OPINION, André Silver Konan: Simple remedies for our problems
In the past three years, several towns have been destabilised by shows of public anger in areas that support President Alassane Ouattara’s Rassemblement des Républicains, but also in Bloléquin in the west, Korhogo in the north and Soubré in the south-east.
The causes of the protests have often been different – the cost of electricity in Bouaké, a fire at a market in Soubré – but each time the protesters have attacked the symbols of the state. Protesters and rioters targeted government buildings, which they see as representing corruption, impunity and injustice.
That dissatisfaction runs deep. President Ouattara has also admitted it, saying: “Those antisocial acts of the past few months are a message to us all. They are contrary to the ideals of the society that we want to build.”
But don’t misread the situation. Anger takes root amidst poverty and inequality. In a recent report, the World Bank recognised that “since the end of the crisis in 2012, the performance of the Ivorian economy has been remarkable, with a per capita growth rate exceeding 5% per year.” But it also said that “despite this upturn, per capita income is today below levels in the early 1980s.”
According to the international financial institution: “An examination of the economic growth factors […] shows that […] the employment rate did indeed increase significantly (even faster than the population growth rate), but incomes did not follow the same positive trend.” In simple terms, working more does not mean making more money. That is a state of affairs that creates frustrations, the kind that can explode with the slightest spark.
The Ivorian government is at a crossroads. In 2010, Ouattara campaigned on a platform of improving the population’s living conditions. His ‘Horizon 2020’ programme for Côte d’Ivoire’s development created enormous expectations. Those expectations were obviously too great, and it is out of big hopes that huge disappointments are born. With two years until Ouattara’s second term ends, macroeconomic progress is not addressing the microeconomic fears of the average Ivorian.
To put a stop to the cycle of violent protests, the government is trying to apply the World Bank’s recommendations on “technology transfers”. But those do not address the real problems, the grievances that are causing angry people to march out into the streets.
The Bretton Woods institutions insist that one of the best ways to share out the fruits of growth more fairly is to bring state services closer to the citizens. That seems fair in theory. But in practice, this policy will be inadequate as long as the government does not have a transparent mechanism to stop, for example, medicines that are supposed to be free at rural health centres being sold to people instead.
The government needs to understand that it is not enough to give the country institutions that fight against corruption. It is more important to punish the bad managers of public projects, whether they be directors, ministers or the bosses of big companies, to stop the enrichment of a narrow elite to the detriment of the average citizen. If that happens, the country would take a giant step towards addressing problems linked to inequality. Why look for complicated solutions to popular frustrations when there are simple remedies?
From the April 2018 print edition