Africa

The Hong Kong of Africa?

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I don't know much about Bouake, the second largest metropolis in the Ivory Coast, but as peace establishes itself in that formerly war-torn country the BBC makes it sound like the city is heading in the right direction:

Bouake is the ex-rebel capital of "Soroland", as the zone is sometimes nicknamed, after the New Forces leader, Guillaume Soro….Soroland may not be a breakaway zone, but for seven years the inhabitants of this zone have got used to living without government taxes, customs charges and even water and electricity bills….

Hussein Doumbia is one of many local business leaders who have learnt to profit from this vast black market zone.

"Things are a lot cheaper than in the south—we see that people from the south often come here to stock up, above all the military who come for all their electronics—mobile phones, DVDs, televisions, everything," he says.

In addition to tax-free shopping, unlicensed businesses, and a flourishing trade in knockoff brands (not to mention a water and electricity situation that could stand some more explication), Soroland seems to have a strong civil society:

When civil servants fled south, volunteer teachers, like Ali Ouattara, stepped forward to try to keep things going.

"We didn't want the kids to become child soldiers, so we tried to give them something. This is how we became teachers," says Mr Ouattara, who lost his job at the university at the start of the crisis….

Gradually with contributions from parents, the ad-hoc schools helped save a generation of children, and in some years the rebel zone got better results in national exams than the government zone.

Other volunteers helped cover for the absence of the state in other ways: setting up an ad-hoc postal service; their own television stations and some basic policing.

The New Forces do collect taxes in some areas—like from cocoa and cotton producers but most areas of business are unregulated in the city.

Though the country's civil war is over, the nation is not fully unified; and as the article notes, it will be hard to reimpose regulations and taxes on a territory that has gotten used to ignoring them. The best course for the Sorolanders now may be to do all they can to preserve the peace while staving off national unity.