(Abidjan) French Premier Emmanuel Macron arrives here in Abidjan today (November 29) at the end of his first major tour to the continent where he will lay out France’s Africa policy for the next five years.
Cote D’Ivoire is a prime place for this keynote speech as it is the biggest economy in French-speaking Africa with maybe the reputation for one of the swiftest recoveries from the ashes of a bitter civil war. It is a mere seven years since Cote D’ Ivoire – once called the Paris of Africa – threw off the rule of the gun with the ousting of Laurent Gbagbo with the help of French troops.
Since those dark days the world’s leading cocoa exporter has quickly shifted its economy into top year. At a time when many economies around the world, from north to south, are struggling to record one per cent annual growth – Cote D’Ivoire achieved 8.8 %, albeit off a very low base. There are concerns in Abidjan that this growth appears to be failing to trickle down to the poor majority of the country’s 25 million people.
When Macron arrives one of his presidential duties will be to lay the foundation stone for a metro-style railway in Abidjan. It is one of the building blocks of robust transport infrastructure in the capital that would have been a mere pipe dream, back in 2011, as the soldiers filed back into their barracks. Within a few short years of the end of military rule, commuter ferries ply their trade delivering workers to the offices in the skyscrapers of Abidjan across the lagoon in the heart of the city. A new bridge over the lagoon channels cross town traffic away from the congested city centre. The country is also building a second shipping container terminal and beefing up logistics at the airport.
The fact that all of this foreign investment comes from Korea, Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia and Singapore, as well as France, is a sign of changing times in Cote D’ Ivoire. President Alassane Ouattara, who won his second term in October, has thrown open the doors to investors around the world – gone are the days when France had first pick.
This is what President Macron has to deal with in his policy speech in Abidjan: how to build a bridge between France and Cote D’Ivoire as sturdy as the new one over the lagoon. France likes to keep its former colonies close – there is a garrison of French troops near Abidjan airport – in business, closer still.
President Macron has a head start in that his counterpart President Ouattara, who is married to a French woman, is pragmatic and a lot more pro-French than his anti-imperialist predecessor.
The cynics in the financial world, in Abidjan, may shrug their shoulders and say, as French President, Macron will merely look after French interests. But in reality the French Premier has a unique opportunity in Abidjan, on Wednesday, not only to lay the foundation stone for the metro, but also to lay the foundation for a new era of confidence for foreign investment in the go-ahead economies of Africa.