Abidjan miniatures 3

Most of you know I have a lifelong subscription to technology trouble. One very recent Sunday, I was in very serious (as in: desperately urgent) need of a memory card for my recording device. Problem: it was Sunday. In Abidjan this means that most people are either in church or at home. The internet café that I use as a last resort when all else fails…closed. A nearby fancy looking geek shop was open…but had clean run out of cards. Another internet café, a surprise discovery…open but did not sell cards. “Go to the market,” came the advice of the young man behind the table who runs the place.

The offending non-functioning item

So off to market it is then. This one is hiding behind a few blocks of flats but it’s a big market alright and it’s buzzing, even on a Sunday. I wander from one busy lane where they sell cosmetics to another where there is fish and meat to another where there are textiles and yet another where there are fruits and vegetables. Yes, there’s order in this scene that only superficially looks like chaos. Suddenly, my eye falls on a shop front that says TECNO, after the Chinese cheap smartphone brand that has taken the African continent by storm. Have you got a card? Yes, we do…but only a tiny one. Can you fit it in the bigger one so it goes into my machine? This elicits the comment that I am using very old-fashioned stuff. Stop making me feel twice my age already…

Anyway, he meticulously fixes the tiny card item into the old-fashioned bigger one and I depart. Destination: my room and where my recording device awaits.

I take a right turn, on my way to what I think is the exit. But it’s the wrong turn. It leads to another corridor and here I am spotted by a congregation. This is easy, as I am the only non-African looking person in the entire area.

Six lads. Late teenagers, I would say and they immediately remind me of the club-wielding guy I saw at the Adjamé bus station a few years ago. They look like they are about to take up position, but the kind of across-the-path block they seem to have in mind is only half-heartedly executed. However, their rather sullenly expressionless “Hey….!” Followed by a monotonous “Le Blanc…” does not give the impression they intend to be friendly. And why should they? This is their turf and I have no business being here. One of the guys, short dreadlocks, simple T-shirt and trousers, the inevitable plastic flip-flops, is positively glaring at me in a pretty successful attempt to look menacing.

What’s their purpose here? Hard to tell. Vigilantes? Self-assigned market guards? Taking a break from the tedious task of assigning places for the many cars outside that need a parking space? Their eyes betray the use of recreational drugs. To the north of this area is a neighbourhood called Abobo, which has become a notorious hangout for young criminals Ivorians have decided to call ‘microbes’. These microbes have turned particular sections of Abobo into a series of No Go areas where even the toughest of taxi drivers will not venture after a certain hour. There are persistent allegations that these often very violent youths are politically protected by high-ranking politicians in the ruling party and have even been used as murderous vigilantes during the election violence in October and November that killed 87. If true, it would follow a familiar pattern but it is hard to distinguish between truth and hearsay. Could my Welcome Committee be related to the ‘microbes’? Whatever it is, they most definitely belong to the huge army of disenfranchised youths who have never figured on anyone’s lofty development agenda.

Back at the market I decide not to slow down and offer them a cheerful “Good afternoon – all going well?” My question goes unacknowleged but at least it works. The now entirely silent group leaves a passageway for yours truly and I leave the market following another right turn into a sand path, past one final throng of food stalls and hawkers, through an improvised corridor behind yet another apartment block under construction and finally onto the busy street where horns blare and music pours from oversized loudspeakers that people plonk on the floor – or dump on a lorry – when they want to sell something. It is almost as if I am emerging from another world… Maybe age is beginning to help: the elderly are generally left in peace here and I have noticed that folks are beginning to call me “Papa”. Which is almost as disconcerting as being half-confronted by a bunch of not-too-friendly youths. Almost.


This is of course all about the glaring gap between the rich and the poor, an issue that the government of president Alassane Ouattara, firmly wedded to the kind of unfettered free marketeerism promoted by his former boss, the International Monetary Fund, is singularly ill-equipped and unwilling to address. Instead, it has allowed the gap between the haves and the have-nots to grow dangerously large.

on Voie Djibi, Angré, Abidjan

Take Voie Djibi, a big and busy thoroughfare lined with apartment blocks, hypermarkets and a large number of pretty flashy shops, restaurants and services. There are gaps in this façade. Here, look, take a look at the gigantic airconditioned Djibi Shopping Mall, hypermarket, jewellery store, expensive clothes store, hamburger place, and Father Christmas sits in the reception centre just behinbd security and hand gel dispenser (Covid19)… Yes, it’s December after all but the sight of this giant blow-up plastic figure in a landscape of imitation snow remains a disorienting sight. Outside, a stream of brand new FourWheelDrives wheel in and out of the big parking lot and blare their horns impatiently when one of the lower orders gets in their way. These could be any of the following: someone pushing a two-wheeled Nescafe coffee cart up and down the street, hoping to make a few bob selling coffee for CFA50 a cup – seven eurocents. A profusely sweating elderly man pushing a handcart laden with building matrials. A taxi driver who has parked his verhicle in front of an impatient 4WD while he is looking for change to give to a client. A communal taxi (called ‘woro-woro’ here) picking up or releasing passengers. Or the woman who I saw carrying a massive pile of plastic bags on her head. She was walking along the street, passing those buildings she will never enter. Her pace was brisk, as she was forever sidestepping parked or parking cars, avoiding the rubbish (usually put in a pretty neat pile; Abidjan is remarkably clean for a city this size) and only briefly stopping when a sister called her from across the street. In previous years, a few pilot schemes were launched in which plastic bottles, part of the hundreds of tonnes of plastic waste this city produces, would be handed in by people on the margins of society in exchange for a few pennies. One such collection point may well have been her destination. This army of people in the informal economy figures in no statistic and they may well live in the plastic-covered shacks that have sprung up in an open field just across from the Djibi Shopping Mall.

quickly captured scene from inside a taxi, between Angré and Attoban, Abidjan

The fact that the folks living inside these new apartment blocks you see on the left pay more rent per month than the vendors below make in a whole year constitutes nothing more and nothing less than an economic and social time bomb. To get an idea of what that means only requires a look across the northern borders, where the margins of the Sahel countries have already fallen prey to unscrupulous recruitment agents who only have violence to peddle. There is everything to suggest that the rich, complacent and self-centred ruling classes here on the coast have adopted the attitude that yes, this deluge will hit home as well but that this will, very fortunately, happen long after they have gone.

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3 Responses to “Abidjan miniatures 3”

  1. Aart van der Heide Says:

    Please write it more compact. It is too long.

    Outlook voor Android downloaden


  2. Aart van der Heide Says:


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