Free Markets and Free Minds in the Ivory Coast


A stroll through Bouake, the second largest city in the Ivory Coast via John James of the BBC.  Since its independence from France in 1960, the Ivory Coast has been one of West Africa’s most peaceful and prosperous countries.

Free Markets

“Here no-one can say to you: ‘No, that’s pirated’ or ‘You can’t sell that here,'” [an itinerant salesman] tells me when I ask if he ever has any trouble from the authorities.

“If we were in the south of the country, you could complain that no customs tax has been paid for example, but when you’re in the New Forces-zone everything can come in and be sold,” he says…

Soroland may not be a breakaway zone, but for seven years the inhabitants of this zone have got used to living without government taxes, customs charges and even water and electricity bills.

Reunification – already under way – will be a challenge to complete.

Hussein Doumbia is one of many local business leaders who have learnt to profit from this vast black market zone.

“Things are a lot cheaper than in the south – we see that people from the south often come here to stock up, above all the military who come for all their electronics – mobile phones, DVDs, televisions, everything,” he says.

Free Minds

When civil servants fled south, volunteer teachers, like Ali Ouattara, stepped forward to try to keep things going.

“We didn’t want the kids to become child soldiers, so we tried to give them something. This is how we became teachers,” says Mr Ouattara, who lost his job at the university at the start of the crisis.

Most of the volunteer teachers had limited qualifications and no experience of teaching.

At first they had almost no resources as the schools had been ransacked and the lawlessness meant they were scared to discipline their pupils, who were sometimes armed.

Gradually with contributions from parents, the ad-hoc schools helped save a generation of children, and in some years the rebel zone got better results in national exams than the government zone.

Other volunteers helped cover for the absence of the state in other ways: setting up an ad-hoc postal service; their own television stations and some basic policing.


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