The Effects of Globalization in the Ivory Coast

A Part-time Missionary’s Impression

In his address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in 2001, John Paul II described globalization as follows:

The globalization of commerce is a complex and rapidly evolving phenomenon. Its prime characteristic is the increasing elimination of barriers to the movement of people, capital and goods.”1

A “complex phenomenon of the contemporary world”2 that affects everyone, globalization can be generally considered a very positive reality. It allows for the sharing of knowledge, skills and resources so that the human family can attain true progress together and be culturally and spiritually enriched. Without it, every nation would have to “reinvent the wheel” for every technological advance, which would be unimaginable in our world where even the home front has difficulty keeping up with the pace of innovation. Globalization is not a value in and of itself but is a reality that serves as an inexorable means to more fundamental values. As such, it is neither intrinsically good nor evil but is qualified by how it is implemented to achieve foundational goods such as life, freedom, sustenance, education and property for each individual person. Paul VI, in Populorum Progressio, draws out these “truly human conditions” in more detail:

What are truly human conditions? The rise from poverty to the acquisition of life’s necessities; the elimination of social ills; broadening the horizons of knowledge; acquiring refinement and culture. [ . . .] A growing awareness of other people’s dignity, a taste for the spirit of poverty, an active interest in the common good, and a desire for peace. Then man can acknowledge the highest values and God Himself.3

This is what globalization must be directed toward. “Globalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it.”4 And “what people make of it” is of utmost concern to the Church, who, as an educator, offers principles for discernment in this regard:

By her social doctrine the Church makes an effective contribution to the issues presented by the current globalized economy. Her moral vision in this area “rests on the threefold cornerstone of human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity.” The globalized economy must be analyzed in the light of the principles of social justice, respecting the preferential option for the poor who must be allowed to take their place in such an economy, and the requirements of the international common good. For “the Church’s social doctrine is a moral vision which aims to encourage governments, institutions and private organizations to shape a future consonant with the dignity of every person.”5

“Human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity” are the key principles to “make use” of globalization in order to “shape a future consonant with the dignity of every person” and the “common good.” These are the general principles the Church offers to guide and analyze the phenomenon of globalization.

Our question, then, is “what have people made of globalization” in the light of this trio of principles and how this effects people today. Because the application of globalization is so diversified, its evaluation and effects are equally varied. While in developed countries we may only consider the exclusively positive effects of this phenomenon and perceive wealthy countries as “saviors” of developing countries, “Many people, especially the disadvantaged, experience this [globalization] as something that has been forced upon them, rather than as a process in which they can actively participate.”6

An appraisal of the effects of globalization between two first-world countries will not be the same as those between a first-world and a third-world country. Further, in such an asymmetrical relationship, the effects will naturally be different in the developed country compared to the developing country. Further still, different countries will have different effects based on how the two nations relate and how the benefits are in turn distributed from a national to an individual level. This spectrum of possibilities leads to a wide range of opinions on the nature and effects of globalization. In my experience as a Westerner having close contact with third-world countries, however, I believe that in general Westerners have an idealistic, unilateral view of international relationships, informed — if informed at all — by biased sources.

Personal Experience

Three years ago, in 2018, I began serving as a part-time missionary to the Ivory Coast, making quarterly visits from Rome, where I currently study. I had lived the past fifteen years in an international community with companions from all over the world and thought I had enough vicarious experience to know what to expect. Despite this and previous research into the history and situation of the country, I arrived with a naïve and uninformed sense of the exclusively positive aspects of globalization in developing countries. If the West was more developed, then contact with it could only help. My first impression was consonant with my prejudices: one sees foreign cars, foreign foods, cell phones, etc. They speak French, and the Christian faith there is itself a result of missionaries collaborating with colonialism to bring the Gospel to these lands.

However, when I got to know the concrete experiences of concrete people and the real history and economy that the average individual inherited from globalization, I discovered the truth was far from what my research had led me to believe. There are deep-seated negative effects of globalization that one doesn’t perceive from the surface and that national and international news channels don’t portray. I realized there was a grave lack of transparency and education on both sides in this regard.

On the one hand, developing countries are taught how to be dependent rather than how to be self-sufficient, and their people are told that measures are being taken to develop the country when in reality measures are being taken often to do no more than minimalize the effects of international dependency. On the other hand, the average citizen of wealthy nations is misinformed about the facts, motives, and effects of aid and trade in these countries that often perpetuate a system of dependence for the benefit of first-world countries and local leaders, ironically impeding the development of these developing countries and the benefits of individuals.

In this essay, I will offer an evaluation of the effects of globalization in the Ivory Coast from my perspective as a part-time missionary in the light of the social doctrine of the Church. I will present the historical roots of the phenomenon and the general situation resulting from that history. I will add my personal experiences and some market statistics with the hope of providing a more informed opinion on the effects of globalization in the Ivory Coast, which is representative of many (if not most) African countries from this perspective. Given that the positive effects of globalization are more self-evident, my goal is to underline some of the negative effects that accompany them in order to provide a more nuanced vision as well as some directives on how ministers of the Gospel at home and abroad can exercise their ministry in a globalized world in a more informed manner.

Historical Roots of Globalization in the Ivory Coast

Historically, the effects of globalization in the Ivory Coast have their roots in the French colonial period of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the manner in which it was given independence in 1960. Before the colonial period, the economy was principally one of agricultural subsistence, producing from the land what was needed to survive with little surplus production and export; it was concentrated on internal tribal or regional dynamics. This naturally protected both land and people from exhaustion and extortion.

In the fifteenth century, Dutch and French merchants began to trade with the country, leading to increased pressures on local tribal leaders to produce. This led to the gradual disintegration of subsistence agriculture and the establishment of a French colonial administration which, by the eighteenth century, had subjugated the agricultural economy to their foreign trade interests. By the nineteenth century, fueled by French and English commercial competition, the economy and lifestyle of the Ivory Coast was drastically changed to one characterized by exploitation and exportation.

There is an essential difference between the French and English colonization of Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth century and the English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonization of the American continent in the fifteenth to eighteenth century. In the case of the latter, colonists went to build a new home independent from their country of origin. This was not the mentality of nineteenth-century African colonization. Once, a former minister of the Ivoirian national government explained this reality to me with an image: “Look at Mexico or America. Their colonial towns resemble the English and Spanish towns of that period. You don’t find that in French Colonial Africa. They weren’t here to make a home. They were here to take in order to build their home far away.” The interest was not in developing, but in exporting for profit, and when France granted the Ivory Coast its independence in 1960, the self-interest of this mentality was exposed. It left behind an underdeveloped country thrown into the global economy with an insufficient infrastructure, subjugating it to the mercy of a foreign market. It was like cutting off a slave’s leg before freeing him, so that, when independent, he still needed to lean on his former master.

The Ivory Coast celebrates its independence on the 7th of August 1960, yet I remember an elderly woman telling me, “I don’t know why we celebrate this day. We aren’t really independent. We are still a colony under a different guise.” On paper, the country has its own elected government and a free, global market, but the economic and political impact of foreign superpowers is more than mere moral influence. Take a recent article from the Sika Finance News Agency — a leading source for the UEMOA (“Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa”) — as a case in point: “The Ivory Coast must once again roll up its sleeves to face another arm-wrestle with multinational cocoa companies active in its territory. At the center of this renewed tension is a stock pile-up of 100,000 tons of cocoa beans collected by local companies that these multinational companies with contracts on the international market refuse to buy unless given discounts.”7

The Ivory Coast is the leading world exporter in cocoa and its people, especially its peasants, depend heavily on this market. Due to a recession in the international market, multinational companies froze their cocoa purchases. The economic infrastructure of the Ivory Coast was unable to process this excess produce, so it had no other option but to stockpile in hopes of selling their cocoa at the same rate later. However, the global market price dropped, and so their multinational buyers demanded resuming their purchases at a reduced price to the devastation of the Ivoirian peasant farmers. In the end, it is always the vulnerable developing country that needs to cede to the demands of the developed country, for although their market is “free,” with an insufficient infrastructure, it is still bound to foreign superpower buyers. It is left without bargaining chips.

The same can be seen in the political sphere. The country’s first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, sought to build the country with foreign collaboration while not depending on that aid. Under Boigny, the country became one of the wealthiest and most self-sufficient countries in Africa, and as a recognition of this, Boigny was reelected in 1965, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, and 1990 (though the final election was a controversial one). This made for 30 years of relative continuity, subsidiarity, harmony, and development. All of this was to change at his death in 1993. His thirty years of striving to create a self-sufficient country was followed by thirty years of one contested election after another, along with military coups, highly influenced by foreign interest.

This instability and foreign influence continue to our day. The candidates over these thirty years have ultimately and unbelievably always been the same three: Laurent Gbagbo (FPI), Henry Konan Bédié (PDCI), and Alassane Ouattara (RHDP). With Gbagbo as the most pro-subsidiarity candidate (consequently the least open to foreign influence), Ouattara, the current president, as the most pro-foreign candidate, and Bedié somewhere in the middle, the endless power struggle has led to manipulation, foreign intrigue, fraud, violence and instability. All this has done great damage to the economic development seen in the first thirty years of its independence under Boigny and has left the country palpably undemocratic and half-developed.

Iconic of this foreign manipulation is the Ivoirian election and crisis of 2010. The country was divided between North and South, who supported Ouattara or Gbagbo, respectively. Voting had already been substantially postponed due to a standing rebel army backing Ouattara that impeded Gbagbo, the incumbent, from calling peaceful and legitimate elections. When the ballots were finally cast, the provisional results showed Ouattara had won, but the president of the Constitutional Council released a statement saying that the results were invalid. The next day, in accordance with country’s constitution, Gbagbo was declared the actual winner. Civil war ensued, and Gbagbo was eventually ousted by Ouattara aided by French and UN troops.

All my third-person research on this topic posits that Gbagbo was a dictator who manipulated the elections to stay in power, and foreign powers were only there to oust the tyrant. It is presented as a truly altruistic operation. What is curious is that in my three years in the Ivory Coast, I have never met a single person who agrees with this conclusion. Without a single exception, every personal testimony I have heard — from former ministers of the Gbagbo administration to directors of commerce to normal citizens—says that French and UN forces ousted Gbagbo to set up the pro-European Ouattara, who gained their support through promises of feeding into their hands. On the one hand, I see a history written by the victor who says that the West came to save the people. On the other, I hear the testimony of all those “saved” people that I have met on the mission who say that the present political system is just a new mode of colonization by which foreign powers set up puppets who profit from foreign support to feed into their hands, leaving the country exploited, undeveloped, and dependent.

The Current Ivoirian Economic Situation

The data of Ivoirian market compared to the situation on the ground attests to as much. For example, the Ivory Coast is the world’s number one producer and exporter of cocoa.8 That’s unbelievable for a small developing country of 26.4 million inhabitants9 whose territory is no larger than an average state of the USA. And as if that weren’t enough, it is the third world producer of cashews, the third world producer of yams, the eighth world producer of plantains,10 eleventh global exporter of bananas,11 the fourteenth world producer of coffee,12 and the fourteenth world producer of cassava.13 It additionally is one of the major global exporters of palm oil, peanuts, rice and sugar cane. This is breathtaking potentiality for a small country that exports more than it imports,14 and yet it is still a developing country with a poverty rate of 46.3% of the population.15 A single visit is enough to confirm the contrast between the statistics and the reality of the individual person. What is wrong with this picture?

There is a stark contrast between national statistics and appearances and the reality on the ground for ultimately two reasons: foreign and elitist interests. Yes, there is a booming port, and the country produces and exports a lot, but foreign economic superpowers effectively set the price for those exports, and what does come in is often stockpiled by a select few. Also, imports from economic giants are generally cheaper than what small businesses can compete with, so the local market is severely reduced in certain sectors. Yes, there are foreign cars, but with roads that are so deficient that these cars deteriorate prematurely, and the country is not furnished with sufficient means to repair their damaged vehicles. Why export foreign cars to them without the ability to upkeep them? It creates dependency. They produce and export more cocoa than any other country, and yet almost all the chocolate in the store is French, Belgian or Swiss. They were left independent without a sufficient infrastructure to process their own cocoa, so they export the raw material and import the finished product at a much higher price to the profit of foreign economies. For this reason, culturally the Ivoirians don’t eat chocolate because it is a “sign of Western extortion,” as someone once commented to me. Raw materials like sand and cement are abundant. When you look out over the horizon in the suburbs, you see a forest of cement edifices whose foundations have been laid and whose cement has been poured, yet so many of these concrete skeletal structures remain naked and hollow for years for lack of the more specialized materials required to furbish the buildings. It is a living illustration of “starting a tower without the wherewithal to finish it” (cf. Lk 14:28-30). Everyone has a cell phone, and yet cellular data is so expensive and internet connection is so weak that it is very inefficient. I could continue with endless examples. The point is that the benefits of globalization are all too often limited and stifled more by foreign and elitist interests than by a unifying effort to develop the country, resulting in an apparent “development” that just doesn’t quite work. It is like opening a door just enough to put in and take out what you want without swinging it open to let others do the same.

This problem is not a question of a lack of competence, resources, or manpower but that globalization in the Ivory Coast has had the effect, not of developing it, but of creating unbalances, a lack of subsidiarity, and dependence. Aid and trade that are not aimed at developing self-sufficiency end up forcing the receiving end to perpetually hold out its hand rather than become self-sufficient.16  The Ivory Coast has all the potential to fend for itself as an equal partner in the world of globalization. There is competence, manpower, will, and resources. They are simply stifled by a “half-open door,” a paternalistic rather than partnership style of globalization. They just need the globalized world to altruistically swing wide open the door.

In the Light of the Social Doctrine of the Church

This brief historical, statistical and phenomenological approach has given us a taste of the effects of globalization in the Ivory Coast. The Church is not indifferent or naïve about this reality, for she seeks the true human progress of each person and nation:

The progressive development of peoples is an object of deep interest and concern to the Church. This is particularly true in the case of those peoples who are trying to escape the ravages of hunger, poverty, endemic disease and ignorance; of those who are seeking a larger share in the benefits of civilization and a more active improvement of their human qualities; of those who are consciously striving for fuller growth.17

In the spirit of an integral humanism, the compendium stresses the intrinsic importance of temporal affairs and that it is the Church’s duty to address these issues as a guide for all nations: “The Church continues to speak to all people and all nations [ . . .]. Salvation [. . .] also permeates this world in the realities of the economy and labor, of technology and communications, of society and politics, of the international community and the relations among cultures and peoples.”18

So, what do the principles of the Church’s social teaching have to tell us about the effects of globalization in the Ivory Coast? She recognizes the positive aspects but goes beyond, recognizing that true development surpasses macro-economics and national statistics: The development we speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man.”19

It is easy to superficially point to the Ivory Coast’s skyscrapers, construction sites, streets full of cars, and cell phones, but it is another thing to understand the market, economy, and sociology behind those façades. As we have seen, these realities must be evaluated in the light of the three principles for the healthy exercise of globalization: solidarity, dignity, and subsidiarity in the service of the individual and the common good. Rather than focusing on national statistics alone, we thus must evaluate the effects of globalization from two vantage points: the nation as a whole and the individuals of that nation.

On a level of statistics, globalization has greatly benefited the Ivory Coast as a nation. We are tempted to evaluate the phenomenon merely from this vantage point, for if the nation prospers, the prosperity of her individuals should logically follow. We can easily see that this is not always the case, and yet I believe much of the developed world subconsciously still only sees that one side of the coin. Unfortunately, the benefits have often not reached the people but remained concentrated on a select powerful few within the country or exported to foreign superpowers without. This has fostered a vicious cycle of international favoritism and dependency that inspires ambitious national politicians to feed into the hands of global powers to maintain control, and global powers keeping those submissive local administrations in power for their own interests. All the while, aid and trade are being offered in a paternalistic fashion, parading the goodness of first-world countries that feed these countries with one hand and hold those same countries down with the other to maintain dependence.

While not denying the positive effects of globalization and admitting there is much more gray area than can be portrayed in a short essay, we see that the three principles for a healthy implementation of globalization are not fully respected by the current situation in the Ivory Coast. Due to a lack of solidarity on the international level, trade agreements set by developed countries are often concerned more with profit than fairness, ultimately to the detriment of the local peasant producers. The lack of solidarity on a national level results in market benefits not adequately reaching the average citizen. Aid and trade from economic giants have often stifled subsidiarity and impeded development toward a healthy self-sufficiency. All this has ultimately failed to respect the dignity of every human person by subordinating the individual to the system rather than vice versa as it should be: “The human person cannot and must not be manipulated by social, economic or political structures.”20 So, while there are many positive aspects, the overall effects of globalization in the Ivory Coast leave much to be desired when viewed in the light of the principles of the Church’s social teaching, and this is no small concern for the Church:

The Church [. . .] is called not only to promote greater integration between nations, thus helping to create an authentic globalized culture of solidarity, but also to cooperate with every legitimate means in reducing the negative effects of globalization, such as the domination of the powerful over the weak, especially in the economic sphere, and the loss of the values of local cultures in favor of a misconstrued homogenization.21

Church teaching recognizes and embraces all the good of globalization but evaluates that good through the scope of an integral humanism “in the image and likeness of God” (cf. Gen 1:27) with the individual at the center in solidarity, dignity, and subsidiarity. It isn’t a matter of condemning globalization for its negative effects, but of encouraging its proper implementation to correct abuses. All things considered, globalization is very good for the Ivory Coast: the sharing of faith, knowledge, techniques, and technology. But this benefit must always be at the service of the individual person, and the people of this country have been deprived of many of these benefits despite national prosperity due to improper (whether intentional or not) national and international exercise of globalization that has failed to properly respect solidarity, human dignity, and subsidiarity.

Basic Conclusion of a Part-time Missionary

What do we make of all this in our day-to-day missions in the Church? The concerns of a part-time missionary in this globalized world are little different from any minister of the Gospel. Whether going out to the world in mission or having the world come to you by immigration, we are all daily faced with the effects of globalization, and as citizens of Heaven with our feet on the ground, we ought to know the world we live in so as to better live in it.

First, we ought to know it so that we ourselves can judge the world in the light of the Gospel, made concrete in the Church’s social teaching. We can then live accordingly and help others do so as well. This reality, albeit often in indirect ways, impacts our daily life through the media, the market, and immigration. If we are ignorant of it, we lose a part of the global picture and don’t understand our role in it.

Next, we need to know the situation so as not to form premature opinions of immigrants or foreign countries based on what we hear without touching the reality ourselves. There is a lot of partisan interest in the way information is presented and finding a well-informed, unbiased source is a rare and often-unidentifiable commodity. We all have our opinions. That is necessary and good, but it is important to understand that in the end, statistics are most often biased and don’t capture the heart of the effects of globalization. Rather than judge, we need to learn to listen. And listen we must, for if we are called to serve the people of God, whether citizens of developing countries suffering the negative effects of globalization or citizens of wealthy countries unaware of how their country’s policies are affecting those developing countries, we need to learn through listening how to accompany and guide them to live their own mission as “salt of the earth” (cf. Mt 5:13).

A minister of the Gospel is not called to be involved in politics, but he is called to inform and form the faithful, politicians included. The problem of globalization is not a primary concern of the missionary, but forming individual consciences is, and this reality confronts the conscience every day in hidden ways, and for that, it is a detail that is not unimportant. We are called to form individuals who form nations, both as responsible citizens and leaders. That is no small task.

To be unaware of the negative effects of globalization in the light of the social doctrine of the Church would be a detrimental oversight in the formation of the people of God entrusted to us. The negative effects can be abusive and even lethal to those developing countries. It affects every minute of every day of so many children of God in the world. While on a practical level we can do little alone, to turn a blind eye would be wrong. The little we are called to do in forming the faithful is very important, not only for the distant poor of these developing countries, but also for the faithful entrusted to our care, for, in the end, forming individual consciences in the light of the Gospel makes for no small difference in the building of a better world in Christ here and now today.

  1. John Paul II, “Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences,” 4-27-2001, no. 2, in http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/2001/april/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20010427_pc-social-sciences.html (26-3-2021).
  2. John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 91 (1999), n 55.
  3. Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 59 (1967), n 21.
  4. John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, n 55.
  5. John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, n 55.
  6. John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, n 55.
  7. J.M. Konandi, “Cacao: La Cote d’Ivoire a nouveau sou la pression des Multinationales”, in Sika Finance, 23-02-2021, www.sikafinance.com/marches/cacao-la-cote-divoire-a-nouveau-sous-la-pression-des-multinationales_26755, (4-4-2021).
  8. Wikipedia, “Économie de la Côte d’Ivoire,” fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Économie_de_la_Côte_d%27Ivoire (4-4-2021).
  9. PopulationData.net, “Côte d’Ivoire,” www.populationdata.net/pays/cote-divoire/ (4-4-2021).
  10. Wikipedia, “Economy of Ivory Coast,” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Ivory_Coast (5-4-2021).
  11. D. Workman, “Banana Exports by Country”, in World’s Top Exports, www.worldstopexports.com/bananas-exports-country/ (5-4-2021).
  12. World Atlas, “Top Coffee Producing Countries,” www.worldatlas.com/articles/top-coffee-producing-countries.html (4-4-2021).
  13. Wikipedia, “Economy of Ivory Coast,” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Ivory_Coast (5-4-2021).
  14. The World Factbook (cia.gov), “Côte d’Ivoire,” https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/cote-divoire/ (4-4-2021), and Wikipedia, “Économie de la Côte d’Ivoire,” fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Économie_de_la_Côte_d%27Ivoire (4-4-2021).
  15. The World Factbook (cia.gov), “Côte d’Ivoire,” https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/cote-divoire/ (4-4-2021).
  16. Cf. The Acton Institute, “Poverty Inc.,” www.povertyinc.org.
  17. Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, n 1.
  18.  Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican 2004, n 1, 3.
  19. Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, n 14.
  20. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n 48, 26.
  21. John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, n 55.
Br. Dain Scherber About Br. Dain Scherber

Brother Dain Scherber is a religious and seminarian of the Legionaries of Christ. Born the second of ten children on a dairy farm in Minnesota, he has carried out his studies and ministry in the United States, Ireland, Italy, and the Ivory Coast. He has also authored three books: The Primordial Father Wound, The One Thing Necessary, and God’s Poetic Path.

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