Fireworks and light shows, distinguished guests, includingthe Head of State, Alassane Ouattara, the ceremony broadcast live... Celebrations for the opening of the Henri-Konan-Bédié Bridge (HKB)are in tune with what it represents: modernisation of the country’s infrastructure and Ivorian economic recovery. The bridge also has anothermajor socio-economic aspect; it will improve traffic flow in the capital. The capital now has a third structurestretching 1.5 km with two, three-lane dual carriageways. Its role is to alleviate the strain on the other two bridges, Charles-de-Gaulle and Félix-Houphouët-Boigny, and make access to the Plateau business districteasier. The pier crosses the lagoon and connects the upscale Cocody and Riviera neighbourhoods to the booming industrial zone of Marcory. This is the axis where we find an impressive access interchange built over the famous ‘VGE’ the boulevard Giscard-d’Estaing.
The story behind the third bridge goes back a long way and merges with the economic capital’s urban growth. In the late 1990s, the project then led by Tidjane Thiam, seemed to be on the verge of success, with the laying of a foundation stone when Henri Konan Bédié was President. The coup and political crisis put paid to the great dream. The arrival of ADO as President revived the project, this time permanently. An agreement was signed on 28th June 2012, between the Ivorian government, Bouygues Travaux Publics and a consortium of lenders – including the ADB, WADB and EBID. And the cost of the operation? A total of 150 billion FCFA. The project was closely followed by Ivorians, and took two years to complete. People talk of a ‘grandiose, marvellous, technological and architectural gem’.
The business model is based on that of the concession. Therefore it is Socoprim, whose majority shareholder is none other than French company Bouygues, which will operate the bridge. This arrangement has led to a number of critical comments about a ‘bridge for the rich’. The toll is too high, particularly for some road professionals: 500 FCFA for each trip, and up to 3,000 FCFA for heavy goods vehicles. Even so, according to the franchisee, three weeks after the opening, the bridge recorded a 12% increase in telebadge transactions. And popular success seems to be in the offing. The ‘Bridge’ has become a symbol of pride for Abidjan citizens who waste no time walking up and down it to rediscover their city in a new light. As for the government, beyond decongesting the economic capital, the bridge indeed meets several requirements. First, it is ADO’s first major project, successfully completed and on time. Then there’s the strong political symbol; that of anambitious Cote d’Ivoire, reconciled with itself, open to the future. The bridge bears the name of former President Henri Konan Bédié, leader of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), and an ally of Alassane Ouattara in the government. The authorities, at least, wanted to make the project an example of transparent management, both in terms of bidding and building. And also as a template for franchise agreements, which could be applied to other major projects in the future. What’s more, amid the perpetual exuberance of Abidjan, there’s already talk of two new bridges...
By DOUNIA BEN MOHAMED