Beginners: High Energy in Cote d'Ivoire

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Mission to Côte d'Ivoire scheduled to take place between February 13 and 17. Time to prepare for my first trip with the Bank: call for tickets and hotel, visit the travel clinic, request UNLP and visa, read security recommendations, exchange money etc. Ah, of course, prepare all the background documents and coordinate the elaboration of our meeting schedule. Simple activities that tend to become uninteresting for those who have done it several times before are rather exciting for a beginner.

Sights from the start of a long engagement with Cote d'Ivoire: Football Fever!I landed in Cote d’Ivoire just in time for the big final of the Africa’s Nations Cup: Cote d’Ivoire, the favorites to win, facing the surprising Zambia. Everyone’s eyes were on the game and the scenario was set for a week of celebrations. Football (soccer), however, is tricky and Cote d’Ivoire ended as the runner up. That did not change the plans in the country: Monday the 13th had been declared a national holiday for the people to welcome the players and so it was. A slight unexpected issue for us, as most of our meetings scheduled for that day were cancelled. An anti-climax for a beginning.

Our mission was a joint scoping effort between 3 World Bank Group teams that work on improving country investment climates, focusing on the identification of opportunities for private sector involvement in the power sector of Côte d’Ivoire. The emphasis of the discussions was on small and medium size operators, possibly off-grid or in the form of rural mini-grids. A joint mission had been agreed between the three business lines because of their common interest in the sector and in order to facilitate client interaction. Working together as a team with complementary views was certainly a success and amplified the gains from our visit to Abidjan.

The landscape we found in Cote d’Ivoire is one of transition to a new beginning. The country’s first legislative election in more than a decade was held on December 2011, and the recently appointed president, Alassane Ouattara, will be bolstered by a sizeable parliamentary majority. Nevertheless, he faces major challenges as he seeks to return Côte d’Ivoire to peace and prosperity, consolidating economic recovery and advancing national reconciliation in the long-divided country. The return of international donors and investors to Côte d'Ivoire brings the promise of economic recovery and growth. Will this promising new beginning materialize?

This transition scenario was highlighted by some striking contrasts: some UN Blue Helmets in the streets or signs indicating the prohibition of guns (including in the Bank’s office) against numerous relaxed drivers of shiny Mercedes and Audis making their way in dusty roads. Image

Transition to a new beginning also describes the power sector: the main piece of the legislation governing the electricity sector in Côte d'Ivoire (Law 85-583, from 1985) is currently being revised. A new Energy Law is in discussion and topics such as renewable energy and rural electrification, that currently lack any organized approach, may have new treatment or simply be left aside again, as policy makers’ eyes are on large scale projects, either to enlarge the current gas generation capacity or to build new large hydro plants. The future of ANARE, the sector regulator, is also unclear: will it be strengthened gaining tariff setting and sanctioning powers or will it simply be liquidated as part of the ongoing reforms? If liquidated, what/who will replace it?

We left Côte d’Ivoire with an optimistic but cautious outlook. It has amazing potential for generating energy with biomass--benefiting the country by diversifying its energy mix, increasing access to electricity and energy security, as well as creating green jobs. Three initiatives in the field of private renewable electricity generation – Biokala (agricultural waste), Sitrade (solid waste), and Groupe Eoulee (solid waste) – were identified during our visit. They plan to produce electricity for auto-consumption and possibly feeding into the grid. These three first-movers may, if well assisted, help open the room for newcomers, other beginners interested in following the same path. Therefore, this is a strategic moment for the Côte d’Ivoire, and may be a watershed as the new Energy Code unveils unique opportunities. The new Code may allow Côte d’Ivoire to position itself nicely as a beginner in the renewable energy industry with the potential to become a world player. Wecan be part of this strategic moment, the perfect time for punctual and decisive interventions. Will Côte d’Ivoire profit from its significant energy potential? Will this new beginning for the power sector materialize? It can certainly be another exciting beginning.

*Just as a final note for this beginner’s blog post (my first ever), a film recommendation that sounds appropriate: on my flight back from Abidjan I watched ‘Beginners’, with Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent. No masterpiece, but a nice way to spend two hours in the airplane.

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