The Ivory Coast: A Jewel Before Its Decline

Originally published on April 10, 2011 6:43 pm
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LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

Mike McGovern, Yale professor and West Africa specialist, remembers Ivory Coast in calmer, more prosperous times, when the country was flush with cocoa profits and the city of Abidjan was at its busy peak. He described it for us this way.

MIKE MCGOVERN: The electricity didn't go out. The water ran pretty much 24 hours. These are things that people in most West African cities cannot take for granted, but in Abidjan, you could.

WERTHEIMER: In better days, isn't it true that people were coming into the Ivory Coast to do business from all over West Africa, from Europe?

MCGOVERN: Absolutely.

WERTHEIMER: Was it all about the production of chocolate?

MCGOVERN: Well, the foundation of the economy was cocoa. Cote d'Ivoire remains the biggest cocoa producer in the world. About 40 percent of the world's cocoa comes from there.

WERTHEIMER: So what happened to Ivory Coast?

MCGOVERN: And so things kind of entered a steady slide from about the mid-'80s until the present. Of course, in the last 10 years, that slide has become precipitous.

WERTHEIMER: As I understand it, there was another ingredient in this mix, and that has to do with the large numbers of immigrants who had come into Ivory Coast during its period of prosperity. And as the economy declined, they were still there, and the locals began to resent them.

MCGOVERN: In many respects, immigrants in Cote d'Ivoire do work that most Ivoirians couldn't be bothered to do or wouldn't be willing to do. So the rhetoric around immigration is not so different from what you can see right now in Europe or the United States.

WERTHEIMER: Now, this conflict has stretched over five months. There are thousands of people dead. When you think back to the prosperous country that was there maybe 20 years ago, do you see any possibility of the Ivory Coast getting back to that?

MCGOVERN: But this is really a long-term situation. We're talking about 15, 20 years from now.

WERTHEIMER: Mike McGovern, thank you for being with us.

MCGOVERN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.