Jean-Louis Billon is a case apart in Ivory Coast. He is heir to the leading private sector group, SIFCA, which was founded by his father, Pierre Billon, but is reputed to scorn networking in a country where co-option and the address book culture are generally considered essential. The 49-year-old, who was educated in the United States, is self-sufficient and, as head of a group with 17,000 employees, he has the economic clout to make himself someone Ivorian politicians and foreign investors need to know.

Despite his heterogeneous contact network and his determination to remain a free spirit, Billon had no hesitations about joining the government of Daniel Kablan Duncan as Minister of Commerce in late 2012. The appointment brought no great changes in his inner circle. A big Formula One fan, he continues to rely essentially on his family, friends from his Dabakala fiefdom in central Ivory Coast and his collaborators in SIFCA. Will these relations be enough to serve as a platform for a more ambitious political project? This is not at all sure.
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