How Côte d’Ivoire’s president used an old autocrat’s playbook to turn his country around
Seeing the economic vitality in Côte d’Ivoire, you could almost forget that this country was ever embroiled in a vicious conflict with undercurrents of xenophobia and ethnic hate. Yet when Alassane Ouattara—the runaway favorite to win a second term in this coming weekend’s presidential election—took office in May 2011, it was after five months of post-election violence in which 3,000 people had died, and Côte d’Ivoire was still suffering the aftermath of its 2002-03 civil war. Ouattara took over a country awash in weapons and seething with recrimination.
Since then, four years of GDP growth above 8%, a foreign investment surge, a real-estate boom, and an aggressive program of roads, bridges, and power projects convey how much things have changed. So how did Côte d’Ivoire settle down so quickly?
The economy helped. So did the fact that much of the population was tired of conflict. But a key factor has been that Ouattara, a former IMF technocrat known for economic chops, has also shown exceptional political skill. He has neutered the opposition, held together his own fractious camp, and cemented public support like an expert.
And connoisseurs recognize his playbook: It comes from the master, Félix Houphouët-Boigny (on the left in the image above), who ruled the country from independence in 1960 to his death in 1993, with Ouattara as prime minister for the final three years.
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