1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Dynamique de la politique sociale en Côte d’Ivoire



Côte d’Ivoire is a country of strategic importance in West Africa. It is a key member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), which constitutes a natural extension of its internal market and within which the country serves as a crucial distribution centre. For nearly 20 years, structural adjustment programmes in Côte d’Ivoire, as in most other African countries, have required restrictive public policies and left little room for manoeuvre in terms of true social policy. Other characteristics of the past decade, including a high rate of population growth, and shifting economic and political dynamics, raise a number of issues for study in relation to the way social policy is being managed. The participation of Côte d’Ivoire in the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, despite its difficult economic situation at the time, indicated the country’s commitment to social development through economic growth.

Five years after the Social Summit, this paper aims to take stock of the commitments made in Copenhagen, as well as their concrete implementation in Côte d’Ivoire. It begins by considering social issues in the country from a historical perspective, in light of the fairly recent end of authoritarian rule (10 years ago). How is Côte d’Ivoire using the weakening of the “Washington consensus” to redefine social policy? What can be considered social policies in the country today, how effective are such policies, and what are their limits? How have Social Summit recommendations affected the Ivorian way of addressing social issues? Has the public sector become more effective in its implementation of social policies? What are the main political, economic and institutional factors that determine the success or failure, and sustainability, of social policies? Have national and international development agencies, civil society organizations and research institutions with an interest in social development issues internalized the commitments made by the government of Côte d’Ivoire during the Social Summit?

The paper aims to address such questions in four ways. First, it suggests that the origins of the “social question” in Côte d’Ivoire are strongly linked to political regulation. At the beginning of the 1990s, the Ivorian economy faced the “consequences” of its success during the preceding decades. Public sector crisis required the government to accept implementation of reforms, which had high social costs. Households and individuals responded to the crisis by developing coping strategies, yet these did not prevent a decline in individual livelihoods and social cohesion. Such negative impacts of the restrictive economic policies under structural adjustment lend support to arguments in favour of using social policies as a political tool for social integration. This political undertaking is strongly linked to state capacity, not only to generate economic growth, but also to manage the implementation social policy within the twists and turns of successive economic reform programmes. According to the author, such an undertaking requires, from the Ivorian state, a “political culture of the social”. Yet this culture is currently absent in Côte d’Ivoire.

Second, the paper evaluates the state’s room for manoeuvre at the time it adhered to the recommendations of the Social Summit. Following independence, strong economic growth allowed the implementation of a range of socially motivated initiatives, yet these were often poorly planned. In fact, social programmes were important to the social and political control sought by the Ivorian state. Many such programmes were severely restricted or discontinued under the budgetary discipline imposed by structural adjustment programmes.

Through its participation in the Social Summit and its adherence to the 20/20 Initiative, the Ivorian state seemed to be indicating its acceptance of the goal of rectifying the social effects of structural adjustment. Yet such a positive reading may not be entirely accurate. Indeed, only short-term attention was devoted to the recommendations of the Social Summit: the commitment to the Highly Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) has gained prominence, overshadowing the 20/20 Initiative to such an extent that the goals outlined by the United Nations were not translated into concrete methodologies or guidelines for defining social policies. Mobilization around Summit ideals was thus weak, perhaps reflecting the omnipresence of the state and the near absence of non-governmental actors in the process in Côte d’Ivoire. The Social Summit recommendations had a modest influence on pressures favouring social policy issues. Furthermore, the 20/20 Initiative, intended as an advocacy tool for attracting official development assistance and for political dialogue, had very little influence on decisions regarding human development. In fact, the Ivorian state has attempted to manage social policy without explicit reference to the Social Summit recommendations. Nevertheless, certain commitments made during the Summit match conditions related to the HPIC Initiative, which governs Ivorian social policy. For example, eligibility for the HPIC Initiative has obliged the government to grant considerably greater attention to basic social sectors such as health and education.

Third, the paper considers contradictions in the way the Ivorian public administration has gone about setting up internalization mechanisms for social policies, and the extent to which institutional and non-governmental actors are involved in this dynamic. Without explicitly referring to the Social Summit recommendations, social policies as they have been developed since 1996—and culminating in the ambitious National Programme for the Fight against Poverty—put Côte d’Ivoire among the lead countries, in spite of dysfunctions noted during programme implementation. The originality of the Ivorian experience derives from its commitment to pursue economic reform policies while simultaneously adopting social measures for combating poverty. This approach made Côte d’Ivoire eligible for the HIPC Initiative, and its participation requires reinforcement of its commitments in favour of social programmes—but without really increasing the administrative capacity to manage them. Moreover, the public sector jealously defends its privileges—and in spite of proven lack of capacity, it has yet to show any political will to really involve non-governmental actors in defining or implementing social policies.

Fourth, the paper seeks to show that after the Social Summit, the translation into policy of the commitments made in Copenhagen and under the 20/20 Initiative was inadequate. The social development project is taking shape within a “matrix of priority actions and measures for the fight against poverty”. Because of the burden of external debt, social policy has been inspired by the potential benefits to be derived from the HIPC Initiative. Thus a plan of action in favour of social development has been combined with the management of economic constraints. Through the economic opportunity offered by the HIPC Initiative, the prospect of debt relief prevails over social development. The possibility of benefiting from the HIPC Initiative has led the government of Côte d’Ivoire to choose “constrained” social development, weakening its use as a tool for dialogue as foreseen by the 20/20 Initiative. Social policy has evolved within the framework of terms defined in the 1998–2000 Policy Framework Paper (PFP), and has faced difficulties concerning both planning and implementation. And one can fear that such “social policy under constraint” will run out of steam after the 2001 deadline.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Jul 2001
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    From: UNRISD