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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Ivorian unrest threatens West Africa economy
Ivorian soldiers
Firms fear the violence will spread to Abidjan

"Ivory Coast came up trumps as the best place in Francophone Africa to do business," said David Frost, who organises British trade missions.

"It was going great. Now it's shattered."


It will take years for UK plc to even look at Ivory Coast again

David Frost, international trade adviser
Mr Frost was in Ivory Coast with a delegation of British businessmen when the violence erupted earlier this month.

Even though the uprising was centred on an area 200 kilometres further north, members of the group were marooned in their hotel for four days and saw villages razed to the ground before eventually fleeing to safety.

Needless to say, none of the scheduled business meetings took place.

"It will take years for UK plc to even look at Ivory Coast again," he said, adding that it had taken 10 years to build the trade relations between the UK and Ivory Coast in the first place.

"It's so sad. Francophone Africa will suffer greatly as a result," Mr Frost said.

"Africa has shot itself in the foot yet again, and the people will have to suffer the consequences."

Powerhouse

The desperate tales of bloodshed that have come out of northern Ivory Coast this month are all too familiar in Africa.

But Ivory Coast, a former French colony, has long been considered an oasis of stability and prosperity in a blood-soaked, impoverished region.

Britain is by no means alone in having singled out Ivory Coast as the best place to do business.

The commercial capital of Abidjan is the financial capital of the whole of Francophone western Africa.

And it is home to some of Africa's most prestigious financial institutions such as the African Development Bank and the West African stock exchange, while Nestle has its African headquarters there.

Colonial inheritance

"It is a very powerful hub that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the region," said David Cowan, a senior economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Indeed, Ivory Coast's $10bn economy is more than four times the size of its neighbours of Mali and Burkina Faso.


It emphasizes to anyone considering doing business in Africa, that the place is full of unexpected coups

David Cowan, Economist Intelligence Unit

And about 60% of the goods imported by Francophone West Africa pass through the port of Abidjan.

Abidjan's pre-eminence is inherited from colonial days when the French chose to govern from there.

Investment flowed into the region, creating the world's largest cocoa producer, with vibrant coffee, timber and oil refining industries.

And that led to the development of a services industry and a regional hub for banking, insurance and advertising.

Ivory Coast's economic success has led to a large number of migrant workers on the cocoa and tropical fruit plantations.

There are about 5 million non-Ivorian Africans working there, often supporting whole families in poorer countries.

Deterrent

While investors are likely to be scared away from Ivory Coast, experts said that other west African countries were unlikely to benefit from the fallout.

"No other country can come in to replace it - none of the Ivory Coast's peers have got the diversified economies, infrastructure and skills base needed to act as such a commercial hub," said Mr Cowan.


A threat to Ivory Coast is a threat to all of us

Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigerian President

Ivory Coast's crisis comes at a time when African leaders are trying to attract more foreign investment by showcasing the continent as a stable place for development.

"It further emphasizes to anyone considering doing business in Africa, that the place is full of unexpected coups," said Mr Cowan.

"A threat to Ivory Coast is a threat to all of us," declared Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, dispatching fighter jets to the troubled region.

While Mr Obasanjo was referring to escalating violence, his comment also sounded a warning bell for the region's shaky economics.

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David Frost
I think British business will scorn the idea of doing business in Ivory Coast now

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28 Sep 02 | Africa
26 Sep 02 | Africa
29 Aug 02 | Business
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