Côte d’Ivoire prime minister Patrick Achi presses for investment, security aid in US visit

By Julian Pecquet

Posted on Friday, 18 March 2022 22:22
Côte d'Ivoire PM Patrick Achi and US secretary of state Antony Blinken (rights reserved)

Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire Patrick Achi visited Washington this week to press for US investment and security assistance as the West African country moves forward with its plan for inclusive growth driven by the private sector.

From there he headed to France, where he met today with prime minister Jean Castex.

In a sign of high-level US interest in President Alassane Ouattara’s reforms, secretary of state Antony Blinken made time to meet with Achi on Monday despite the Joe Biden administration’s focus on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Achi also met with house of representatives foreign affairs committee chairman Gregory Meeks and representatives from the World Bank, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the Export-Import Bank of the United States as well as the US Chamber of Commerce.

“I’ve been really privileged to be able to meet secretary Blinken and congressman Meeks, even though the environment is really tense, as you know,” Achi said at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center on Wednesday. “We were able to go over all the key issues on the African continent but also the [West African] sub-region, [including] security issues [and] development issues. And I think that we reached a common agreement that the continent should be helped, the sub-region should be supported, not only on security matters, but also on development matters.”

In a tweet following their meeting, Blinken noted Côte d’Ivoire was one of 28 African countries to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations earlier this month.

Cocoa sector reforms

Côte d’Ivoire’s economic climate was high on Achi’s agenda, as the country looks to reclaim its position as one of the world’s fastest growing economies before the Covid pandemic. Achi said his government is determined to create 8 million jobs and propel the majority of Ivorians into the middle class through its Côte d’Ivoire 2030 strategic plan, highlighting the ambition of the world’s biggest cocoa producer to move up the agribusiness value chain into chocolate production.

“We are [at] the early stage of this chain, where you’re having your people doing the most difficult part of the work and earning the least amount of the money, just because you don’t transform it,” he said at the Atlantic Council. “And this is where added value is, this is where revenue is, this is where job creation is.”

The cocoa sector has been a point of contention in bilateral relations, with Democratic senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Ron Wyden of Oregon in 2019 urging the Department of Homeland Security to block cocoa imports from Côte d’Ivoire at the border over reports of child labor in the sector. Achi acknowledged the controversy but said economic growth would end the practice, while praising recent legislation efforts.

“We have taken actions to stop that, for a couple of years now,” he said in response to a question from The Africa Report at the Atlantic Council event. “And it’s been working quite well. We passed a law that makes it mandatory for all kids aged under 16 to go to school. So wherever you are, in [the country] or in an urban area, if you’re less than 16 years old, you have to go to school, your parents have to send you to school, you need not to be in a plantation.”

As part of his visit, Achi caught up with the MCC, which signed a $524m grant agreement with the Ivorian government in 2017 focused on improving the transportation and education sectors. The compact, the MCC tells The Africa Report, “is expected to benefit over 11 million Ivorians by rehabilitating roads, modernising the urban traffic management system, constructing schools and establishing training centres for technical and vocational education.”

A spokesperson for the agency added that it’s assessing the need to extend the grant program due to Covid-related delays, as it has for countries such as Benin, Morocco and Niger.

Sahel spill-over

In addition to economic issues, Achi also discussed the need for logistical and other US military assistance to help defend the country from spill-over violence from the conflict in the Sahel and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

“As far as the security issue is concerned, for sure, if you want to develop your country, you want peace and security. It’s the primary, I would say, factor for people to come in and invest,” he told The Africa Report. “You need to see friends, people like the US, like France, to see how they can help you prepare yourself […] to protect your country from any attack coming from anywhere. And that’s what we came for. And people, I think, received our message, we think, 100%, and they guaranteed that they would give us the support.”

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