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Bank’s heart has always remained at Abidjan — Kone

This year’s African Development Bank (AfDB) annual meetings in Marrakech, Morocco is significant for Cote d’Ivoire as it will determine when the Bank would return to its true headquarters in Abidjan.  Executive Director for Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea, Ahmadou Kone is positive that the Marrakech meetings will endorse the movement.  He speaks on efforts of the Ivorien government to put everything in place to welcome the Bank especially now that peace has returned to the country.

 How prepared is Cote d’Ivoire for the return of the Bank to Abidjan; are you ready?

There is no doubt that we are ready.  The all-cheer signal for the Bank’s return to its home in Abidjan was not given by our country alone.  The Bank Board has done due diligence and thorough investigations, using security experts to assess the situation in the country.  It found that it is safe.  The Board has declared that there is no security issue to prevent the return to Abidjan.

So, it is not the country that is imposing itself on the Bank rather all stakeholders in the institution are agreed that it is time to go back to its rightful home.  The truth is that while the Bank was constrained to move from Abidjan over a decade ago, its heart remained there.

 What is the general politico-economic situation in the country?

As you know, peace has returned to Cote d’Ivoire following the inauguration of President Alassane Ouattara and cessation of the hostilities that broke out after the election. President Ouattara is on top of the situation.  He is even the current Chairman of ECOWAS and has the regional body’s total support.  He has since hosted several heads of states including Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, who testified that all is now well.  King Mohammed VI of Morocco also visited last year and was seen walking unguarded in the streets of Abidjan, visiting Moroccan citizens in the town.  He even extended a scheduled three-day stay to one week to demonstrate his confidence in the return to normality in the country and the good relations Morocco and Cote d’Ivoire enjoy.

And the economy?

It is even better than many people expected given the turbulence of our recent past.  The economy is expected to grow by an average of 8.6 percent between 2010 and 2014.  It was estimated that the country would need investment of some $24billion to maintain that level of growth and to fix infrastructure, social services etc.  We started out looking for $4 billion for take-off but we ended up raking in $8billion before adding private sector contributions.  We were not relying only on external inflow even though government emphasised its commitment to a good investment climate and the reconciliation of all ethnic groups within the country to promote peace, which is necessary for development.

 How strong is the relationship between Cote d’Ivoire and the Bank?

The Bank has always been on the side of the country and continued to support it even during the 10 years when it was in crisis.  After the election crisis, the Bank gave the country an emergency facility of CFA 10 billion.

If we are able to grow as fast as we are doing now after the crisis, it means that the relationship is fruitful.  It means that the Bank’s response is timely and helpful and we thank the Bank President and the staff for believing in the country.  Besides the emergency assistance, Cote d’Ivoire receives budgetary support to help smoothen administration and essential services and governance.

Even when the Bank started out over four decades ago, President Houphouet-Boigny gave plenty of support, providing land and temporary office space to the first set of staff in Abidjan.

Today, President Ouattara is doing the same.  The state has put at the Bank’s disposal the International Trade Centre in Abidjan.  It has 25 floors and is being renovated at state expense and will be needed to accommodate the estimated 1700 staff members that will return to Abidjan.  It is spending over CFA25billion for the rehabilitation and will allow the Bank to use it free of charge for the period of its resettlement till 2015.

The Bank is assured of adequate infrastructure as the state has also designated 10,000 hectares of land free for any expansion the Bank may be contemplating.  For its staff, the state is fixing the famous Mermoz School at the cost of CFA6billion to provide quality education for the staff’s children and helping to rehabilitate the environment where staff quarters were built before they fled the country. In total, as much as CFA14billion will go into the state’s investment in helping the Bank to return to Abidjan.

For the city, the 3rd bridge is in progress to make traffic flow better.  Incidentally, the Bank is funding the project.  Around the country other infrastructure projects are ongoing to return its lost glory.  Already a new Country Strategy Paper for Cote d’Ivoire is being finalised to help the country plan for future development.

 So you are optimistic that the Morocco meetings will approve the move to Abidjan?

The key issues in Morocco will not be security as that is a settled matter.  The issues will be those of infrastructure, housing, health and schools etc for the citizens and all residents.  The Bank is upgrading its real estate there and the state is assisting in its own way.

I am confident that the Morocco meetings will be positive as far as return to Abidjan is concerned.  Recall that the Bank had its 2008 annual meetings in Abidjan and it was quite successful.  Abidjan is the Bank’s real home, and it will return there.

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