banks has necessitated a cap on withdrawals in order to prevent a run on the banks. In early March, the withdrawal limit was set at 200,000 CFA Francs ($425 USD**) – a relatively low amount that inhibits displaced Ivorians‘ ability to carry a sufficient amount of money for food and water. This severely constrains refugees‘ ability to buy food, water and shelter.

Understanding all of this, it becomes clear that West Africa is interdependent in nearly all aspects. The fluid borders and intertwined trade and labor networks make the events in Côte D‘Ivoire more salient. The plight of Ivorian refugees and Nigerien, Malian, Burkinabé migrant laborers are connected, as are the plights of those living in each respective nation. As we approach the resolution of the political conflict in Côte D‘Ivoire, we can look forward to the worthy work of rebuilding cities and residential areas affected by the fighting, repatriating those displaced, reclaiming Côte D‘Ivoire‘s economic prosperity.

**$1USD=470.3 Cfa Francs

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