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If you have ever fumed at being backed up at a toll booth or done a slow burn when faced with grid lock on the ride home from work, you might consider the commuting situation in Ivory Coast, once West Africa’s most hospitable place for doing business.The country has had a system of informal roadblocks that delay travel and weaken commerce. This condition has existed since a brief war in 2002-2003. Guards or rebels at the roadblocks extort payment from travelers and vehicles engaged in transporting goods for sale throughout the country. Some say the corruption goes to the highest levels of government and the military, which makes the settlement of the issue all but impossible despite an agreement reached earlier that hinged on national elections that are now years overdue.
The roadblocks, according to the BBC, slow trips and raise the price of transporting goods due to the payments demanded by the perpetrators. An USAID project estimated that a trip that would take five days at a cost of $650 in the U.S. would require $4,800 and two to three weeks to complete in Ivory Coast, a country whose labor costs are lower by a factor of 25.
The rebels or military guards set up the roadblock and some kind of payment, sometimes very small, is demanded. A group of journalists got by with just providing company prepared wall charts for the World Cup. However, BBC correspondent Stephen Evans reported on the Marketplace Morning Report, which aired on NPR, that the police manning these roadblocks carry golf clubs and use them to smash your windshield if you refuse to pay their fees.
The president of the country’s Chamber of Commerce reported that truckers on a long trip could be stopped as many as 100 times. The official cited the transport of charcoal as an example of how the roadblocks raise the price of goods. A 50 mile trip from the charcoal’s point of origin raises the price from $1.50 to $6.00--he estimated that the final price would only be $2.00 without the roadblocks.
Efforts to control the roadblocks have been sporadic and underfunded. Ivory Coast’s landlocked neighbors, Mali and Burkina Faso, have suffered as well since they depend on Ivory Coast’s ports of entry.
So the next time you wait for a wrecker to clear an accident or get stuck at a railroad crossing waiting for a freight train to pass, you might want to consider the situation in West Africa, and be glad that the only golf clubs that might hit the windshield of your BMW would probably be thrown by a frustrated golfer.