|The Courier N° 133 - May - June 1992 - Dossier : Environment and Development - Country Reports - Côte d'lvoire - Papua New Guinea (EC Courier, 1992, 104 p.)|
Democracy is emerging in the countries of Africa rather as independence did. Whereas some states in the 1950s and 1960s had to fight hard for their international sovereignty, others were proffered it, as de Gaulle put it, like a poisoned chalice. This to a very large extent falsified the meaning of independence inside these newly independent countries and led them into making national and international political choices which, even on matters of general agreement such as the anti-apartheid campaign or just the aims and means of economic development, went down different paths.
Democracy has arrived in much the same way. After vainly resisting the 'injunctions' delivered at La Baule, the African States ended up in mourning, with the multiparty system seen as an 'external vision' of democracy and a 'luxury which the African countries could not afford'!
But realism lives on, of course, and the choice between two evils had to be made. It was democracy with aid or the status quo without. They opted for the principles, not always a painless process... and now they have to be put into practice.
Cd'Ivoire was not just standing on the sidelines while all this went on. Despite one or two national and international options which have been major talking points, in the space of 30 years it has contrived to build up a solid, food-producing farm sector and a communications infrastructure network, both en viable bases for sustained industrialisation in the long term. Once a 'second-rank' state in comparison with Senegal, which was the hub of the region in the colonial era, it took a leaf out of Dakar's book and became the promised land for virtually all the peoples living in that part of the world. This was real economic success. It was relative, certainly, in that the income gap between those who were productive and those who were not remained wide, but it was a feather in the cap of three decades of Houphouet-Boigny government - and a help in the mess the country finds itself in today. And the Ouattara Government's new economic policy aims to right the wrongs of misguided management and put the economy back in the hands of the business sector, with privatisation on every front (in banking, energy, farming etc) and clear confidence in private management (see statements by Alessane Ouattara, the Prime Minister, Lambert Konan, the Minister of Agriculture, and Professor Ekra, the Minister of Health).
But as the Prime Minister himself agrees, economics and politics cannot be kept apart, and the ongoing economic reforms will only work if there are the proper political structures to go with them. As far as principles are concerned, the single party system is a thing of the past and the big question now is the day-today running of democracy and the real role of the political parties, the administrative bodies and the trade unions which contribute to that democracy. The democratic good faith of Dr Ouattara cannot and should not be doubted. But how much room does he in fact have for a proper State of law when both the (albeit changing) administration and the (solidly established) army are the product of a regime which put itself above all criticism? How much room does he have with the clumsy manuvres of ill-structured opposition parties armed with no credible programmes reflecting the profound frustrations of years devoid of democracy ?
The recent troubles in Cd'Ivoire, the Government's questionable way of dealing with them and the irresponsible reactions of the press and the General Secretary of the Party, which have only made things worse, show that there is still a huge gap between the principles of democracy, which have been adopted, and the practice of it-for practical democracy means the separation of powers and the drawing of a firm line between the work of the Government and action by the forces which support it. No doubt the sudden switch to a process accelerated by the international political climate and the nation's very serious economic problems has something to do with this straying from the path. The cost of living in Abidjan and the country in general is very high and, as all over Africa, there are clouds on the horizon, particularly for young people.
However, these economic and political difficulties must be seen in relative terms. This is an enviable situation in comparison with other African States with similar resources, or indeed some with wonderful mineral wealth and oil and apparently brighter futures in store. And when it comes to the basic freedom of ordinary people within its frontiers, this is a country which has a lot to teach others-and not just in Africa either.
Cd'Ivoire's big problem today, over and above the crucial management issue, is how to build a thriving democracy which will safeguard and develop fundamental freedoms and give the nation an economy which creates employment and brings hope to the most vulnerable members of its population, the young people.