Posts Tagged ‘Abidjan’

Abidjan miniatures 8 and end

December 31, 2020

Abidjan is probably the easiest place on earth to find a taxi. They beep at you incessantly the second you place yourself on the pavement, even when you just want to cross the street. They are, in fact, louder and more insistent than their colleagues in Dakar but somehow manage to be less annoying, mostly because in this city literally EVERYONE is making noise… So: taxi. Within seconds.

The driver fills his seat to overflowing and he has positioned his corpulent self like someone on an extended relaxing holiday. But he is most assuredly at work and does not miss a beat when manoeuvering his orange Toyota through the throng in this, the busiest part of the city. And in the meantime: he talks, virtually non-stop. “See this traffic jam?” Er, yes, I do. We are in it. A long procession of private vehicles, blue wôro-wôro, buses, taxis (including mine), vans, gbaka stands still and does not move. This may be a looong ride…

“You see? These people are not even leaving Yopougon. They’re on their way to the next maquis. Everything is here! You want beer, there’s beer. You want food, there is food. You see that bar over there?” He points to his right, across a pavement, lined with food stalls and busy like a bus station. “Yes, that one. Now! When that maquis on the other side closes…” he points to his left: amidst blocks of apartments I spot part of an open space packed with tables and chairs and I pick up the sound of a band that is clearly attempting to top L’Internat in the decibel production department. You only have ONE guess as to the music it plays

“Yes – that’s the place I mean,” my guide and driver continues. “Now. When that maquis closes everybody crosses the road to come here. You see the girls getting ready?” He was not only referring to the ones selling food. “This is the new Rue Princesse, you see? After they had knocked down the old one they all came over here.” Rue Princesse, for the uninitiated, is the busiest street in the area, where boys with money meet drinks meet food meet girls looking for a good time and some money (and maybe even the other way around)… hence the name. You may, by now, have reached the conclusion that the urge to turn life into one giant party is irrepressible here and you would be right.

After an interminable ride through Yopougon we emerge onto one of the three bridges that give access to the six-lane motorway that is part of the giant motorway system linking all constituent parts of this giant city. There’s always a bit of anarchy going on here, to put it mildly. My driver, forever slouched in his seat, belly protruding as we hurtle along, explains that there’s a lot of accidents happening on this stretch of road (in fact I saw an overturned gbaka minibus on the way in) because people don’t keep their distance.

Neither does he, as he alternates between one line of fast moving vehicles and another…

Angré. Oh dear…are you really going back there…?

“So Angré it is where you’re going, right? But there’s nothing there! No life!” The traffic starts thinning out as we get to our exit lane into Cocody, leading to the Boulevard that takes us to Angré. There’s still a bunch of cars about but nothing in the way that Yopougon was crowded. My driver is almost triumphant as he weaves his way in and out of smooth flowing traffic on the two-lane boulevard. “See? Told you! Nothing here! The bosses are sleeping!” It is just after 10pm and we are, indeed, entering a more affluent part of the city. “Now, in Yopougon, hm, you will see people out and about at midnight. One, two, three in the morning. Yes! And do you know why there are so many banks in Yopougon? Simple: when people are having a good time and the money runs out, there’s always one who will say: ah, let me just pop over to the bank and get some more money for our next beers…? You see? But here….”

But then some doubt creeps into his discourse. “Look, I am working really long hours to get some money and then I pass those maquis – every day of the week, and the same guys sit there at eleven pm, twelve midnight, three am…and they are supposed to work the next day? Of course not. And then the next day…I see them again! Where do they get all that money from? I don’t quite understand…” It is likely that the equally ubiquitous Western Union agencies have something to do with that seemingly endless flow of money…

And then he drops me off in far too quiet, empty and miserable Angré. And he almost feels sorry for me. “Look at you, I’m leaving you in this stone dead neck of the woods and look at me and where I am going: back to life, back to joy, back to good food and plenty drinks and gorgeous princesses…” Do I get the picture?

Yes. Certainly. I do. See you soon in this city, enjoyable and exasperating, full of life, noise, crime and grime but in possession of copious amounts of Never Say Die. I will be back.

An Excellent New Year to You All.

Abidjan miniatures 7

December 30, 2020

An evening in Yopougon

C’est mangrrrove. You know what that means? You know what a mangrove is, right? Where trees are growing in the water, right? But here in Côte d’Ivoire mangrrrove means: nice, lovely…”

Thanks for the language lesson, Roger, who says he is one of the neighbourhood youths that designs the dazzling street dances that have for the longest time been a part of the tradition at the place where I meet him: L’Internat, also known as the Zouglou Temple, where the ambiance is, indeed, mangrrrove.

Alright. What is zouglou and where is L’Internat?

Zouglou was born in the huge Abidjan suburb of Yopougon and L’Internat, located well inside Yopougon in the Niangon Sud part of this massive maze has been its principal podium ever since it opened in 2009. “Zouglou is music that allows you to have a good time but it’s also a way for people to express themselves.” That’s Cécilia Yao talking, a visitor I interviewed for a Voice of America report on this place and its music (starts at 25 minutes 30 seconds into this lovely program). She explains in a few words the absolute genius of zouglou: this is music that makes you dance and think at the same time. The rhythms are based on beats that come from around the country, as Yodé & Siro, two veteran zouglou artists and two true gentlemen explained to me the day after my evening in L’Internat. The instantly recognisable multi-layered singing, too: there’s a bit of the Centre in it, the West, even the North…and a detectable link to Congolese rhumba. Their point was this: even though zouglou was born in Yopougon, it is very much part of national Ivorian identity.

Most of you will know the biggest zouglou hit ever, Magic System’s Premier Gaou, which made it all the way to MTV in the 1990s. An apparently autobiographical account of a poor boy who is rejected by a girl, who then tries to rope him in again when he has become famous thanks to a hit song he’s written. Magic System are still huge and one of their offshoots is a music company, unsurprisingly called Gaou Productions. Other bands have also made sure that their names are not easily forgotten: Les Salopards, Les Garagistes, Les Patrons…

A whiteboard-like wall, next to the bar, gives you some of the biggest names who stood on the stage of this mythical place…

The thinking part of zouglou comes from the words, as another visitor to L’Internat, Olivier, explains. Like Cécilia (and yours truly) he comes a veeeery long way, from the Cocody neighbourhood of Angré, to see the bands and have a ton of drinks and fun with his friends. Mind you, this is only once a week on the Sunday and it tends to end pretty early because for many of the music lovers here, tomorrow is a working day. “Zouglou…it’s the  beautiful music and the words,” Olivier explains. “There’s good advice on how to behave, how to live…” In actual fact, many of the songs tell not-so-uplifting but truly hilarious stories about what has happened in the street, the neighbourhood, the antics of a veritable rogues’ gallery of small-time crooks and two-timing husbands and/or wives, brought to you (we cannot stress this enough) with a huge dollop of uniquely Ivorian humour. Abidjan is called the Capital of Laughter for a reason.

Seven years ago, during another visit here, there was one song that kept coming back: Je Roule Kdo (that’s ‘cadeau’ for you, and in this neck of the woods ‘cadeau’ means ‘for nothing’, or ‘free of charge’…). It told the story of two Frenchmen who were swindled out of a very large amount of money by a wily Yopougon taxi driver…so large was the sum that he could buy a car from the proceeds – hence the title. A party of very robustly built neighbourhood women was dancing to this tune, whilst pretending to be at the wheel. They had an absolute screamer of a good time, while I was having visions of their husbands, tied to the kitchen table back home…

Evening has fallen and as usual, the music cascading from the PA system has reached such ear-splitting levels that the sounds starts bouncing back from the buildings around the place. To give my ears some relief, I move to the adjacent parking lot, which is where I meet Roger and Olivier, and where I interview artistic director Patron Sylvanus, who explains how zouglou is also a great leveller, as it makes you forget, if only temporary, who is boss and who isn’t. Even when there are plenty of songs to remind the listener of exactly that…

Yodé (left) & Siro, after the interview

Like the latest Yodé & Siro tune, Président On Dit Quoi (the last three words here are, in Ivorian parlance, the universally used phrase to ask you how you are), where they take a few digs at the current government of president Alassane Ouattara. “It’s nice that there’s light everywhere now. Tarred roads everywhere. There’s even lights IN the tarred roads (a reference to the tiny lights that alert drivers they are about to stray into a lane for oncoming traffic…). Our country is becoming really beautiful. But president, why is it that we always hear that the money is working…but then we only see certain people eating well and oh, by the way, why is it you don’t care what happens to us when we fall ill? Ah yes, I forgot: you lot always go abroad for medical treatment…”

Yes, in spite of the banter and the jokes the lyrics can be pretty hard-hitting. Yodé & Siro did not really want to discuss their recent legal troubles with me, the result of their comments on the partisan actions of the nation’s State Prosecutor, which landed them a suspended prison sentence and a substantial fine but they were clearly undeterred: “Look, we have been lampooning presidents ever since we began. Just because there is a new government now does not mean we are going to change. It’s our job to tell leaders what they do right and what they do wrong…”

One famous episode recounts how, when Laurent Gbagbo became president, Yodé & Siro did a song that warned him: if you appoint thieves in your entourage, you will be called a thief. One day, they were called to the presidential palace, where they went with some trepidation. Gbagbo had lined up his entire cabinet of ministers, so the story goes, and then ordered the two artists to sing their song on the spot. When they had finished, the president told his ministers: “You see? It’s YOU they are singing about. YOU are the thieves…” This is unlikely to have changed the actual situation materially – corrupt bureaucrats have been a blight on this country for decades – but it does show you the extent to which zouglou is part of the Ivorian DNA. Président On Dit Quoi was on permanent rotation in the maquis, on the radio, in the markets, everywhere…

Photo credit: L’Internat Facebook page

But now, for me, the time has come to leave L’Internat. This is very sad but my left ear is ringing from the World War Three levels of the sound system. Ever since I caused a rather unfortunate sound accident in a self-op studio some nine years ago in Hilversum there’s a maximum to what that ear can tolerate. And yes, even more maddeningly, my back has started protesting yet again… (I don’t moan about it all the time but rest assured that it moans at me on an almost permanent basis…). So it is time for a taxi and the last instalment of these Abidjan stories…

Abidjan miniatures 4

December 27, 2020

Ya pas monnaie.”

There is no small change. Sigh. The eternal problem here and it’s almost everywhere. Supermarkets, fancy shops in the big shopping malls…they all have problems finding the right change. The chains of boulangeries are among the worst: if you want a simple baguette and nothing else do not enter the shop if you don’t have a single silvery 100 franc (15 eurocents) in your hand. You will not be served. I once did go into a boulangerie when I wanted something more wholesome than the bland French staple. And ordered what’s called a pain complet but the very nice lady behind the counter made a face when I handed her a 500 franc note. There was no way I was going to get the 200 francs change she now owed me. After some reflection I ordered another smaller pain complet and left with no change, two loafs and I left behind a very happy shop assistant.

Whether it is a red 1,000 franc note or a blue 2,000 franc note let alone a green 5,000 franc note let entirely alone a purple 10,000 franc note (at €15 the highest denomination available), the reaction is universal: copious amounts of huffing and puffing, dramatic searches through pockets, purses and drawers, frequently ending with the utter failure to come up with the required coins. Sometimes this is theatre: they don’t want to part with their own small change. Supermarkets and the shops that are attached to petrol stations tend to offer you a little thing to compensate for the change not given: some sweets, chewing gum or a tiny package of biscuits, that sort of thing. Another solution is to look at the client very sweetly and ask in a coy voice: is there nothing worth 200, 250, 300 francs you want to buy?

In any case, don’t make a scene – these are always counter-productive – and understand that the reason your caissière has no change is that her clients ALL tend to pay with banknotes and expect change back, which means she is almost always short of coins.

But why are these coveted coins of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200 and 250 francs all in short supply? For some it will forever be linked to the traumatic unilateral devaluation of the CFA franc, by France, in January 1994. Goods imported from France became more expensive requiring more coins as a result. This may perhaps offer a partial explanation. This problem has indeed been around since the 1990s and is unlikely to go away any time soon. Even the changeover from the Franc CFA into the doomed* new currency ECO will change nothing.

*doomed because (1) the initiative to convert the Franc CFA into the regional ECO comes from the wrong country, i.e. France and (2) the utterly dominant economy in the region, Nigeria, took one look at the planned new currency and binned it. This means the ECO is either dead or simply the continuation of the CFA franc under a different name.

pic: Eburnietoday

There’s a few urban legends about the coin shortage. Accusing whispers do the rounds about wily street vendors supposedly hoarding tonnes of coins; some reports mention a lively underground coin circuit only they have access to, with scores of secretive exchanges across the city. Hmmmm, not convinced? Neither am I. Fingers point at beggars, too. Yes, they receive a few coins if they’re lucky, which they then spend on food, one would think. But no, says the rumour mill, they hoard those coins so they can pay for trips back home to their families…beggars apparently are non-Ivorians. Yep, sure.

The most plausible reason is a lot more boring: cost. Coins are notoriously expensive to mint. Any banker will tell you that a coin costs massively more to produce than the value it represents. The largest one, 500 francs, is already making way for a banknote, much cheaper to produce. And the others, those pieces of metal representing 5 francs, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200 and even the increasingly unpopular 250 francs? Likely to be in perennial short supply. They just don’t mint too many of them.

In Zone 4

Don’t even think of getting on a Sotra city bus, one of the gbaka minibuses (warning: these are frequently driven by maniacs) or a wôrô-wôrô (local communal taxi) without the right change. This is the routine.

Sotra excepted (they have regular busstops), you can flag down any of these anywhere.

You talk to the driver.

You will be asked where you want to go. Either you state how much money you have and if it is anything over 500 francs (75 eurocents), forget it. Or you know how much the fare is and you simply tell the driver: ya monnaie. You will be taken at your word and there will be hell to pay when you have arrived and you don’t produce the monnaie you promised.

Wôrô-wôrôs are easy to recognise. They are colour coded Japanese saloon cars – colour coded according to the area where they are allowed to operate along fixed routes: yellow in Cocody, blue in Yopougon, green in Marcory/Koumassi, and so on. They sit four passengers: one in front, three at the back. The name is said to have come from a word from the Mandé linguistic family that means sixty (bi-woro), said to be the fare at the time this transport variety was introduced. Well – maybe.

Taxis, by contrast, are universally orange, Côte d’Ivoire’s national colour. They are sometimes still referred to as taxi compteur because they used to have functioning meters. But nobody bothers with those compteurs any more. The reason, as was explained to me, was that the compteurs were inside the formal economy and hence taxed to the hilt, which rendered the whole business unprofitable. Passengers increasingly demanded what became known as ‘arrangements’, where you’d negotiate the fare before getting in the car, standard practice in literally every West African city. But do not – ever – forget to ask the driver this extremely vital question: ya monnaie? He (almost never a ‘she’) will then ask you with which note you will pay: the blue one? OK. The green one? Maybe. The purple one? Forget it.

(Sadly, I have not been able to travel on the rapidly expanding lagoon boat network but I will leave that for my next visit.)

Abidjan miniatures 3

December 26, 2020

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.

Abidjan miniatures 2

December 25, 2020

Espace Diaspora. Slightly tucked away just off the main road through 7ième Tranche, one of Abidjan’s sprawling neighbourhoods. Tables and chairs outside, when it’s not raining. More tables and chairs in a low open building down below (like so much here in Abidjan, Espace Diaspora sits on a gentle slope; go a couple of hundred metres behind this place and you will find the truly steep slope of a large moat).

As you enter, the main attraction is to the left: a kitchen (called “Diaspo”), where the usual Ivorian delicacies are being prepared – roast chicken, roast fish, atiéké, alloco, deliciously spicy tomato-based relish, tasty fresh pepper, need I go on? Next to it is a large covered wooden veranda, with comfy chairs, settees and tables. The entire place breathes conviviality, a highly prized commodity here. Oh and there is of course a massive screen to show video clips and of course…football matches. English Premier League, if you please.

As a colleague of mine and me sit down around a few drinks, we chat. In English. This does not go unnoticed. An elderly gentleman who was chatting with friends on the next table approaches, and asks us how we are. In English. We thank him and have a little conversation. In English. Turns out that he is a nurse and has worked for many years, in South London. He’s come to Abidjan to see his family and his place. Nope, no plans to return for the time being. In fact, he thanks his lucky stars to be here, what with the UK beset by a raft of Biblical Plagues: Covid19, Brexit, a Tory government, and yes: an upsurge in increasingly in-your-face racism. We wish each other a good evening as he returns to his friends: elderly gentlemen all, and very likely having had similar stories to tell, from France… After all, it is Espace Diaspora, n’est-ce pas? This is what people build with the money thay have earned overseas.

“He’s one of those who keeps the NHS alive and gets abuse on the streets for his troubles,” remarks my colleague. Only too true. On the rare occasion that my skin colour comes up as I walk down Abidjan’s very busy streets, it is meant as a way to identify me (they don’t know my name, after all) and to ask how I am. “Bonjour le blanc. C’est comment?” And you reply by saying “Oui, mon frère, ça va bien. Et la journée, ça se passe bien?” Maybe we have a little chat. Maybe we don’t. And then we go our separate ways.

Our Ivorian London friend is clearly in his element and why shouldn’t he be? His Espace Diaspora is a lovely little place, even though the slope on which it sits does nothing to accommodate my back, which it is escalating its protests as the evening progresses… Meanwhile, familiar noise never stops wafting in from the street, with taxi horns blaring, kids playing on a side street, people chatting, the women in “Diaspo” busy with their pots and pans, vendors advertising their wares or services…bliss.

Let us be very clear here. There exists a very nasty anti-foreigner undercurrent, especially in the southern part of this country. It becomes manifest during elections, when unscrupulous politicians (but I repeat myself) tap into this and foment communal violence. Plenty of unemployed youths around looking for a fast buck to earn by burning, smashing up, looting or stealing. A complex web of xenophobia, a tangled pre- and post-Independence geo-political heritage, political short-termism offers only a part of the explanation. But it does fit with what former president Henri Konan Bédié encouraged in the mid-1990s with his deranged ‘Ivoirité’. Subsequent governments have done little or nothing to counter the anti-northerner/foreigner rhetoric or have indeed escalated it. This can and does spill over into deadly violence during elections. Why this happens should be the subject of a long explanatory note and I know Ivorian colleagues who are attempting to decipher how exactly this works. But the point is that this is is not the norm, cannot be in a country where fully one-third of the population can trace their origins across the borders and where intermarriage is wholly unexceptional.

And one other distinction must be made: only on very rare occasions is this rhetoric and violence directed against Whites; controlled on-and-off xenophobia (for want of a better term) is almost always directed against fellow West Africans. Under normal (i.e. non-political) circumstances, this colossal metropolis of maybe six million is a remarkably relaxed place, where people do not go around telling people with a different skin tone to “}@(# off to your own country” or get told off for not speaking English in an English public house. Instead, here we get an English conversation in a country that speaks French everywhere and more than 60 languages that were already here before the French arrived.

So if you happen to be on the long thoroughfare through the Septième Tranche, have a beer with the lovely gentlemen at Espace Diaspora. Chances are that I will be there, too…

Abidjan miniatures 1

December 24, 2020

Yes I was supposed to have gone to other parts of the country no this did not happen because I seriously did my back in and was confined first to a bed then to my room then to the street because at some point you simply MUST MOVE in order to save your back and then finally I let myself loose (within limits) in this loveable city. In between bouts of seriously serious pain in a most inconvenient place (the lower back), here’s a few bits and pieces of what I saw, consider them maybe a bunch of very loosely related End-Of-Year Tropical sort of Christmas tales…

There’s this youngish rasta driving a taxi. He’s not very good at it so in his haste to get to a client he veers dangerously close to my legs and feet. I jump aside – and yes, give my back another unwanted jolt.

This kind of thing happens very frequently in a city with an endless supply of vehicles and a similarly endless supply of people driving them, forever in a hurry. So what do you do? The opposite of what your urban dwelling instincts tell you to. Instead of going full-blown “What the devil do YOU think you were doing???”… go the Abidjan way. Smile. Make a gesture to the effect that it’s not too bad. ‘C’est pas grave…’

Sure, it does not always work out; some traffic situations do get out of control and result in slanging matches, which is the precise moment you will discover that the good city dwellers of Abidjan have an absolutely endless reserve of highly effective invective and voices that can fill a stadium, unaided, and that they all act out as if there is a camera permanently trained on them. It’s not just the nondesctript achitecture and the endless sprawl in some parts of this city that remind you a little of the US of A…

But much more often, it goes like this. Here’s the sequel to my case.

Rasta driver pulls out of his temporary parking space and as he drives away he turns his head apologetically and mouths “Pardon”. What do you do? Simple: you smile again and stick up your thumb reassuringly: it’s alright…c’est pas grave… End of the scene. Nobody leaves in a huff; everyone departs with a tiny reassuring inside glow that everything just got ever so slightly better in the world. And this is of course most decidedly NOT how they do things in, say, Washington. Here though, it makes perfect sense: you just cannot function in a city this size with six million (give or take) people in it without a generous dose of human tolerance. And humour. Never forget it: Abidjan is officially the Capital of Laughter. If you can’t make a joke out of it then what’s the point?

Speaking of which: L’Afterwork, the satire radio show that knocked Radio France Internationale off its perch on prime time radio, is still running.

***

At the bank. These things always sort themselves out, don’t they?

Here we are, in a thoroughly modern, state-of-the-art banking building, with monitors beaming the bank’s adverts and a display of the many modern ways in which you can get in touch: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email, website… Slick adverts for a 21st Century West African bank.

But there’s one small problem. The electronic counter, which normally tells you when it is your turn, is out of order. I only vaguely cotton on to this when I notice the crowd in the waiting area is moving in a particular way and the counter keeps displaying the same number: 2G. A guard has seen that I don’t quite get how it works without the counter and taps me gently on the shoulder. “You chair is there”, he gestures, pointing to my place in the queue,folks seated in neat rows on hard plastic chairs. Those chair, yes. This is where the last century still reigns very much supreme.

Here’s how it works in the old-fashioned way: you take your place next to the person who came in before you and when the teller calls “NEXT!” from behind her window, the first person, on the first and leftmost chair closest to said teller, gets up and goes to the counter that is free. Everybody else moves one seat. Oh and they do keep one seat free between themselves and the next person. Covid19. Social distancing. Washing hands on entering this building is mandatory. Very 2020…

But the old system still works. Now if only this very modern regional bank could make those chairs a little more comfortable……..

***

If you have been away from this city for any length of time, you will not recognise some areas. This is in Zone 4, not far from a Chinese-run hotel on December 7 Boulevard. Half a decade ago, the building on the left was the only tall-ish building on this crossroads. There was a very nice Lebanese-run coffee shop on the ground floor. That building has now been dwarfed, not only by the neighbour you see under construction here but by four more: the one you see in the background and two more towers that are going up across the street. The pace is frenetic and relentless. Is this just the visual manifestation of those spectacular growth figures Côte d’Ivoire produced until Corona hit? Is it money laundering via real estate? Or is it action that follows the dictum: invest in stone, not in money? I have been told that apartments are currently sold before they even get built…

So it’s probably all of the above and maybe more. Whatever the cause, the scale and the pace of these developments are truly breathtaking.

The Corona Chronicles, Bamako

April 15, 2020

Part five – “Hey, Coronavirus! Go back to your country!”

 

“Is Corona a white disease?”

It was a question a Senegalese newspaper asked when it was found that most if not all people who had brought the disease into the West African nation were Europeans. Or had been in close proximity to Europeans. “Is France coronising Africa…” was a clever pun made in Dakar, when the March 4 headline of the Rewmi (Nation) newspaper announced that “another Frenchman” had been found to be contaminated.

The foreign origin of the virus gave rise to this blog piece I wrote, which was subsequently translated into my native Dutch and went on to cause a bit of a stir, especially among people with reading comprehension issues. No, of course I was not advocating “ethnic profiling” white people; if you actually read the end of the piece you will immediately dismiss that idea. It is arrant nonsense.

Meanwhile, I am happy to report that when out and about on my long trips through the vast sprawling Malian capital I have not once been addressed as “the white man who carries Corona”. The virus is seen as a problem that we all must overcome. To be sure, behaviour does not always match rhetoric and I will be writing about this again shortly but it is refreshing to see that, so far, the kind of xenophobic nonsense that the virus appears to have spawned elsewhere has not taken hold here. People were, are and remain their usual polite selves. It’s a cultural thing. After all, when you, as a country, have been around for a thousand years you may have picked up a few things along the way…

Meanwhile, there was a neat little bit of actual ethnic profiling happening in The Netherlands and I am wondering whether this upset the same people who were so terribly terribly shocked by their erroneous interpretation of my piece. It concerns this gem. Commentary and translation provided through that link.

The song – if you want to grace the plodding sequence with such a name – suggests that we should stop eating food that’s prepared by what the singer terms “stinky Chinese”; if you do not eat Chinese food you don’t have to be afraid. Of the virus, apparently. Chinese people were accosted on Dutch streets with “Hey, Coronavirus”. But hey – that’s banter, right. It’s fun-ny….

As the late and forever and always great Ian Dury would say in a heavy Cockney accent: no it ain’. It is crass and offensive and serves no purpose. It does not even inform; it just paints a bad and grotesquely inaccurate picture of one particular demographic.

Like the virus itself, this kind of behaviour spreads rapidly. There are reports from Abidjan where Chinese workers have been similarly aggravated. There is a growing scandal about the treatment of Africans in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, who have been moved from their homes and hotel rooms, ostensibly in an attempt to keep the spread of the virus in check. This became so bad that it took concerted action by African governments to put a stop to it.

The pandemic has given the usual suspects an opportunity to mount their hobby horse and hammer home their familiarly depressing mantra that “the borders must be closed”. It has given others to opportunity to get onto their White Saviour high hobby horse. We need none of this. Stop pointing fingers at others. The problem is you. And me.

Corona may well have exposed the limits of unchecked globalisation. But instead of giving us the impetus to draw up the bridges, retreat in our bunkers and forget about the world outside, it hopefully gives us the opportunity to build something new, something better and more equitable. A society that starts understanding the value of everything, not just its price. A society that cares for the marginalised, the vulnerable, the frail, the ones cast adrift without their knowledge or consent. A society that stops pretending to care about these groups by throwing them crumbs from the table. A society that recognises that bulldozing away Nature and not giving Her the chance to regenerate is a society on its way to oblivion.

If this whole episode can teach us one thing, this should be it. It should mark the end of the catastrophically misguided “Free market- Free for all – Greed is good – Me first” Thatcher/Reagan revolution that set this train in motion, which is hitting the buffers as we speak.

Here endeth today’s sermon. And for heaven’s sake: do not start playing John Lennon’s Imagine. I can’t stand that piece of sanctimonious piffle that lulls you to sleep instead of making you bloody angry.

The last light out or the first light in?

December 29, 2019

There’s a bunch of things I could not do this year.

One of those things is happening as we speak: I should have been at the second round of Guinea Bissau’s presidential elections.

But I’m not, for a highly familiar reason: ambition outstripped means.

As Boxer (remember him?) would tell himself: “I must work harder.” This 21st Century version grumbles to himself: “Yeah – and stop faffing about on social media all the time if you please…………….”.

In 2020 I shall become rich.

One can dream…

I report from a region that may be entering its most crucial decade since the majority of its constituent countries gained their political independence, some two generations ago (Liberia excepted; it got there earlier). The challenges are legion. The ambitions to deal with them not always in evidence. And the means, the resources…?

We’re not getting the full picture.

A friend who visited Bamako recently was surprised at the number of new vehicles on the streets. Sure enough, the vast majority of ordinary citizens still have the choice between their motorbikes, armies of sturdy vintage Mercedes taxis (painted yellow) and the ubiquitous battered green Sotrama minibuses. All share the ambition to defy the laws of gravity – all lack the means. So they stick to defying the rules of the road instead: biking around town – with or without an engine – is akin to being in possession of a permanent death wish. (I had a few escapes this year, including the moment when out of nowhere a two-wheeled missile appeared, rocketing through a red light, missing me by an inch and – of course – very annoyed that I had had the very bad idea of being in his way. A simple short courteous nod of the head from both sides diffused the situation.)

It’s the Bamako way.

A Bamako sunset.

But yes – those new vehicles. There’s a surprisingly large number of them. Which seems to suggest that in spite of the many problems besetting this country, wealth continues to be accumulated. Bamako today feels a bit like Luanda in the 1990s: a bubble where folks can continue whatever it is they are doing – living, working, partying – unperturbed by what’s going on a few hours’ drive away. And what is going on, is horrifying. 

Death is stalking the land and nowhere more so than in the border area of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Who are its agents? What we read is: ‘terrorists’. Or ‘bandits’. They call themselves ‘fighters for the True Faith, or similar.

They are almost always young men. And the greatest risk is that they will come to regard their exploits in the same way those young former fighters I interviewed years ago, in Liberia. They often said that after the war they considered themselves unemployed.

Language matters a lot here. Sowing death and destructing, looting and pillaging was considered ‘work’; invading a defenceless village was equated to being on ‘a mission’ or ‘an operation’, in which the motto invariably was: Pay Yourself. I bring this up because I am hearing that the self-styled jihadists who are sowing death and destruction in three Sahel countries are getting paid for their ‘work’.

By whom?

That is what we all desperately would like to know.

Not in the clear…

A host of theories have been launched on that now fully discredited system of deliberate misinformation, formerly known as the social media. Some believe it is France. Others think the source of misery must be located around the Gulf. The truth, if I may be so bold, is most likely a lot closer to home. While there may well have been an inflow of money into these arenas – from European powers that paid for the release of their citizens taken hostage in the desert and likely also from the Gulf – it looks as if these armed groups are increasingly capable to survive without outside assistance. You must understand that we are dealing with a much scaled-down economy here. In a non-urban setting, people survive on very little and there are sources of income available that can more than adequately cover the basic needs of a relatively small armed gang. Including arms and ammunition.

Artisanal gold mines can be exploited.

Protection money can be arranged with transporters, traders and other businesspeople – or politicians and even army brass.

And in addition:

The travelling public can be robbed.

Cattle can be stolen and sold.

Shops can be raided and their contents sold.

Property looted and sold.

Homes broken into; possessions sold.

Taken together, that’s a cool amount of loot to be taken and monetized. And if, as the fear is now, these gangs move south, into the much richer coastal states, the amount of stuff to be grabbed increases dramatically.

Big coastal cities…are they really heading there? Yes, say some experts, and you’d better be prepared.

This, to me, has little if anything to do with the adherence to an ideology, or a religion. What we are looking at here is a series of criminal enterprises that was triggered into acceleration by a previous criminal enterprise: the France – UK – US – NATO–engineered toppling of the consummate opportunist and geo-political survivor from Libya, Moamar Khadaffi. Read well: this act was not at the origin of the problems in the Sahel – Wahabist meddling in the region, for instance, goes back at least 60 years as does the economic, political and social marginalisation of the people living there – but it did something crucial: it provided the catalyst.

And what is the answer to the ensuing mayhem? This is where the question of ambition and wherewithal comes into play again. The money does not go where it is needed  – as anecdotally evidenced by those vehicles I mentioned earlier – and as far as the protagonists are concerned, this is perfectly fine. Irresponsible politicking takes precedence over serious counter-action. Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire are only the latest examples of this but the very same can be said of the three Sahel states.

It resembles the mood in Monrovia when a certain Charles Taylor took 150 men across the border from Côte d’Ivoire into Liberia at Buutuo on Christmas Eve 1989, and used the BBC Africa Service to announce to the world that his intention was to march onto the capital. Six months later he was there. Nobody was prepared. 25 years later, another threat, in the form of a disease, started in the remotest areas, far away from three capitals (Monrovia, Conakry, Freetown) and was not taken seriously in similar fashion until thousands were dead. Is history repeating itself, once again? Looks like it…

It’s begun. (Source: French ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Neither in the capitals nor in the capitals that support these capitals does there appear to be a sense of real urgency. Sure, there are the obligatory strong-worded declarations from the regional G5 Force Sahel. And there are similar declarations at UN meetings.

But doubling down on the military option has had limited and often questionable results. Twitter recently circulated imagery purporting to show dead ‘terrorists’. There were about a dozen bodies in the picture, taken in northern Burkina Faso. They were all young men, dressed in the same way you see young men dressed in many places across this region: simple (T) shirt, threadbare trousers, flip-flops. Were these the dreaded terrorists that the army had killed? I saw poor, marginalised (and now dead) youngsters who may have succumbed to the siren call of those selling the benefits of banditry with the snakeoil of religion.

Expensive foreign-owned drones will not persuade them to change their ways. Neither will expensive foreign-run operations like Barkhane. Nor will any of the plethora of hearts-and-minds programs. Seen in isolation, they are pointless. Seen in combination, they become an exercise in hypocrisy: you wish to change people’s minds by telling them to be nice? While bombing them to hell? That worked miracles in Afghanistan, did it not?

What will change minds in the villages and towns across this vast land is the tangible reality that their inhabitants have a stake in their country. They currently do not. For some, guns now provide a temporary purpose in life, as they did in the wars of the 1990s. But what is the ultimate aim, beyond survival? I don’t think there is one. Some of their leaders might be dreaming of a caliphate, while they actually create a Boulevard of Crime – just like Charles Taylor rebranded the extreme looting spree he initiated as ‘The Revolution’.

He’s looking on. On Avenida Francisco Mendes, central Bissau, close to the Parliament building and the country’s most expensive hotel.

Yes, it’s all stuff and nonsense. But absent anything else, especially a legit economic activity that will provide people with the means to have an orderly existence, the gun will have to do. You counter this problem by turning the Sahel into a zone that has economic viability without crime. And you use smart human intelligence to find the gang leaders and put them away – preferably for good.

True revolutions were led by people like Amilcar Cabral, whose thoughts have as much relevance today as they did half a century ago. And as I sit in this dust-filled office mourning my absence from the country he founded, where today’s election will decide the difference between stagnation and (some) hope to progress, I can but reflect on the extent to which those who followed in the footsteps of the early firebrands have squandered what was given to them. Let’s be clear: that squandering often happened with the active assistance of external powers: the two sides on the ‘Cold’ War and/or the former colonial powers. But ultimately, the blame must be laid where it belongs: at home, at the feet of those who did the squandering.

What is happening in the Sahel today simply confirms the dictum that you reap what you sow. Even better, paraphrased: this is what you reap when you don’t sow. The message emerging from the mayhem in the Sahel is squarely directed at the political elites.

Shape Up or Ship Out.

This problem is far from over. Tackling it head-on means starting where the roots are. And since roots are local, they can be found in the red earth of this region. That’s where the search for a solution begins. If it is then found that there are local and/or foreign actors standing in the way – they must be told – and made – to leave.

Have an excellent (or at least a slightly less insane) 2020.

Mali. Again (part three of five)

August 1, 2016

So, as we’re leaving that sweaty hall, what have we just learned? We have learned that protocol is vastly more important than content. And we have learned that emitting formulaic platitudes equals having something important to say.

Similar plagued many a jargon-laden talking session that the development community still insists on calling “workshop”. They were meeting and talking and kept meeting and talking some more, as the country started to fall apart around them. Journalists like myself were going along with the ride. Mali could not, should not, must not fail. Consider this another mea culpa, four years after I wrote the first one.

Today, in spite of another costly foreign intervention, Mali’s disintegration continues, to the surprise of nobody who has been paying attention. That is, everyone outside the development/diplomacy/intervention bubble. Those inside the bubble who are in the know (and they most certainly exist) know better than to speak out about it; it would be a career-ending move.

This is what’s going on. Read this important report about the latest developments…

https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/mali/central-mali-uprising-making

(This is a link to the English summary; the full report is in French and can be downloaded from the same site for free)

***

From the Burkina Faso side, the move south of hostilities comes as no surprise. After the atrocities visited on the centre of Ouagadougou on 15 January, everybody here knew that we had not seen the end of it. And indeed we haven’t. 

Burkinabè gendarmerie posts on the borders with Mali and Niger have been attacked in recent months, suggesting that the war in Mali continues to move south and continues to become regionalised. You can thank the foreign interventions for that, too, as has been argued, here. 

***

It is my fear that we are looking at an axis of crime and terrorism that involves three countries. Consider: the arrests, inside Mali, of two individuals believed to be associated with the 13 March attack on Grand Bassam, near Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire; some of you may remember that I was there when it happened. Consider: repeated assertions to the effect that the 4WheelDrive used in the Ouagadougou atrocity was spotted in Abidjan before the abomination perpetrated at Grand Bassam. Consider: the arrest of a Burkinabè jihadist sympathiser in Bamako – having him hanged in public was the mildest punishment the good people of Burkina Faso had in mind for this individual. Consider also: persistent uncertainty along the Burkina Faso-Mali border and persistent insecurity in Northern Côte d’Ivoire, where roadside robberies are frequent and where former rebels may be making common course with would-be jihadists and ordinary criminals. Add to this an immobile administration in Ouagadougou, a deeply unpopular government in Bamako and an intensely polarised Côte d’Ivoire and you are looking at a potential cocktail of epic proportions.

Compare and contrast with the output of Minusma…

A curious mix of impotence and insider information. News from a bubble, to which the Dutch government wants to keep contributing, in spite of face-palming experts and head-on-desk-banging specialists. Of course, the Dutch could be just a leetle beet more specific about what it is their special forces are actually doing out there – but on that score I advise you not to hold your breath. Like the mission itself, Dutch contributions to Minusma have virtually nothing at all to do with Mali.

***

I get the impression that the Dutch government is not particularly serious about informing its citizens what its personnel is doing in Mali. Neither is it particularly concerned about obtaining results. After all and in the same spirit, the Netherlands has been throwing development money at the Bamako elites for decades and the results have been, by and large, lamentably predictable. No, it’s the United Nations Security Council that matters and the prospect of a Dutch face around that Big Table, where missions like Minusma are conceived. Nobody there pays the ultimate price. That’s what African cannon fodder is for. The grandchildren of the old Tirailleurs Sénégalais today wear blue helmets.

The Façade – Part 5 and end

May 23, 2016

A slightlycloser look at thew Henro Konan Bédié Bridge across the Ébrié Lagoon, the third in the city. Bridges Numbers 4 and 5 are reportedly being planned.

A slightly closer look at the new Henri Konan Bédié Bridge across the Ébrié Lagoon, the third in the city. Bridges Numbers 4 and 5 are reportedly being planned. Photo taken from the conference room of the Grand Hotel.

 

I will forever be thrilled by arrival in Abidjan, a metropolis I have come to adore over the years. It’s fast, it’s dynamic and it’s getting bigger, better and busier. At least, on the outside: more roads, more shopping malls, more high-rise office blocks, more flyovers, more luxury boutiques and fancy restaurants. But none of this can hide the staggering difference in standards of living that blight this giant city. You get a good hard reminder of that once you arrive in Abidjan’s main bus station – Adjamé.

Or at least: what’s left of it. It is just after 11pm when we pull into a section of town that looks as if some shacks have been dumped there from a great height. Where are all the old-fashioned, loud but rather well-organised garages that used to line the road here?

Gone.

In its place, a sinister new order, of which I become dimly aware once out of the gate of the enclosure that is home to the hangar where the bus has been parked. The building must sit right on top of a sewer; the stench is everywhere. As I approach the gate, I am told not to talk to anyone, except taxi drivers. The latter announce themselves either seated behind the wheel of their – invariably orange-coloured – Toyotas or pointing at their vehicles. It has been raining and there is no paved road; the “street” in front of the badly lit hangar is muddy, wet and slippery. I get accosted by a tall man as my luggage disappears in the direction of one taxi. Big head, unkempt hair, needs money. I give him my small change, a move that I will come to regret a little later.

‘Don’t use too many words here,’ says the elderly driver, as he tells me to get into the car. Only the most basic of exchanges will suffice. Another man needs a ride. Urgent negotiations ensue as the atmosphere  turns a shade or two darker. My taximan wants to know if I object to someone joining us. Of course not. An elderly gentleman gets in the taxi and we advance, retreat, advance, retreat in a maze of other taxis, saloon cars, buses, lorries, parked haphazardly (or so it seems) in the increasingly menacing darkness. Apart from the engine, there is no noise outside.

The driver, whose name is Moussa, appears to know where he is going while I feel we continue to move ever deeper into this otherworldly labyrinth. A few lone lamps; little islands of light in the otherwise impenetrable darkness.

‘Have you got some small change?’ he suddenly asks.

Damn! No. That’s with the beggar boy at the hangar.

‘I’m afraid I just gave away my last pocket money,’ I answer back when out of nowhere a fierce looking young man appears, armed with a large piece of wood and a mad glint in his eye. He guards an improvised barrier and wants 100 francs. 15 cents. He brandishes his weapon.

Moussa rummages around in his dashboard compartment while I look at the man with the club. It’s as long as his calve and as thick as a grown man’s thigh. If he weren’t lolling about on his feet, as I begin to notice, he would be able to do some serious damage.

Moussa manages to find 100 francs and I pass it on to our self-appointed guard. He lifts the rudimentary wooden barrier and we’re out.

‘What if you don’t pay?’ Moussa doesn’t even bother to answer the question.

‘There’s many of them. They have come here since the government cleaned out another part of town. They all use drugs. They form gangs. And now that the authorities have destroyed the bus station they’re all over this place.’ I will find out later that this particular gang guards all the entrances and exits of this bizarre transport maze and apparently make enough to finance their drug habits.

Adjamé’s former bus terminus is, for now at least, the place where the people go that the government does not want you to see. The homeless. The insane. The drug users. The drug pushers. And that’s not even mentioning the lads they call les microbes, violent young criminals like their colleagues in the North of the country. They have established a reign of terror in Abobo, another one of Abidjan’s sprawling suburbs. How many of them have been active participants in Côte d’Ivoire’s conflict? Hard to tell but their existence is a major problem, primarily for Ivorians themselves. After all: visitors rarely see beyond the façade; they don’t go there.

Abidjan Plateau, the Façade in all its glory. Picture taken from behind the open air theatre at Treichville, accross the lagoon. The structure in front is the roof of that theatre.

Abidjan Plateau, the Façade in all its glory. Picture taken from behind the open air theatre at Treichville, accross the lagoon. The structure in front is the roof of that theatre.

The pretty façade of Abidjan – that is the picture the current government would like you to retain. This is relatively easy when you get your visa electronically through a company run by one of the president’s business friends, get whisked around the town in a luxury car – I have seen stretch limousines cruise here, the ultimate sign of decadence and stupendous self-indulgence – and sleep in one of the luxury hotels dotted around town.

The leading clan loves its glitz and its glamour. Last March, the Children for Africa Gala Dinner (for the charity of the same name run by Côte d’Ivoire’s First Lady) and the African CEO Forum were star-studded events with celebrities, high profile politicians, captains of industry, diplomats – all present in numbers. A few dead people on the beach, as occurred on March 13, will not change the mood: Chinese, Turkish and increasingly also American and British businesspeople are joining the Ivorians, the French and the Lebanese already there. They all share Abidjan’s absolute obsession with making money. But the powder kegs are there for all to see, of one bothers to look: the deprivation, the corruption, the failed (and some would argue not even attempted) national reconciliation, the failure to punish the criminals on the winning side for crimes committed during the 2010-2011 conflict, the blatant inequality. That façade can easily be smashed up again if these things are not addressed instead of being swept under a thick red carpet for the happy few.

There are many mad guys with giant clubs. There are at least two politicians (one in a jail in The Hague; another in Yamoussoukro and one step away from the presidency) with proven track records of turning random men with clubs into militias, decked out with better kit and something resembling an ideology. Sweeping mad men with clubs up from one place and dumping them in another, as current government policy seems to be, does not make them go away. In all likelihood, they get ever madder. And get bigger clubs.