If the number of cranes on the skyline of a capital city is an indicator of investor confidence, then Côte d’Ivoire has come a long way since the dark days of political turmoil and civil conflict. Its re-emergence as an investment destination has coincided with an average annual rise in gross domestic product (GDP) of about 8.5% between 2012 and 2015.
As one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, Côte d’Ivoire’s government is focused on consolidating the peace and stability regained since the end of the civil war to help foster economic development. It has also embarked on a series of initiatives to grow the private sector, such as evaluating investment codes.
The recently opened Azalaï Abidjan Hotel is the result of a €36.6m investment, including funding from the West African Development Bank, International Finance Corporation and three commercial banks (Bank of Africa, NSIA and Atlantic Bank). “The 14-storey glass building gives a visible, palpable, realistic and futuristic content to the emergence of Côte d’Ivoire,” says Mossadeck Bally, founder and CEO of the Azalaï Hotels Group.
“Côte d’Ivoire has infrastructure to respond to the requirements of various markets, including the hotel industry. It is an excellent congress destination, with a high demand for hotel rooms. Its political stability inspires the confidence of investors such as us. The greater the economic attractiveness, the faster the flow of business travellers will increase.”0
GBS Africa, in partnership with various stakeholders, is involved in a property development project in the Bassam area. “Société Ivoirienne de Développement des Infrastructures was founded with a vision of being a master development company which will create residential communities in the region,” says GBS partner Agnes Gitau.
The company aims to develop a community where everything that families need – such as employment, healthcare, education and recreation – is within walking distance. The development’s urban planning caters for middle- and upper middle-class lifestyles as well as the government’s agenda of a house for all by 2030, with the provision of around 1.5 affordable houses for every middle-/upper middle-class dwelling.
Location and connectivity
Ms Gitau says the project’s success lies in its location between two major roads and a 20-minute drive to the coast and the airport. Water, electricity and fibre optics have already been connected to the site. The master plan has been approved, a construction permit has been issued and the building of the first 50 villas is underway.
Standard Bank – trading as Stanbic Bank – formally opened a representative office in Abidjan in January 2014. According to Hervé Boyer, chief executive of Stanbic Bank Côte d’Ivoire, the bank has hired 30 staff so far, most of whom are local, and has opened a state-of-the-art branch in one of the city’s upmarket shopping centres.
“Côte d’Ivoire has enjoyed a strong economic recovery and sustained GDP growth since 2012,” he says. “Security has greatly improved along with a return to political normalcy. Levels of investment in key sectors and a focus on expanding and upgrading infrastructure is supporting growth. These policy and structural improvements are supporting growth in the financial services sector and wider business and investment environment.
“Côte d’Ivoire is the region’s fastest-growing economy and its growth rate is expected to be maintained over the next three to five years. It is ideally positioned as a hub from which to access the wider region. As the economic hub of a region with a single currency, strong, effective, real and well-legislated regional economic integration and cross-border access, all covered by a single central bank and stock exchange, it is truly the gateway to supporting local and global clients in francophone West Africa.”
Mr Boyer identifies the key sectors driving growth as public and private investment in infrastructure, natural resources and the commercialisation of agriculture. The country’s consumer sector is also enjoying success, as strong economic growth and greater financial inclusion highlights the potential of retail and services.
“Chinese-led investment is also a key driver of growth,” says Mr Boyer. “The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China’s 20% shareholding in the Standard Bank Group makes Stanbic Bank in Côte d’Ivoire particularly relevant to growth in Chinese investment, trade, manufacturing and export.”
The nation’s mining sector makes a significant contribution to its economy. “Côte d’Ivoire has all the ingredients for the development of a world-class mining industry capable of making an enormous contribution to the country’s economy, but to achieve this, government and the mining sector need to work together in a committed long-term partnership,” Randgold Resources’ chief executive Mark Bristow told local media at the company’s Tongon mine in the north of the country earlier this year.
He says Côte d’Ivoire is highly prospective and has one of Africa’s most investor-friendly mining codes, as well as a relatively modern infrastructure. However, he believes more investment is needed from the mining sector and government. “It’s particularly important to encourage exploration, and to maintain a fiscal and operational environment capable of attracting international capital providers and mine developers. The benefits to the country of a growing, sustainably profitable mining industry are huge, and the government needs to think big about cultivating such an important asset.”
Mr Bristow also notes the issues that need addressing, such as illegal gold mining, the granting of permits to companies that lack exploration capacity and expertise, and the acceleration of the permit process.
Challenges and optimism
Although in recent years Côte d’Ivoire has been largely peaceful and many expats have returned, significant challenges remain. Concerns were stoked by an army mutiny and pockets of unrest earlier this year.
Investors remain optimistic, however. “We see great potential, with economic activity diversifying across the country,” says Mr Bally. “Côte d’Ivoire has many assets enabling it to carry out its industrial and economic development. The national development plan has already proved effective as there are signs of economic growth. Today, with decentralisation strategies led by the government, cities such as Yamoussoukro, Bouaké and San-Pédro have great potential for hotel chains.”
Ms Gitau agrees: “Côte d’Ivoire has had its share of challenges like most African countries. But the renewed momentum of both the public and private sector, and the shared vision among Ivorians to promote equitable economic development, make the country’s future promising,” she says. “Public investment in infrastructure and a commitment by the current administration to promote ease of doing business is attracting capital and investment into various sectors. The country is turning a corner, addressing some of its challenges head on, and the results are slowly becoming evident on the ground.”