juillet 2015

Abidjan, the emerging city

Par DOUNIA BEN MOHAMED
Partage

Battered and bruised throughout the long political crisis, the city is today being re-born kaba kaba (quick, quick). A major change involving a new way of thinking about urbanism and living together.

One Sunday in April, three planes landed simultaneously on the tarmac at Félix-Houphouët-Boigny (FHB) airport. Air France’s impressive A380 full of European businessmen and Ivorian executives; a Corsair ¾ full of Ivorians from the diaspora, and Air Côte d’Ivoire, a resurrected company, landing its cargo of locals. “We’re working to a very tight schedule at the moment”, says a member of the airport staff. “Abidjan is desirable once again”, announced the Plateau Mayor, Noël Akossi Bendjo, in 2013. In 2014, “FHB” welcomed 1.5 million visitors, a record since 1999. The year was marked by the beginning of a socio-political crisis that shook the city.

Mythical City

“Pearl of the Lagoons” in colonial times, the “United States of Africa”, and “Little Manhattan” at the time of Houphouët-Boigny’s great ambitions, and mirror of the Ivorian miracle in the 1960s and 70s. Abidjan has transformed itself at the whim of the political, sociological and economic developments in the country. The Mythical City has developed after independence, by attracting major players in the emerging continent. A much-admired city, it has never stopped being a magnet.

Although the Côte d’Ivoire has 5 million foreigners, their gateway is Abidjan, where three-quarters of them live. With around twenty different nationalities, this multi-ethnic melting pot owes its vitality to the mixing of populations, cultures and religions. Churches, mosques evangelical temples, chic restaurants and local bars all co-exist here. “Nowhere in the world will you find a more hospitable city!” saysIssiaka Konaté, Director of “Overseas Ivorians” (Ivoiriens de l’extérieur). This diversity is one that sees eye to eye, as we sing a lot. It’s difficult to escape the latest Ivorian, Americanor Lebanese hit songs that are the soundtrack to this lagoon city. The mix is also social. Alongside the exploding middle class, an increasingly visible jet set has its quarters in the Deux-Plateaux or Riviera and a mass that mixes Ivorians from the Interior and foreigners from the sub-region, crammed into Abobo, Yopougon and Adjamé. This little world crosses paths in the markets of Treichville or in the Allocodrome, where you can eat the best “poulet bicyclette” chicken dishes in town. Not to mention Grand-Bassam at the weekend. But the economic capital is also a cultural breeding ground, which has seen some of the biggest names in the Pan African art scene, and beyond. Legend has it that the mythical “Princess Street” has witnessed more than one continental and world-famous celebrity strut their stuff. The city is young, festive. “It’s a rite of passage, if you are African, you absolutely have to go there”, says Issiaka, although he sometimes regrets “a certain carelessness which contributes to the degradation of urban facilities”. A reference to uncontrolled construction during the decade of crisis.

But since 2011, bulldozers, cranes and other earth-moving equipment have returned. “Evictions” from sub-stand housing, rehabilitation of administrations and roads, construction of new buildings and housing, all to the rhythm of the ambitions of the Head of State, Alassane Ouattara. The city has never been so clean since the massive clean-up. New buildings are re-invigorating the look of this metropolis that has its face resolutely turned towards the future. A future full of promise, which the city hopes to be the symbol of. ADO is determined to give it back its lustre and restore it as the top city in West Africa. The process is up and running with the return of major international institutions and multinational corporations.

“You have to realise that here, even if the settlers are the source of the first architectural works, everything was built after independence or at the time of the first President, Félix Houphouët-Boigny.

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