PARIS Dec 4 Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara appealed to international donors on Tuesday for $4 billion to help fund post-war development, saying it would help stem the spread of instability and crime in West Africa.
With the international community anxious to contain an al Qaeda enclave in neighbouring Mali, Ouattara urged a conference of wealthy nations and multilateral organisations in Paris to treat Ivory Coast as an anchor of stability in West Africa.
Ouattara and many in the international community have voiced hope his arrival in power last year has drawn a line under a decade of instability and conflict in the regional powerhouse.
He took office with French military backing in May 2011 following a brief but brutal civil war after ex-President Laurent Gbagbo rejected his election win.
"Ivory Coast is rediscovering its place at the heart of the region," Ouattara said, inaugurating the donor conference which concludes on Wednesday. "Investing in Ivory Coast is investing in the region and reducing poverty beyond our borders."
Economic growth in the world's largest cocoa exporter is forecast at 8.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year as it bounces back from a decade of economic decline.
Ouattara said a $20 billion 2013-2015 national development plan would push economic growth into double-digits by 2014 but the government needed help to plug a $4 billion funding gap.
While he acknowledged many wealthy Western nations were facing budgetary constraints, Ouattara said supporting Ivory Coast would help to prevent the spread of Islamic militancy and international crime in turbulent West Africa.
Rebels dominated by Islamists linked to al Qaeda seized the desert north of Mali this year, sparking fears of attacks by militants in the region or in Europe. African nations are seeking a U.N. mandate for military intervention.
"We must be united to fight terrorism, the traffic of arms and drugs, women and children, with all our force," he said. "The best way of facing these dangers is supporting Ivory Coast in its efforts toward development."
The development plan was decisively boosted by the IMF, World Bank and Paris Club's decision this year to cancel $10 billion of Ivory Coast's $12.5 billion external debt, freeing up some 40 percent of the budget earmarked for debt service.
The government is seeking some 5.3 trillion CFA francs ($10.56 billion) of private sector investment for the plan in agriculture, transport infrastructure and energy production.
The state has earmarked some 2.1 trillion CFA of its own resources but that leaves a funding gap for donors of some 2.0 trillion CFA francs, Ouattara said.
Patrick Achi, minister of economic infrastructure, said the government was focused on boosting regional transport links to increase trade in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He cited a planned $160 million railway from Ouangolo in northern Ivory Coast to Sikasso in southern Mali.
"We are saying to investors, Ivory Coast is not just a market of 23 million people: it gives you access to a regional market of 300 million people," he said. ($1 = 501.8220 CFA francs) (Reporting By Daniel Flynn; editing by Ron Askew)