5 March 2013

Cote d'Ivoire: Ivorians Not Buying Into Government Youth Fund

Abidjan — This past autumn, the Ivorian government set up the National Youth Fund (FNJ) intended to finance projects by young Ivorians. But despite all the media hype surrounding its launch, few of its target recipients are showing trust in the system, much less applying for its grants.

Patrick Allui, who completed a Master's degree in economics nearly four years ago, now manages a laundry shop in Treichville, south of Abidjan. He began the business as a way to make a living, a decision that followed his unsuccessful attempts to pass civil service entry examinations.

Today it's clear his priorities have changed. "My dream is to have a large modern laundry with washing machines and employees working for me," says Allui. But to expand his business, the young man needs financial backing. The notion of approaching the National Youth Fund (FNJ) is hardly appealing.

Distrust

The FNJ was created by decree in October 2012. It came on the ruins of the National Solidarity Fund (FNS), another funding body for youth projects established in December 2003 and subsequently dissolved because it proved ineffective.

Although the FNJ is a new, separate organ, Allui is troubled by the opaque, merely "approximate" management style of its predecessor. Stories of nepotism haunt him, having heard how FNS managers would only grant funding to their relatives and acquaintances. Allui also heard how many young project holders who applied for funding had their ideas stolen and realized by other people. He can't cite a personal example, but that doesn't lessen his distrust of government funding bodies.

Restaurant owner Marianna Adjé has her own misgivings. The 27 year old would like to get FNJ support, but believes that, although the organization claims to fund both individual and collective projects, there is a bias for collective ventures.

"One can have a project idea that is not necessarily shared by other people. So how, then, does one partner with them?" the businesswoman wonders.

A sacrificed generation

Doulaye Bamba, who graduated with a university degree in physics and struggles to make ends meet, is also wary of such funding structures. That's despite knowing someone in the neighbourhood who has benefited from FNS funds.

"Young projects holders who received funding without having connections among FNS officials were very few - and they were the lucky ones at that," says Bamba, who is 36. She thinks the 35 year old age cap for FNJ funding qualifications could handicap a large portion of the population.

"We young people who were age 25 at the start of the [Ivorian] crisis in 2002 are over 35 today. We could not benefit from any funding for ten years, and now we are hit with an age restriction. Worse, we can't even sit for civil service entry examinations. We are a sacrificed generation," says Bamba in frustration.

Ticket to France?

Meanwhile, Ivorian youth minister Alain Lobognon has actually reminded the public that the collective nature of a project is a guarantee of solvency.

"Partnerships ventures [...] are far more credible," Lobognon said at a conference held in Abidjan a few months ago. He then added: "As an individual, no one will trust you. If you receive a loan of 1,000,000 CFA francs [1,525 euros], I bet you will be on a plane to France that same day!"

The minister's statement referred to a past tendency for many young Ivorians to move to Europe soon after receiving government funds intended to finance their projects.

The FNJ has promised transparency and good governance concerning the management of funds and the allocation process. Regular updates on the number of projects submitted are published on its website, but the figures fall surprisingly below all expectations.

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