Côte d’Ivoire is reclaiming its reputation as a top investment destination in Francophone Africa, and on the continent as a whole.
That’s according to the 2022 CEO Barometer Survey recently released at the Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan, an event that brought together close to 2,000 political, business, and thought leaders. The forum is the largest annual gathering of Africa’s private sector.
The report, issued by Deloitte in partnership with the Africa CEO Forum, ranks Côte d’Ivoire first in attractiveness (link in French) as an investment destination, followed by Ghana and Nigeria. Despite challenges brought by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, 78% of the 200 CEOs interviewed said they are confident in the prospects for their sectors.
From its independence in 1960 up until its first and second civil wars (2002-2007 and 2010-2011), Côte d’Ivoire was a regional powerhouse, with a strong economy that relied heavily on exporting agricultural commodities for its growth. But during those years of conflict, and afterwards, financing opportunities grew scarcer, and many businesses left the country for safer regional hubs.
More recently, companies have started to move back thanks to political stability, and thanks to government policies designed to attract them. “In the past six years, everything has changed,” says Astou Dia, the Senegalese co-founder of startup accelerator Impact Hub Abidjan and a founder at business advisory firm A to A Partners. Dia says Côte d’Ivoire is becoming a natural growth market for startups from Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and other parts of the region; the country has the largest population and largest economy in Francophone west Africa.
Indeed, high-profile CEOs aren’t the only leaders eyeing the country. Alloysius Attah, co-founder and CEO of Farmerline, is just one example of an entrepreneur whose startup is expanding into Côte d’Ivoire. Attah’s Ghana-based ag-tech firm is using part of $12.9 million it raised in April to launch Ivorian operations.
“We’ve been considering Ivory Coast for the past five years—studying the market, building partnerships,” Attah tells Quartz. “Ivory Coast is very similar to Ghana as far as agriculture is concerned. Francophone Africa is often left behind when it comes to ag-tech. For us, it’s a greenfield and an opportunity for us to expand.”
Earlier this year, Wasoko, a Nairobi-based B2B e-commerce company, also expanded from Kenya to Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal.
Part of the draw of Côte d’Ivoire for startups are recent government reforms geared at serving business interests. Between 2010 and 2019, Côte d’Ivoire moved up 60 spots in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings, from No. 170 (out of 190 countries) to No. 110. Last year, the country implemented a startup act that minimizes the regulatory and administrative hurdles of running a startup.
Among other measures, the government has simplified the tax structure for startups, and theoretically made it possible to register a new business within 48 hours. Obtaining residency permits for non-Ivorians is also relatively straightforward, Dai says.
It doesn’t hurt that there are so many opportunities for innovation on the continent right now. Speaking at the Africa CEO Forum, Deloitte risk advisory leader Aristide Outtara said the CEOs surveyed are focused on digital payments, AI, and automation. Blockchain and crypto also got a few shout-outs.