The 22 January announcement that Globeleq and its partner IPS had reached financial close for the 253MW expansion of their 460MW Azito gas-fired plant at Yopougon, near Abidjan (AE 408/8), was timed to coincide with a visit to London by an Ivorian delegation led by President Alassane Dramane Ouattara for the UK-Africa Summit (AE 408/21). General Electric will provide gas turbine technology and services for the Phase IV project. The new and enlarged 20-year Azito concession agreement underscores Côte d’Ivoire’s ability to finance major private sector infrastructure projects. Developing critical infrastructure is a key element in an economic strategy which has helped Côte d’Ivoire to average 8% annual growth in the last nine years, with 7.5% growth in 2019 and 7.3% forecast for 2020, Ouattara said in London.

Speaking to a business roundtable in the City, the former International Monetary Fund deputy managing director emphasised macroeconomic stability as the cornerstone of policymaking. Whoever eventually replaces him as president must understand that “the only way to have confidence is to build a strong macroeconomic framework”, coupled with social progress in key areas such as water supply and rural electrification, Ouattara said. These messages are important for markets – Côte d’Ivoire is very serious about building a cartel of like-minded cocoa producers to obtain a fair price for its key strategic product – and the electorate. A commitment to double the price that cocoa farmers receive will play well in the countryside, while improved infrastructure and higher social spending are intended to ease tensions ahead of the October 2020 presidential election.

Ouattara has indicated he wants to stand down: “I am 78 and I’m not [the late Zimbabwean leader Robert] Mugabe,” he told his London business audience. But although he seems to have a designated successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly’s wooden performances and lack of popular appeal may yet lead to Ouattara – whose main goal is for his Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP), rather than any particular candidate, to win in October – choosing a different successor, or even standing again (AE 407/3).

Ouattara was more emphatic on this issue than usual in London. For the economy to progress you need a solid team, led by a sound macroeconomic manager who can unify people, he said. “I think I’m almost there,” he added, without identifying any successor. He reiterated the argument that the 2016 constitution would allow him to serve two more terms, on the grounds that his two election wins under the old constitution would not count against the new document’s two-term limit.

Further, Ouattara said, it “allows me to make a decision by July… and it is then that I will announce my decision”.
Several more months of doubt over politics and policy beckon, as Ivorian elites focus almost solely on the election and its possible outcomes. Despite two leading candidates, ex-president Laurent Gbagbo and former National Assembly speaker Guillaume Soro, being mired in legal problems abroad and thus apparently ruled out, RHDP stalwarts want to leave nothing to chance.

These political ambiguities are apparent in IPPs’ fortunes: while Azito Phase IV moves ahead, symbolising Côte d’Ivoire’s ability to deliver on sustainable, productive investment, the parallel 390MW Ciprel V (Atinkou) scheme has been slowed by still unspecified efforts for the Ivorian state to increase its stake in the combined-cycle power plant at the expense of its majority owner, French private equity investor Eranove Group. Efforts to ‘Ivorianise’ Ciprel V may play well with voters amid an underswell of popular anti-French sentiment. (Globeleq, by contrast, is perceived as a more politically neutral Anglo-Saxon play). France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Ouattara have developed a close working relationship, notably over the new West African eco currency (AE 407/1), but in an increasingly tense election year, hugs with Macron are not a vote-winner to outweigh good old nationalist sentiment.