Author Archives: Yana Hongla

CIPE In Francophone Africa: The Lost Chapters

Participants in CIPE's 2010 program in Cote d'Ivoire. (Photo: CIPE staff)

Participants in CIPE’s 2010 program in Cote d’Ivoire. (Photo: CIPE staff)

Part of my mandate as Program Officer for West and Central Africa is to establish a sustainable CIPE presence in Francophone Africa, a group of countries where CIPE appears to have a light footprint. So, it was with a solid sense of purpose that I embarked on my most recent CIPE mission to Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, only to realize that my CIPE predecessors had already done fantastic work, which accounts for CIPE’s popularity within civil society circles in many Francophone countries.

You can imagine Neil Armstrong and his crew, possessed by that light mix of excitement and apprehension in their underbelly as they headed for the moon, anticipating being the first humans to acquaint themselves with it, only to get there and be welcomed by a bunch of encamped Russians: “Ah, Americans … you finally made it.” — I would be untruthful not to admit that a part of me felt outflanked by my CIPE predecessors.

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CIPE and the Private Sector’s Role in Cote d’Ivoire’s Fragile Democracy

A street market in Abidjan (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A street market in Abidjan (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In Cote d’Ivoire, CIPE is engaged in a multi-year program to enhance the capacity of Ivorian private sector associations, particularly in the small and medium enterprises sector (SME), to drive advocacy initiatives for market-oriented policy reforms and a functional democracy.

This new program in Cote d’Ivoire also takes account of the post-conflict nature of the society and the transitional phase of its economy. Recent political developments in Cote d’Ivoire indicate significant challenges to consolidating any democratic gains after the 2011 post-electoral crises. Oddly enough, the administration’s response to these challenges may be favorable to CIPE’s program and mission in Cote d’Ivoire, which would lead to the kind of fundamental impact that will ultimately foster more sustainable democratic gains.

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Achieving Impact in Senegal

Dakar_-_Panorama_urbain

My recent visit to Dakar, Senegal, where I met with longtime CIPE partner, l’Union National des Commercants et Industriels du Senegal (UNACOIS) was very informative and revealed how much impact a good CIPE partnership can bring to bear.

The decade-long partnership between CIPE and UNACOIS – a Senegalese private sector association with 70,000 members who operate small and medium enterprises, mainly in the informal sector — is proving increasingly consequential within Senegal’s civil society circles. CIPE and UNACOIS have partnered on three programs whose core objective was to enhance UNACOIS’ internal governance capacity.

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In Tumultuous Cote d’Ivoire, the Private Sector Perseveres

Informal entrepreneurs make up 60% of Cote d'Ivoire's economy. (Photo: United Nations)

Informal entrepreneurs make up a large part of Cote d’Ivoire’s economy. (Photo: United Nations)

In Cote d’Ivoire, as in most nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, the government has pronounced its commitment to the creation of an entrepreneurial economy as a means to address the country’s sizable informal sector — despite the significant challenges posed by armed conflict and the legacy of civil war. CIPE’s current program in Cote d’Ivoire is aimed at enhancing the participation of the informal sector in policy reform processes and improving access to information on government economic and regulatory reform initiatives.

The existence of an informal sector in Cote d’Ivoire, along with a business organization to represent its interests, presents quite a contrast to the economic situation in the country during the immediate decades following its independence. Prior to its descent into civil war in 2002, Cote d’Ivoire was known to be the engine of stability, growth, and jobs in West Africa, with a more advanced private sector than most other sub-Saharan African countries.  The economic capital, Abidjan, was known across Africa as ‘le Paris de l’Afrique’ – the Paris of Africa. However, the fact was that Cote d’Ivoire was experiencing political and economic dynamics that were a legacy of its colonial and post-colonial ties to France: autocratic political rule that was supported by economic etatisme or dirigisme.

In 1993, the death of autocratic ruler Felix Houphouet-Boigny coincided with a significant drop in the price of cocoa, the country’s main export commodity. These led to a rocky transition from autocracy to democracy, culminating in a civil war in 2002 that split the country into two regions, along ethnic lines. The ensuing period of prolonged political instability fostered political patronage and neo-patrimonial networks that exacerbated the country’s post-colonial economic predicament, thereby creating a sizable informal sector.

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Business Associations Supporting Democracy in Senegal

A public-private dialogue session with Senegalese President Macky Sall.

A public-private dialogue session with Senegalese President Macky Sall.

A critical aspect to fulfilling CIPE’s vision is partnership with local organizations, who are not only capable of effectively advocating for policy reforms, but also possess the requisite commitment to democracy and economic development. In Senegal, CIPE is helping to support the country’s democratic consolidation through a multi-year partnership with the Union Nationale des Commercants et Industriels du Senegal (UNACOIS), now Senegal’s largest business association.

Such partnerships endure the inevitable setbacks of advocacy initiatives, delivering marginal progress in the short-term, while ultimately effecting long-term systemic changes. Such partnerships are particularly difficult to foster in the West Africa sub-region of Sub-Sahara Africa, where persistent armed conflicts – along with unfavorable social, economic, religious, and political dynamics – have conspired to imbue most people with significant cynicism towards democratic ideals.

CIPE partnered with UNACOIS on three projects between 2002 and 2008 to help the organization improve its member relations and internal governance.  This assistance reinforced UNACOIS’ national scope and grassroots reach, thereby contributing to its development into Senegal’s largest business association, with 80,000 members — nearly 70 percent of whom operate in the informal sector.

After consolidating its organizational governance, UNACOIS recently partnered with CIPE on a project whose objective is to empower and support the SME sector to engage in effective public-private dialogue. With its enhanced institutional capacity and its commitment to the CIPE mission, UNACOIS was able to deliver meaningful impact long before the end of the project. The final project activity was a public-private dialogue between UNACOIS, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and the Informal Sector, and other relevant stakeholders from public and private sectors.

The event took place on January 30th, 2013 at the Pullman Hotel in Dakar, Senegal. El Hadj Malik Gakou, the Minister of Commerce, Industry, and the Informal Sector, presided over the event, which had 93 attendees. The attendees were from the Ministries of Finance, Employment, Commerce, and Taxes and Customs; Members of the Parliamentary Committee on Tax and Customs; members of UNACOIS’ national and regional leadership teams; the Senegal National Employers’ Association (CNES); and print and TV media.

UNACOIS and CIPE developed a Public-Private Dialogue document, which was utilized to animate the PPD discussions. The PPD document sought to achieve two main objectives (links in French):

1)      To highlight

  • The importance of the SME  and informal sectors to political, economic, and social stability;
  • The local challenges that bedevil Senegal’s SME operators, especially those in the informal sector;
  • Best international practices in creating entrepreneurial societies.

2)      To recommend

  • Government support for the creation of regional SME co-operatives, which would provide benefits such as;
    • Improved access to finance through a collective guarantee system;
    • Better access to compete for public tenders;
    • Economies of scale for SME operators within each region.
    • The adoption of new technologies in vocational training, which would provide benefits such as;
      • Overcoming the issue of low literacy levels among Senegal’s SME operators.
      • Government support for sustained public-private dialogue between UNACOIS and the various provincial governments.

The Minister of Commerce, Industry, and the Informal Sector was impressed by the methodology that predicated the document’s findings and assertions. He promised to consult with the Prime Minister of Senegal, who – according to the Francophone system of governance – is the executive leader of the government. On February 4, 2013, UNACOIS received an official invitation from the Prime Minister for a meeting to discuss UNACOIS’ recommendations.

Such successes by UNACOIS, along with other recent ones, have raised its profile across West Africa as a leading business association. CIPE partners in other West Africa countries such as Mauritania, Cote d’Ivoire, and Mali repeatedly cite CIPE’s partnership with UNACOIS as a point of reference. By all indications, the partnership between CIPE and UNACOIS should bear positive consequences in the future. This promise now exists because UNACOIS is fulfilling its potential for strong internal governance and effective advocacy. Most importantly, this promise now exists because UNACOIS possesses a commitment to CIPE’s mission.

Supporting Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Senegal

A public-private dialogue session with Senegalese President Macky Sall.

A public-private dialogue session with Senegalese business leaders and President Macky Sall. Watch here (in Wolof)

Caught between the West African Sahel and tropical regions, Senegal is one of the more stable democracies among Francophone countries in Africa. Its record on democratic governance extends back to its independence from under French colonial rule. However, in the economic sphere, it has remained second-best to Cote d’Ivoire – which, with Nigeria, is one of the region’s top two economic powerhouses – and hence assumed a lower international profile.

Nevertheless, with an overwhelmingly young population, food security and unemployment challenges, and its geographic and cultural proximity to neighboring countries that host various radical Islamist groups, Senegal is in need of a vibrant private sector that can contribute to inclusive economic development. Such an outcome is important to Senegal’s democratic stability, as it addresses issues of food security, the religious radicalization of masses of unemployed youth, and the rise to prominence of illicit trades in arms and humans across West Africa.

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Economic Opportunity and Rebellion in the Sahel

“Aren’t you scared of getting kidnapped?” he asked her. ‘He’ being a participant of CIPE’s capacity-building workshop on association management, in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. ‘Her’ was a CIPE consultant, based in Romania, who had flown in to Mauritania to facilitate the workshop.

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