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Wednesday, 5 July, 2000, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Why the world watches Abidjan
Abidjan skyline
Economic strength has accompanied decades of peace
By BBC News Online's Justin Pearce

A few gunshots on the streets of Abidjan invariably echo around the world louder than a full-scale artillery battle in some other African countries.

The world watches Ivory Coast because for decades the West African state was a rare oasis of peace and prosperity in a notoriously unstable region.

Its stability has been built on one of the stronger economies in the region.

Ivory Coast economy
Exports cocoa, coffee, palm oil
GDP per capita $1,680
31% of GDP from agriculture
Growth rate 6%
When General Robert Guei seized power on 24 December 1999, even seasoned West Africa watchers were nothing short of astonished.

It was Ivory Coast's first violent change of government since gaining independence from France in 1960.

This tradition of stability has caused Ivory Coast to be regarded by Western powers - particularly by France and the United States - as an important regional ally.

Order restored

In the wake of the Christmas Eve coup, Western countries watched anxiously to see whether the change of power would undermine Ivory Coast's stability.

But they were impressed by the speed with which General Guei restored order, and by his pledge to lead the country back to democratic civilian government.

Moreover, the coup followed months of tensions between President Henri Konan Bedie and would-be challenger Allessane Ouattara.

Even France, which had supported President Bedie, continued to work with General Guei after expressing its disapproval of the violent seizure of power.

Above all, foreign powers want to see Ivory Coast's traditional stability continue - which is why any sign of a challenge to the general's authority causes consternation in Washington and Paris.

When General Guei seized power, the first sign that anything was amiss was when soldiers began firing shots into the air and riding through the streets of Abidjan.

What at first appeared to be a mutiny by troops dissatisfied over their pay soon turned out to be a full-scale coup d'état.

This explains why more recent unrest among "heated" soldiers - as the general described them - is interpreted as the start of something more serious.

Economic strength

Ivory Coast is the world's largest exporter of cocoa beans - the main ingredient in chocolate - and is also a major exporter of palm oil and coffee.

GDP per capita was estimated at $1,680 in 1998, along with a healthy 6% growth rate.

By contrast, the corresponding figures for Nigeria were only $960 and 1.6%.

Though industrialised by African standards, the Ivorian economy is still heavily dependent on agriculture and subject to fluctuations in world commodity prices.

A slump in the price of cocoa has caused serious economic difficulties recently, and cocoa farmers protested about the hardships they have been experiencing.

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See also:

05 Jul 00 | Africa
Ivory Coast's 'Le Boss'
01 Jul 99 | Africa
Africa threatens chocolate fight
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