In Ivory Coast, Abidjan is modernizing by pushing the poorest towards the periphery

In Ivory Coast, the controversy caused by the destruction in February of two so-called precarious neighborhoods in Abidjan – Gesco in Yopougon and Boribana in Attécoubé – is not abating. Thursday March 7, a demonstration in support of the evictees at the call of the NGO Colombe Ivoire, which helps disadvantaged populations, was immediately dispersed by the police. But the appeals of the “disbanded”, as they are called on site, continue to be relayed in the press and on social networks.

Wednesday, at the exit of Council of Ministers, the government finally agreed to give pledges to the affected populations. Government spokesperson Amadou Coulibaly promised aid of 250,000 CFA francs (381 euros) per household to residents expelled from these two neighborhoods, to which will be added a plot of land of 75 m² or 100 m² depending on the size of the family, with the signing of a lease […] over a period of twenty to twenty-five years for a rent of 10,000 CFA francs per month”, at the end of which “impacted nationals” will become owners of the allocated land. “A potential site for resettlement has already been identified,” added the Minister of Communication, without specifying which one.

“The recent evictions were inhumane, to the point of arousing national and international indignation”reacted Nahounou Daleba, responsible for social justice within the Young Volunteers for the Environment (JVE) association, which helps those displaced: “This is why the State has backpedaled. He knows that pressure can cause international donors to react. »

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But basically, the authorities’ strategy does not change. The government has established a vsdevelopment unit of precarious neighborhoods in the autonomous district of Abidjan to monitor evictions”, announced Amadou Coulibaly. This organ will be, he says, “specially responsible for programming precarious neighborhoods to be cleared, the care and rehousing of families affected by evictions, as well as the examination of urban plans for evicted precarious neighborhoods.” Would thus be doomed to destruction “around thirty neighborhoods of precarious housing”, most in the communes of Attécoubé and Yopougon.

Prepare for the arrival of the metro

Evictions are not a new phenomenon in Côte d’Ivoire. The first date from the colonial era. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the public authorities regularly dislodged village communities for the construction of large infrastructures: the Vridi canal, near Abidjan, the two hydroelectric dams of Ayamé, in the east of the country, and the dam of Kossou (center). Tens of thousands of residents were then displaced and rehoused by the government.

In 1997, President Henri Konan Bédié in turn ordered the destruction of the Washington district, in Cocody, to build a highway interchange. The residents will be relocated to the Biabou site, in the commune of Abobo.

These operations slowed down during the war years, between 2002 and 2011, but resumed with vigor after the accession of Alassane Ouattara to the supreme office. The new president, who aims to transform Abidjan, immediately razed “the Sorbonne”, a public square in the Plateau district that had become a place of political protest, and launched the “Clean Country” operation in July 2011. “Rue Princesse”, in Yopougon, famous for its nightlife and places of prostitution, was destroyed, as well as the precarious buildings of the Cocody university campus.

Read also | In Ivory Coast, the Yopougon “escapees” do not take off

Then came the demolitions of the surroundings of the autonomous port (2014), the fishing districts of Port-Bouët (2017), the Groupement district, in Yopougon (2019), the Adjouffou and Aérocanal districts, near the airport, and, already, Boribana (2020), as well as the surroundings of Anyama station (2021)… Most are then justified by infrastructure projects. The surroundings of the autonomous port were dedicated to its extension and the razed site at Port-Bouët, behind the airport, was transformed into a side alley from the highway towards Bassam. Boribana was located on the route of the city’s fourth bridge, which now spans the Ebrié lagoon. As for the Anyama site, it had to be razed to prepare for the arrival of the future Abidjan metro.

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In other cases, these were non-buildable lands, located in areas at risk of flooding or landslides, generally slopes or lowlands, i.e. sloping areas. or frequently submerged. Since 2005, accidents occurring in these areas during the rainy season “caused the death of more than 340 people”, also recalled Amadou Coulibaly. The Gobelet district, located on a slope in the very center of Cocody, was razed in 2015. On its site, which had remained voluntarily vacant, nature has now reclaimed its rights.

Beautify the metropolis

But the objective is also to fight against “what we sometimes call “urban disorder””, estimate the geographers Christian Bouquet and Irène Kassi-Djodjo in an article in The political space, ““Get out” to reconquer public space in Abidjan”published in 2014: “In order to control the effects of rapid urban growth and to offer a healthy living environment to the population, the State of Côte d’Ivoire, in continuity with the colonial administration, has chosen to a dirigiste policy in matters of town planning and development. It wanted to manage urban space by implementing very strict legislation and regulations, like Western metropolises. »

The authorities therefore leave “precarious neighborhoods as well as most activities [de commerce] traditional which, by their geographical positioning, tainted the modern image that the city should reflect”, write the geographers.

This concern for image is now recurrent in the discourse of those involved in evictions. In an interview given on 1er March in the government newspaper Brotherhood Morningthe minister and governor of Abidjan, Ibrahima Cissé Bacongo, justified the destruction of Gesco by the fact that this district was not “not worthy of the reputation of our economic capital”. He then attacked the Boribana and Banco 1 neighborhoods, near the forest of the same name, “that everyone complains about all the time ” even if “no one dares to say it publicly.” “Everyone is ashamed of these two places,” he concluded.

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“A city has urban planning standards, recalls Irène Kassi-Djodjo. Can we imagine building a cabin in the middle of Paris? When you come to live in the city, you have to respect these standards. » Recent evictions aim to beautify the metropolis of Abidjan, confirms the geographer, particularly at the entrances to the city: “From the fourth bridge, the image that Boribana sends back is not rosy. The coastline between Port-Bouët and Grand-Bassam was also cleared to develop the seafront and create a site conducive to walks and leisure activities. »

Isn’t this a way of pushing the poorest populations towards the periphery while in Abidjan, land pressure is making land scarce and rents are constantly increasing? “Without access to housing, the most deprived will always settle in areas unsuitable for construction or on land intended for future construction siteswarns Irène Kassi-Djodjo. What I advocate is a real social housing policy. It is only at this price that we will resolve the problem of precarious neighborhoods and spontaneous settlements. »

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