Network members attending the meeting in Abidjan.
Experience shows time and again that business associations are more effective in their advocacy when they work together in coalitions, networks, or alliances, whether formal or informal, to advance the interests of their members. When the time is right to join forces depends on a number of factors, chiefly among them being the degree of maturity of the association leaders and executives who understand that together they are stronger and their concerns are more likely to be heard than if they work and engage with decision-makers individually.
Willingness to join forces is a prerequisite for a group to affect change, but it is not the only one. It is equally important for the associations that embark on such an enterprise to be built on a solid structure, to follow sound governance principles, to meet members’ needs and to use adequate tools to present members’ issues and proposed solutions in a transparent and professional manner.
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.
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.
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.