Not all African leaders conform to stereotypes
SINCE post-colonial times, Africa and its leaders have been typecast in a uniform mould. Africa will forever be a homogeneous continent that is afflicted with disease, hobbled by under-development, and riddled with internecine conflict.
Its leaders have been characterised as incorrigibly corrupt and incompetent, self-serving dictators who will do anything to cling to power.
While the conduct of some leaders may have earned African leaders such unflattering credentials, it will be amiss and ahistorical to argue that this blanket assessment is an accurate assessment of all the countries that constitute the continent.
We need to continuously remind observers and ourselves that Africa is not one homogeneous country.
Ivory Coast, a place that I am proud to call home, is a prime example of a country that has contradicted this Afro-pessimist profile.
Since gaining political independence from the French, the economic
performance of Ivory Coast has been nothing short of exceptional. It was no mistake that observers have summed up the first 30 years of independence as the “Ivorian Miracle”.
After years of political instability and economic decline in the country, Ivory Coast has been growing steadily, fuelled by the vibrant agricultural sector. Ivory Coast is the largest cocoa producer in the world, accounting for 30% of global production. The country also has significant offshore oil and natural gas reserves, exploration of which has already boosted govern
ment revenues. Moreover, increasing investment in education and infrastructure resulted in the development of the manufacturing industry.
The economy continues to post good numbers: real GDP growth was 7.4% in 2018 and last year, and could remain above 7.0% during 2020-21, assuming good rainfall and favourable terms of trade. The service sector remains the main driver of the economy, contributing 3.4 percentage points to growth in 2018. Industry also contributed 1.5 percentage points in 2018, thanks to a dynamic agri-food industry and construction and public works sector.
Regrettably, the gains that Ivory Coast has made are being threatened by inaccurate reporting of recent political developments in the country.
Much of the international media reportage on Ivory Coast has defaulted to explaining away the presidential succession in Ivory Coast as another example of power-hungry leaders overstaying their welcome.
Given my responsibility for engaging with the Ivorian diaspora, please allow me to outline the political landscape and set the record straight.
After a decade of rapid economic growth, massive investment in infrastructure and a sustained improvement in living standards, President Alassane Ouattara resolved to hand over power to the next generation on March 5 of this year. Following consultation with the ruling RHDP coalition, President Ouattara offered the baton to his Prime Minister, Amadou Gon Coulibaly.
Coulibaly was set to represent the RHDP in next month’s elections until he unexpectedly died of a heart condition on July 8. This unforeseeable tragedy came at a time when Ivory Coast was grappling with the twin challenges of an unprecedented public health crisis in the form of the Covid-19 outbreak and a sudden uptick in jihadist terrorism on its northern border.
Weeks away from the electoral commission’s deadline for presidential candidates, Ouattara was forced back to the drawing board. He consulted widely in a bid to establish consensus around a way forward, but failed to rally the RHDP behind a new candidate. On August 6, Ouattara invoked force majeure, recanting his earlier promise to retire. Fearful of a repeat of the tumult that accompanied previous transitions of power in 1993, 1999/2000 and 2010/11, Ouattara sacrificed his personal reputation for the good of Ivory Coast.
We need to acknowledge the predicament that Ouattara faced last month in the face of the unexpected demise of the prime minister, the vacuum left by his departure and a set of new challenges that threatened to undermine the socio-economic gains achieved. Making conclusions that feed into the African stereotypes may make for good headlines and secure web clicks, but they disregard the historical facts, fuel Afro-pessimism and undermine our understanding of this beautiful continent and its diverse peoples.
Genuine leaders are occasionally forced to take unpopular decisions, irrespective of public opinion or international criticism.
The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media.