Côte d’Ivoire vs Ghana: Football, economics and a rising Africa

Côte d’Ivoire’s unexpected and historic win over Ghana in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations final correlates, in a non-linear way, with the two countries’ rising and falling economic fortunes in the “Africa rising” narrative of the past 15 years.

Abidjan Cote d'Ivoire The district of Plateau in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s economic capital and the most populous French-speaking city in West Africa. (Image: United Nations)

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Emanuele Santi

Côte d’Ivoire’s win over Ghana in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations final was an unexpected and historic victory. The Elephants were certainly not the favourites, but they surprised observers with a repeat of their 1992 victory against Ghana, a match also won on penalties.

As an economist and a football fan, I cannot resist drawing an admittedly non-linear correlation between football and economic growth, and revisiting a compelling comparison between the different economic trajectories the two countries have taken in the last decade, and their performance in the most popular sport in the world. The relationship between football performance and economic performance has never been confirmed, although Goldman Sachs found an interesting link between World Cup victories and equity markets. According to their study, a winning nation outperforms the global market by 3.5% in the first month after its victory, although this enthusiasm fades in the months to follow.

Watch highlights of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations final – Côte d’Ivoire vs Ghana:

Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are arguably two important protagonists in the “Africa rising” narrative, leading poles of growth and prosperity on the continent. Ghana, in 1957 the first sub-Saharan African country to claim independence from a colonial power, has built some of the continent’s best democratic institutions, and gradually picked up its economic performance. Across the border, from 1960 an independent Côte d’Ivoire rapidly emerged as a regional economic leader in West Africa, thanks to a dynamic and diversified economy.

But in the past decade the tide seemed to have turned towards Ghana, which has emerged as a key point of entry for foreign direct investment in Africa. Its dramatically improved business environment and new oil sector has helped boost the economy, making it less dependent on gold and cocoa exports.

Watch the penalty shootout in the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations final – Côte d’Ivoire vs Ghana:

A tale of two countries

I was posted in Ghana in 2005 and became an enthusiastic supporter of both its economic miracle and its national football team, The Black Stars. In the past decade the team has consistently kept a top-four position in successive African football tournaments. It reached the 2010 World Cup quarter-final after a remarkable extra-time victory against the United States. This same period has also marked the first discoveries of oil, and the euphoria was just beginning.

Across the border, Côte d’Ivoire found itself in the middle of its lost decade of conflict, which prompted the African Development Bank to move its headquarters to a temporary home in Tunisia. Many businesses also relocated their headquarters, to neighbouring countries such as Ghana and Senegal, which replaced Côte d’Ivoire as new regional hubs. Up to an extraordinary performance in 2006, the Elephants did not even pass the group stage for three consecutive Africa Cup tournaments.

A decade later, Côte d’Ivoire is in full recovery. It has been one of the fastest-growing economies in the world for two consecutive years. Building on a highly diversified economy and strong national planning, Côte d’Ivoire is at full throttle, banking on the historical return of African Development Bank to its headquarters and on the recent inauguration of the landmark Henri Konan Bédié bridge in Abidjan. As an African Development Bank employee now based in Côte d’Ivoire and covering the West African region, it’s great to see yet another symbol of “l’emergence ivoirienne”, and feel pride in the bank’s key role as financier of this operation.

Watch: The Henri Konan Bédié bridge:

Across the border, Ghana is facing challenges linked to a combination of high spending, rising debt and currency depreciation. The “oil dividend” has not yet fully materialised, and the country has frequent power outages. While Ghana has great potential, its growth rate in 2014 is expected to be nearly half that of Côte d’Ivoire.

Just as Ghana faced what many thought to be the toughest qualifying group in the Africa Cup, it has had to face many external challenges in its quest for economic development. But just as it lost the Africa Cup final in the cruelty of penalties, its own economic path has seen a few shots go wide, and a few saved by the goalkeeper.

Looking ahead, it is not clear whether this victory will give a further boost to Côte d’Ivoire, as the Goldman Sachs study suggests, or to Ghana, which can still claim that the match against its neighbour was one of its best performances.

Besides the economic impact, football competitions are social events that reinforce a sense of national identity in many countries. A trophy or even a victory against a football heavyweight makes even the most merciless critic of his own country feel proud. Coming together over a football victory can help Côte d’Ivoire to consolidate its economic growth and peace trajectory.

About the author

Emanuele Santi is regional chief economist for the African Development Bank’s West African Department after nearly 15 years of professional experience in development, mostly gained at the World Bank and the African Development Bank. He has worked on over 25 countries in Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. He holds a PhD in Development Policy from Trieste University/ Paris Sorbonne, a Master in Economic Studies from the College of Europe and an Executive Program Degree on Public Financial Management from Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

This article first appeared on the African Development Bank Group blog.