Côte d’Ivoire: President Alassane Ouattara in South Africa for state visit

By Romain Chanson
Posted on Friday, 22 July 2022 16:40

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara on 20 July 2022 upon his arrival in South Africa for a state visit.
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara on 20 July 2022 upon his arrival in South Africa for a state visit. Twitter / Presidency CI/

Cloudy skies and bitter cold. The winter weather in Johannesburg proved to be harsh when welcoming Côte d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara. The head of state arrived in South Africa on the evening of 20 July. The next few days would be warmer in this country, where bilateral relations with Côte d'Ivoire are improving.

On his arrival, Ouattara was received by Naledi Pandor, the minister of the department of international relations and cooperation. He met his counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday morning 22 July at the Union Buildings, the headquarters of the presidency in Pretoria, for an important state visit. The last time an Ivorian head of state paid an official visit to the Southern African country was in 1998 when former president Henri Konan Bédié and his delegation were hosted by former president Nelson Mandela for dinner.

We continue to consolidate bilateral relations and trade links between our two countries since the success of my state visit to Côte d’Ivoire.

It took more than 20 years for an event of this magnitude to be organised again, initially through Ramaphosa’s state visit to Côte d’Ivoire from 1-3 December 2021. The visit was historic, as it was the first one since the establishment of diplomatic relations in May 1992.

Boom in trade

As a symbol of this rapprochement, Air Côte d’Ivoire made its first flight from Abidjan to Johannesburg on 29 June. Severely weakened by years of mismanagement, South Africa’s national airline, South African Airways, has abandoned this route. Ramaphosa had discussed the issue with Ouattara during his visit in December. Air Côte d’Ivoire now links the two countries four times a week in eight hours, with a short stopover in Kinshasa, making it the fastest link on this route.

Abidjan and Johannesburg are some 7,000km apart, but this distance is not holding back South African investment in Côte d’Ivoire. Trade between the two countries is growing: it reached R2bn in 2021 ($118.6m) compared to R1.3bn in 2019.

The insurer Sanlam, multimedia group MultiChoice, Standard Bank, Investec and telecoms giant MTN are all expanding their operations there.

The latter, operating in Côte d’Ivoire since 2005, has 15 million subscribers and is building a new Ivorian headquarters. The Ivorian minister of communication, Amadou Coulibaly, visited MTN offices in Johannesburg in the presence of the CEO of the group, Ralph Mupita. “We discussed topics of common interest to advance the digital and financial inclusion of Ivorians. The minister congratulated MTN for extending connection and services to rural communities in Côte d’Ivoire,” the group said in a statement.

A new lease of life

Telecoms, defence, agriculture, transport, mining… To advance these bilateral issues, a Joint Cooperation Commission was created in December 2015, shortly after Ouattara’s re-election. The problem? The commission remained inactive until October 2021.

Ties between the countries remained weak under Jacob Zuma’s presidency (2009-2018). During the 2011 Ivorian election crisis, Zuma supported rival Laurent Gbagbo’s demand for a recount despite the United Nations’s validation of the vote. Zuma was present in Abidjan with other heads of state to mediate, and he was confronted by some 20 young Ouattara supporters.

However, Ramaphosa’s leadership style is different than his predecessors, and relations with Côte d’Ivoire seem to be taking a new turn. “I look forward to receiving and welcoming my brother Alassane Ouattara […] We continue to consolidate bilateral relations and trade links between our two countries since the success of my state visit to Cote d’Ivoire last December,” Ramaphosa said on Twitter following the announcement of the Ivorian presidency’s visit.

Business priorities

The two heads of state are expected to chair a South Africa-Côte d’Ivoire business forum and then sign bilateral institutional agreements. They are also expected to discuss cooperation between their two countries as well as regional and international issues.

Ramaphosa’s visit in December 2021 was marred by the identification of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in South Africa and the banning of the country by world powers. This time, however, will the visit be about Mali and the ongoing mediation to resolve the case of the 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested in Bamako on 10 July?

On Friday evening, a dinner will be held in honour of Ouattara before the Ivorian president flies – the following day – to Cape Town, two hours by plane south of Johannesburg, to visit Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned from 1964 to 1982.

Shortly after his release from prison in February 1990, Mandela embarked on a tour of West Africa that took him to Côte d’Ivoire in November 1991. Representing the African National Congress, he went to make the cause of the movement against the apartheid regime heard and to renew ties with then president Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who had – for a time – been considered too close to the racist regime in Pretoria.

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