Abidjan: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Ivory Coast to press ahead with democratic reforms on Tuesday, saying the country could once again be "the engine of growth" for West Africa.
The once-prosperous former French colony is recovering from a post-election civil war that killed three thousand people and hobbled its economy after more than a decade of political turmoil.
"We have no doubt that Cote d'Ivoire can once again be the engine of growth for Ivorians, but also for the region," Clinton said after a meeting with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who won the disputed November 2010 election.
Ivory Coast is the world's largest grower of cocoa and also produces gold, rubber and oil, though the war hit exports and investment.
Former leader Laurent Gbagbo is now facing war crimes charges at The Hague after refusing to cede power to Ouattara, and holing up in the economic capital Abidjan during the violent standoff that only ended with his capture in April.
Clinton said the United States looked forward to the International Monetary Fund approving Ivory Coast status as a Heavily Indebted Poor Country, which would make it eligible for enhanced debt relief, and would also work to provide a Millennium Challenge Corporation compact.
The MCC provides aid to countries that meet certain economic, health, and education criteria.
"The indicators for eligibility are very strict," Clinton said. "It would be no surprise that it will take some time after the problems of the last 10 years and particularly the conflict of the last year. But we are encouraged by the progress that we already see in Ivory Coast, and we want to encourage more progress," she said.
Ouattara briefed Clinton on reconciliation efforts and promised justice would apply both to victors and vanquished. "We think that all Ivorians need to see that rule of law is working and that there is impartial justice," she said.
He added that Ivory Coast was close to completing a reform of the cocoa sector, a step required by the IMF and World Bank for winning HIPC completion point status.
"The reform of the coffee and cocoa sector is practically finished," he said, referring to the program that will effectively end a decade of liberalization by guaranteeing farmers a percentage of world cocoa prices.
Clinton said that she was encouraged by regional gains at democracy, after elections in Nigeria, Niger and Guinea since 2010. "This is an exciting time for Cote d'Ivoire as it is for West Africa as a whole," she said.
First Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2012, 22:08