Central Bankers for Presidents? Another look at the Ivorian presidential election

On the occasion of the coming presidential election in Ivory Coast, Vincent Duchaussoy analyses the trajectories of Alassane D. Ouattara and his political opponent Charles Konnan Banny. Despite different backgrounds, their central banking careers launched them in the political sphere. The privileged position of Ivory Coast within the BCEAO (Central Bank of the Western African States) emphasizes the influence of Central bankers on politics.

Vincent Duchaussoy is postdoctoral fellow at the Université de Rouen in France. His PhD thesis focused on the history of the organisation and the governmentality of the Banque de France. He co-coordinates the research programme HIZOF, specialised in the history of the Franc zone and economic relations in the francophone zone.

Eleven candidates will run in the upcoming presidential election in Ivory Coast for which the first round is scheduled on 25 October 2015. They will try to replace Alassane D. Ouattara, elected in 2010 after an electoral crisis. Many analysts would argue that Ouattara will in all likelihood be re-elected. However, there are many parallels between the career-paths of the current president and one of his most serious contenders, Charles Konan Banny. Each of them indeed started their curriculum in the 1970s at the BCEAO, the Central Bank of the Western African States and the common central bank of eight African States of Francophone Africa members of the Franc zone.[1] They owe their careers as central bankers to having been pushed into the political sphere, as Prime ministers, while they were at the commands of the financial institution.

Both Ouattara and Banny were hired by the BCEAO in 1976, when the central bank moved from Paris to its new headquarters in Dakar and its first African governor, an Ivorian economist named Abdoulaye Fadiga, had just been nominated. As Fadiga started his new position in Dakar, he sought to replace the remaining French senior executives with Africans. It is within this context that Ouattara and Banny became central bankers, in 1976. Despite this point in common, prior and following their recruitment to the central bank, Ouattara and Banny followed quite different career paths.

Charles Konan Banny neatly fits with the profile of the men hired by Fadiga to support him and fulfil the general directives of the institution. As with many of his new colleagues, he had been educated in France, graduating from the Essec – a college of economic and commercial studies – in 1968. He then returned to Ivory Coast and, after a first experience in the National Agricultural Stabilisation Fund (Caisse nationale de stabilisation des prix agricoles), he became vice-general secretary and general secretary of the Inter-African Coffee Organisation (OIAC), based in Abidjan. In this way, he already had the experience of an international – or at least sub-regional – organisation, before entering the BCEAO in 1976.

Alassane Dramane Ouattara, on the other hand, had a very different and uncommon experience. He had been educated in the United States, at Pennsylvania University, obtaining an MA in 1967. At that time, he was recruited by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to work as an economist whilst finishing his PhD. It is because of this first experience that he was one of Fadiga’s main recruitment targets, and that he was therefore hired by the BCEAO. This also explains why he was given a superior rank to Banny, as Director of the Studies department and special advisor to the governor, whereas Banny was “only” Director of Administration and Social Affairs, a pivotal role within the organisation but nevertheless less prestigious and strategic than Outtara’s position.

Both born in 1942, Banny and Ouattara entered the BCEAO the same year and developed in parallel their careers as central bankers within it, but once again in different ways. Banny remained at the Central Bank during the following decades, being promoted to national director for Ivory Coast – a key position at the interface between the Bank and the national financial administration, particularly during the debt crisis that the country experienced in the 1980s. Ouattara had been promoted vice-governor in 1983, entering the government of the BCEAO. But in 1984, he left the Bank and, as he did at the beginning of his career, he sought his legitimacy from outside, returning to Washington D.C. to take over the direction of the IMF Africa Department. It is from this position that Ouattara was designated Governor of the BCEAO by the WAMU States in 1988, after the death of Abdoulaye Fadiga.[2] But only two years later, he was forced to relinquish his governorship in order to accept the nomination for Prime Minister offered by President Felix Houphouët-Boigny. This was a position newly created in the context of the adoption of a multiparty political system. After his departure from the BCEAO, the chiefs of states decided to replace Alassane Ouattara as governor with Charles Konan Banny. Banny’s governorship was renewed twice and he retained this position until 2005 when he became the Prime Minister of President Laurent Gbagbo.

However, despite the similarities between the political career paths of these two candidates which were rooted, at least partially in Ouattara’s case, in their career at the Central Bank, this situation reveals the importance, for the BCEAO, of the private and public financial spheres of the member states, becoming the education centre for the financial elites of the zone. One of the first strategic decisions made by Governor Fadiga was indeed to create an Education and Training Centre[3] in Banking Studies within the Central Bank, in Dakar, replacing the training centre that had pre-existed in Abidjan. But the purpose of the new centre was not only to educate future employees, middlemanagers or executives of the BCEAO. Its ambition was wider, as it also welcomed students from the economic and financial administrations of each of the eight countries of the monetary union, but also from certain private banks or financial companies.

Banny and Ouattara are not the only examples of this influence of the Central Bank and its ability to promote high-ranked representatives to the political sphere, even if the stranglehold of Ivory Coast on the governorship of the Bank tends to reinforce the phenomenon in this country. Nevertheless, we can notice some other relevant cases. Thomas Boni Yayi, president of Benin since 2006, has occupied several positions at the BCEAO between 1977 and 1989. He has also been president of the West African Development Bank (1994-2006), a regional development bank whose capital is shared by the states and the Central Bank. Justin Baro in Burkina, Idriss Daouda in Benin or Boukary Adji in Niger are some of the examples of former BCEAO representatives to have been nominated as finance ministers or prime ministers of their countries, as a result of their experience as central bankers.

More recently, in 2015, the BCEAO also has further demonstrated its influence. After the re-election of the President Faure Gnassingbé in Togo, the National Director of the BCEAO in the country launched a press campaign against Kako Nubukpo, a Togolese economist who had been nominated Minister of Prospective and Evaluation of Public policies in the previous government. In the framework of its academic activities, Nubukpo adopted a critical position over the Franc zone as a whole and the monetary policy followed by the Central Bank. For the BCEAO, such a position was inconsistent with its ministerial position in a member country of the monetary union. He has been excluded from the new government which was announced in July.

[1] These countries constitute the Western African Monetary Union and are currently Benin, Bissau Guinea (since 1997) Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali (since 1984), Niger, Senegal and Togo.

[2] There is a political consensus to nominate a governor who is from Ivory Coast, as this country is the most important financial power of the monetary union and thus the main shareholder of the Central Bank.

[3]Called COFEB: Centre Ouest-Africain de Formation en Études Bancaires.