Reflections on the reality of life in Cote d Ivoire

World Economics
In late 2016 the McKinsey Global Institute published a report called "Lions on the Move II: Realizing the potential of Africa's economies".

The report included in the analysis the "official" growth rates for many African economies, and concluded that "Africa's economic fundamentals remain strong..."

The recently updated World Economics Data Quality Ratings suggest that much of the GDP growth evidence on which the McKinsey report is partly based (and many other recent papers on the new "Scramble for Africa") is potentially misleading. 

The McKinsey paper suggests (to take one example) that the Cote d'Ivoire economy has been growing at a very healthy 6%+. But The Data Quality Rankings show that the quality of official data from Cote d'Ivoire is significantly flawed , with data currently built on a base year of 2009 , and an SNA of 1993 ( things were very different 26 years ago ), a large unrecorded Informal economy, and the likely inability to produce accurate GDP data . To base conclusions that individual African countries are growing rapidly on such shaky foundations is giving greater credence to the data inputs than is deserved.

The reality of life in Cote d'Ivoire doesn't in fact appear to have changed much, despite the apparent rapid GDP growth of recent years. Things may even be getting worse despite the GDP growth rates. 

Here is an account of the reality of daily life from our correspondent who has lived and worked in Cote d'Ivoire for several years:

“While I and my colleagues are paid good salaries, even by European standards, most families in the Cote d’Ivoire have perilously low incomes and virtually no long-term savings. I can’t prove it with statistics but I estimate that I am earning in a month what an average working adult in Abidjan earns in four years. We are the equivalent of Premier League footballers to Abidjan’s working class, which is stalled in poverty and condemned to live in a different world with only occasional contact with the shatter-proof bubble of the rich. 

This is made terrifyingly obvious by revelations of the financial impact of illness on the poor. Sudden healthcare costs, for example for a relative suffering from long-term illness, or treatment for injuries following a car accident, or even just a dental bill for a tooth extraction, can ruin the lives of whole families. 

Health insurance here is dominated by international companies, accessible only to expatriates, the very rich, and a minority of those in permanent employment. This is why most tooth extractions are by pliers and most medication involves boiling plants, roots or flowers according to traditional recipes. 

Most families’ first healthcare recourse is to the potions and remedies of healers and others whose home made products often heal, albeit more slowly, than the manufactured pill or potion of the all-encompassing multinational company. There are local and natural cures for many ailments and conditions from diarrhoea and malaria to arthritis and cancer, sometimes based on original and fresh versions of the same herbs used, mixed, sold, and intellectually “owned” by multinationals. 

The average family, including uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, step-children and step-parents, normally together discuss and deal with any major costs arising, and seek assistance from those in the family with money, if such exist. This is why the small proportion of Africans who have money to spend should not always be assumed to have plenty to spare. Their wealthy-healthy status means that they are often the sole providers of funds when anyone in their family needs help. Africans are natural sharers and givers, and spare money is used first for close relatives in need. However, this is changing as free market values replace those of religion, morality, family, and community. Money from benefactors is reducing. This is crucial, as Africans themselves contribute more money to their continent’s economic development than all the development aid from the world put together. This is through millions of transfers of small change from the huge African diaspora working and living around the world. This can make all the difference between family survival and starvation.

But the public hospitals of Abidjan indicate the dereliction and decline in community solidarity. They do not treat people without the money to pay the bills, so the entrance halls and approach ways to hospitals are often peopled by seriously ill and dying men, women and children unable to enter for more applied treatment. Their hands are outstretched for the miracle of being given money for the care they need. For some, their traditional benefactors are no longer assisting with their small change contributions. 

As a consequence I am told that poverty is now increasing fast amongst the already severely poor across Africa as wealthier family scions increasingly decide that they need not be bound by family ties."

The New Scramble for Africa may well result in benefits for China and Russia in terms of access to scarce resources, and political influence at the UN and elsewhere, but may not result in much change to the standard of life of the ordinary citizen.