Ivorian web-series: ‘Sa c koi sa enkor’

If there’s one thing that unites Ivorians, aside from football, it’s complaining about the state broadcaster RTI. Sometimes this is unfair (if you have CANAL satellite you can check out some of the other West African state tv channels, which look far worse), but there’s still a fair dose of amateurism. For me, until the news cameramen start using tripods I won’t have much respect for what’s produced.

For decades now, the various governments have promised a privatization, but despite all the noise, we don’t seem to have gotten anywhere. From the position of being in power, there’s something very attractive about having just one broadcaster you can control. The Ministry of Communication seems to feel it has enough on its plate handling the digital switch-over. But the recent award of three new private commercial radio licences are a step in the right direction, and the expansion of foreign outfits like A+, Vox Africa and TRACE in Abidjan suggest the city is becoming an audio-visual base, ahead of any liberalization.

Meanwhile, technology is offering new alternatives, from the increasingly cut-price satellite platforms, to the availability of internet speeds that can support video-streaming. On the creative side as well, video editing software to do most basic tasks comes free on computers, and increasingly affordable SLR cameras can capture stunning HD footage.

The sorts of things we’re likely to see more of include projects like ‘Sa c koi sa enkor’ (something like ‘what’s this again?’), whose team I met at the end of January while in Abidjan. They produce a regular web tv series for the Ivorian youth platform ivoirmixdj, and are building a following (18,000 and growing) on Facebook with a page, and regular short clips in between the big web-series releases. The content is comic and youth focused, but it’s attracting a growing buzz.

For me, with social media, YouTube and good use of accessible technology (especially where creatives can get to grips with getting good sound), there are huge possibilities to bypass the existing television monopoly and produce parallel audiences for Ivorians both in and outside the country. Clearly, the youth market is the one to target for now given the popularity of social media, and comedy is a good subject area as well. A parallel success is already working out for Ivorian humouristic site La Rigueur Bino.

__

Below is an edited version of my discussion with the ‘Sa c koi sa enkor’ team: Ange Emmanuel Kouakou (producer), Wilfried Nanga (actor), Jennifer Kissi (actress) and Salomon Guy (sound engineer). Many thanks for the time they gave me.

- Tell me about how things started.

AK: We wanted to do just a small thing to have fun. But little by little we had some opportunities. I met a producer (Yves Roland Jay Jay) who enabled us to put the videos on ivoiremixdj to have more visibility and then I met Salomon Guy, who is now our sound engineer. With my close friends, we started posting videos and it started building momentum. We had lots of ideas and for us the goal is to get on to television, while keeping our philosophy of staying natural. We don’t want things that seem staged – on the television you have the impression that people are reading their lines. We’re speaking naturally of Ivorian realities but in a comic way.

- You seem keen to still get on traditional broadcasters?

WN: Nowadays everyone is connected so if your product gets success it’ll be seen by a lot of people. But it’s good as well to put things on a higher level (i.e. RTI) where lots of people can see these things e.g. parents. It’s true that you can see things on the web. But when people speak of your series, it shouldn’t be just for young people. It should be parents saying: ‘yes I know this series’. It’s like artists. Like DJ Arafat. When he does something, even someone in the remote village knows about it. People know that it’s serious because they have heard of it. We want to touch all generations to make this bigger and touch other audiences outside of Cote d’Ivoire. We haven’t yet been shown on the television – that’s our objective.

- Is this a business or a hobby?

WN: We’ve not yet made any money. We haven’t yet established certain things. We are building a fan-base and have lots of people who follow us. We’ve heard that on Youtube if you have a large number of visitors, you can make money. When people don’t know you, people don’t take you seriously. But if people know you then if you say ‘watch this at this time, at this platform’ people will do it. We want lots of people following us, and then we can advance. We want to have a huge fan base first.

- What’s your strategy?

AK: First off, we’re prioritising Facebook. Lots of people said ‘put your stuff on YouTube’. But we prefer to have lots of fans on Facebook and get say 50,000 fans and then go on to other platforms. We are not rushed.

WN: Each time we put videos, the likes increase a lot more. With photos, things increase slowly. But if we put a video, the videos are really shared about it so that means that lots of people see it, and lots of people who haven’t seen the page before will go to the page.

AK: If a video hasn’t had much success for us, it gets 3-5,000 views. Each time we put a video it increases the number of page likes. When we reach a certain number, people will take us seriously. Lots of people are starting to approach us.

We’re not professionals but we attempt to do what we can. But in future we hope to make things more professional. But for the moment, we just want to create some buzz.

- What’s the creative process like?

SG: We want to always have new content on the page. Generally on a Saturday we try and film several videos and then publish gradually during the week.

JK: In the week leading up to Saturday we have a few ideas on what we’re going to film. On the Saturday morning we have some final discussions.

WN: One shouldn’t forget that we all go to school. So the days that we can come together are the Saturdays. Those are the days that we try and come together. Anyone can bring ideas. But at base, the director has ideas that he proposes. We validate and discuss. If actors have ideas, they can share them and we see if the ideas are good.

The web series comes out once a fortnight on ivoiremixdj. To fill the time in between, we need to be doing something. If we want people to wait two weeks, we can do it, but it’s not certain that the public will still be there, so to keep the audience entertained we’ll publish something Monday, Wednesday, Friday and then each two weeks the web series comes out.

SG: The videos need to be short, funny or a little extravagant. The length is really important because of the bandwidth which is really limiting. The 10 minute videos don’t get as much buzz as the short ones.

AK: We’re based on what we see every day. I’m not going to criticise what we see on RTI, but personally it doesn’t please me. There were old series like ‘Faut pas facher’ – before it was good and we all liked it, but it’s not as good now. There are other series – I won’t give the names – and it feels too recited. People say to us ‘hey why doesn’t your stuff go on RTI?’. We’re just telling the story our lives.

AK: We have a project to do a short film beyond the web series. In 12 months, perhaps we’ll be on the TV, I don’t know. But the objective is to get a huge audience on the web.

SG: We shouldn’t just look at Africa. We’re already sub-titling in English to reach new audiences. Perhaps we can even do the dubbing in the studio to do several versions. But that’ll need need financing. We trying to get a large audience, then go onto YouTube, and then attract those who want visibility with financing.

Posted in Culture, Web | Leave a comment

Ivory Coast’s Emergence – is the slogan realistic?

If there’s one word that’s almost impossible to escape nowadays in Ivory Coast, it’s ‘emergence’. The presidential vision is to see the country become an emerging nation by 2020. You’re almost guaranteed to hear it every single evening on RTI’s 8pm bulletin, and it’s approaching the status of a mantra, in the true sense of the word: perhaps if we say it enough times it will become true. Abidjan’s many conference organisers are famously unimaginative in their selection of themes, so the classic now is to just to ask what your particular sector can contribute to emergence. Perhaps in September we’ll see ‘The role of grilled food in emergence’ from the Festival des Grillades.

It would be an interesting study to research the origins of the word in the Ivorian political context. I don’t recall the word being used in the 2010 presidential campaign, when for Alassane Ouattara it was ‘ADO Solutions’. Funnily enough, we don’t hear much more about solutions, which perhaps implies too heavily its counterpart of ‘problems’. But by 2012 at least emergence was a regular government theme.

Like many good political mantras, it’s meaning is rather unclear – perhaps it’s simply a new form of that old political idea: hope. In some ways it really just means – I promise that things will get better in the future. The date of 2020 gives more concrete information – we understand implicitly by the vision that it assumes Ouattara wins a second five-year mandate in 2015, and steps down in 2020 after achieving his target.

Beyond just being a synonym for ‘hope’ though, it implies rather firmly that Ivory Coast will be something it now isn’t, on or by 1 January 2020. The way it’s used suggests that being ‘emergent’ or not is a clearly defined thing, but it’s hard to know if (a la Karl Popper) this is a falsifiable concept. A recent article in Le Sursaut (a new paper that’s generally pro government as far as I can tell) is more realistic than most in saying that in 2020 Adjame will remain ‘an open air market characterised by disorder and theft’ and Abidjan’s slums will still look like slums. Even if the most positive projections are realised, the majority will still be (and feel) poor in 2020. Emergence will not be a paradise (cf Russia, India, South Africa). Rather predictable in the 2020 election will be opposition parties saying ‘you tell us we’re emergent, but we still struggle to make ends meet’.

Looking around for definitions of emerging economies (for we are in fact talking about economies), we’re referencing economies that are far short of ‘developed’, but still well above the category of LDCs (least developed countries). Interestingly, this is already a category to which Ivory Coast belongs, according to this map from 2007. A similar category to emergent seems to be ‘newly industrialised‘, which adds a more detailed idea that Ivory Coast will need to boost industry.

Here’s one definition of an emerging economy:

1. Intermediate income : its PPP per capita income is comprised between 10% and 75% of the average EU per capita income.

2. Catching-up growth : during at least the last decade, it has experienced a brisk economic growth that has narrowed the income gap with advanced economies.

3. Institutional transformations and economic opening : during the same period, it has undertaken profound institutional transformations which contributed to integrate it more deeply into the world economy. Hence, emerging economies appears to be a by-product of the current globalization.

Just focusing on that first indicator, EU GDP per capita income in 2013 was $34,300 – so Ivory Coast would need per capita income of at least $3,430, whereas it is currently estimated at $1,529 (2013). To bridge the gap by 2020 would require about 12% growth every year, assuming the EU per capita income doesn’t change and the population stays the same. It’s noticeable though that the IMF ranks India at about the same per capita level as Ivory Coast, despite India being commonly recognised as emerging. As I think I’ve argued here before, one strategy could be just to re-base the national accounts as done in Ghana and Nigeria to have a sudden increase in the estimated GDP.

Anyway, I guess the main point is that if the Ivorian economy continues consistently growing at 8-10%, it’ll soon start getting an increasing amount of media/analyst attention, and it’ll start finding its way into lists of ‘countries to watch’ and ‘emerging frontier markets’. The political message of ‘emergence by 2020′ seems more concrete a change than this sort of gradual reputation-growth. And I wonder what they’ll point to in 2020 when they make the claim that: ‘Look we’re now emergent’.

Posted in Economics, Politics | Leave a comment

Victory at last

Rarely have the eventual winners of the African Cup of Nations started the competition in worse shape. The opening 45 minutes of Ivory Coast’s first group stage match against Guinea constitute some of the most embarrassing football Ivorian fans have seen in a long time. The team had crashed out of the World Cup finals in the summer when an historic place in the knock-out stages had looked like a cakewalk. Without Didier Drogba that team had gone on to limp through Afcon qualifying: never convincing, always just doing enough. After several years at the top of FIFA’s Africa rankings, the team slipped behind rivals like Algeria.

It was all a far cry from 2012 – the last time the team were in Equatorial Guinea. Then they had stormed through qualifying – six wins out of six, and 19 goals scored. The group stages followed a similar vein: three straight wins over Sudan, Burkina Faso and Angola without a goal conceded. Equatorial Guinea were brushed aside in the quarters, and then Mali in the semis – again no goals conceded. The golden generation looked set for glory in the final against Zambia.

The back story to that final was good too (though perhaps not as remarkable as for Zambia). The country was fresh out of a post-election conflict. This was the match that would reconcile Ivorians and draw a line under the political crisis, twenty years on from their last Cup of Nations victory (and the last time Alassane Ouattara had been running the country). Like then, the country had put their faith in an Ivorian coach. Francois Zahoui was woefully paid but he won over the fans.

The fairytale wasn’t to be. The big favourites flopped in the final – Drogba missed a penalty during normal time, and then with no goals scored, Zambia came through on penalties. It was the end of the team’s dominance. No longer did they seem to terrify opponents. Drogba and Zokora retired from international football, and players like Keita, Romaric and Eboue dropped out of the selection.

And so, after crashing out of the World Cup, coach Lamouchi was replaced by the man who’d steered Zambia to victory in 2012; Herve Renard. The team didn’t show much sign of change, and Renard received a tough time in the Ivorian press. Enthusiasm going into the Cup of Nations was at an all-time low. I think it would be fair to say that no-one thought this was their year. There were none of the usual football-related pop songs recorded for the event.

But the team slowly grew in stature. Kolo Toure – who has struggled since the drugs ban – became a warrior in defence. The departures left space for new blood – Bailly, Die, Bony, Aurier, Gradel and Gbohouo. And a sense of belief seemed to grow. Gone was the pressure of being favourites – far stronger was the sense of having something to prove. Penalties are always cruel, and the flip of a coin makes narratives of success or failure; the difference between a generation of heroes, or maybes.

Abidjan is in party mode. The FHB stadium was full since morning. There’s a huge sigh of relief. The tag-line of perennial underachievers hasn’t stuck forever. Something was achieved that will be forever cherished. The media story of a team of global soccer stars that could never play together, could never win anything and could never be replaced was a lie. Stars were supplanted, and after a litany of coaches, for four games at least, the Elephants learned to play together and do enough to get the wins they needed.

Western newspaper articles talk of football bringing political reconciliation to the country. That’s an analysis that is simplistic. Yes, Ivorians from all sides are celebrating one victory and one team, but no-one is naïve. This is real life – there’s a mixture of realising politics is not the be-all-and-end-all, but also that the country has not reached a state of perfection. Government officials have already made ham-fisted attempts to score political points, and the country’s state broadcaster showed the sort of amateurism that no-one is proud of in handling coverage of the great day.

And finally to Drogba. Renard had made repeated pleas to the former captain to come back in the team. There was no doubt the door was open. There has been some criticism on social media – why refuse to play for your country? But at least from his Instagram posts, he’s been totally behind the team. Was under-achievement all really about clashing egos or just bad luck? There must be an element of regret for Drogba that the only trophy that consistently eluded him was won just after his voluntary departure. But Ivorian fans have been quick to dedicate this victory not just to the remaining remnant of that generation – Yaya, Kolo, Kalou, Tiene, Copa – but also to those who took part in all those unsuccessful campaigns in recent years – Aruna Dindane, Kader Keita, Eboue, Arthur Boka, Zokora, Romaric, Baky Kone, but above all Drogba. This was the generation that got Ivory Coast to the World Cup for the first time in 2006 and every tournament since. This was the generation that allowed Ivorian fans to dream each time of possibly winning the Afcon, despite the havoc it played on their nerves. This was a victory for that entire generation.

Posted in Sport | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Looking back

It’s something of a regret that I started this blog very late into my life in Abidjan: the first post was made in May 2011, at the beginning of the Ouattara presidency. I struggle to remember why I hadn’t been blogging earlier – certainly the previous six months before that first post were some of the most interesting of my life so far, and remained sadly un-blogged.

While this isn’t primarily a political blog, within the first 12 or so months, I tried to analyse the challenges facing the Ouattara presidency, and this morning I was curious to see how things worked out. Here’s a bit of a look-back:

Syndrome 2002 (June 2011)

In my second month of blogging I wondered about the threat of continued military instability. I tried to give some arguments as to why, though the threat of military attacks was real (and proved to be so), the chances of success for anti-government elements were very slim. The government – with the help of neighbours – managed to largely stamp out the problem.

Ouattara’s four big challenges (Oct 2011)
In this post, I picked out four big challenges for the new Ouattara government which I identified as:
i) Reunifying the country (the problem of warlords and smuggling)
ii) Favouring big business (risk of discontent, high market prices)
iii) Changing culture
iv) The Wild west
The reunification of the country seems to have gone reasonably smoothly. I don’t doubt the former com-zone commanders still wield authority, particularly Fofie in Korhogo, but the north seems to have successfully completed its return to the rest of the country, even if some residual concerns linked to the ex-rebellion, particularly demobilisation, persist.

The discussion of the government reconstructing through big business seems to have dated a lot. Talk of high market prices persisted for several years after 2011, but I hear it less now – perhaps because inflation is low (it always was officially low), or because people are starting to feel a few positive impacts from overall economic growth, or perhaps just because people got bored of talking about it. The recent drop in fuel prices should have helped.

Practices of corruption and certain bad work practices may have improved slightly, but I have little evidence to go on. The west is largely calm, with only the occasional and limited armed attack from Liberia, but the land issue is far from sorted out.

Four reasons for pessimism (Oct 2011)
A second blog post in October 2011 played devil’s advocate about why the Ouattara presidency could potentially fail. The reasons were that it was the same people who’d shared power with Gbagbo before, that the business environment had serious issues, that the country faced continuing security challenges, and that there was uncertainty about the role the opposition would play.

From the viewpoint of 2015, things have improved on all those fronts, though the challenges were real. While corruption remains an issue, the government seems to be delivering and I think we’ve moved a few degrees in the right direction towards a more professional civil service. The business environment, while not yet clean, has been made easier, at least according to the Doing Business reports. The threat of armed rebellion has faded, and while the opposition looks increasingly fractured, it is at least attempting to move forward.

Beyond one dimension (June 2012)
‘What will it take to bring true reconciliation to Ivory Coast? Most people say: time. Ouattara will do his two mandates and then retire, Gbagbo will spend 4-5 years fighting his ICC case and then either come back old or get locked up for life. And then in about ten years’ time, when both leaders are off the scene, people will be able to move on.’

‘Our next leaders’ (Aug 2012)
This post made a number of explicit predictions about the big three (Bedie, Ouattara, Gbagbo). Starting with Bedie the explicit prediction was ‘no radical changes while Bedie is alive, a lacklustre performance in 2015 and a continual sense of decay until a dynamic leader is found. Expect overtures from the FPI.’ The text included the comment that deciding on a joint RHDP ticket for the 2015 presidential election would be one-way of putting off the question of succession, which has proved to be the case. I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘decay’ now – some sense of success for the party has come through the sharing in government successes, but there are clear tensions looking forward to the post-Bedie era.

For the Gbagbo camp, my prediction was: ‘finding a leader to replace Gbagbo looks so difficult that he will remain the official figurehead for the movement. 2010 will remain at the centre of pro-Gbagbo debates despite its increasing distance from the present day and an uninspiring leadership will struggle to keep the party on its feet until 2020. The party will increasingly have to address the issue of armed groups acting in Gbagbo’s name.’ The armed attacks are now rare and limited, but replacing Gbagbo or not remains a heated and central issue for the party, which looks even weaker now than it did in 2012. But there is a real constituency behind the LMP/FPI movement, which means the opposition are likely to be a continual force in the future.

Finally for Ouattara, my prediction was: ‘Ouattara wins a second term in 2015, an RDR leadership fight happens in 2016/2017, which Ouattara is heavily involved in behind the scenes to appoint a successor who will continue his tradition.’ I don’t think there’s much to add to that three years on.

Looking ahead the conclusion in 2012 was as follows:
‘The 2020 presidential election will be a very interesting affair indeed with the likelihood of all three major parties having fresh faces competing against each other for the first time in three decades. It also provides an opportunity to move on from the harmful debates of the past 20 years. Providing Ouattara has built a strong track record, his party is probably favourite to remain in power, though some voters may feel it’s time for a change, especially if the RDR fails to select a suitable replacement with an appeal beyond the traditional base, and if the second term gets mired in corruption and falling enthusiasm. The PDCI and the FPI face a major challenge in finding votable replacement leaders, with the PDCI having the added difficulty of being the weaker partner in a governing coalition; government successes will be attributed to the RDR while government weaknesses will favour the opposition.’

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Ivorian repatriate blogs

I’ve noticed that in Ivory Coast I don’t think there’s yet been a single example of that staple of other West African blogospheres – the repatriate blog. You know the ones: the returning West African national excited about heading home after a western education and a few years of professional work, to accept the lower paid job, but with better lifestyle options and a return to roots. There’s usually plenty of wax cloth, praise for fresh fruit/veg and home recipes, and a fair bit of frustration as well.

It’s quite possible I’ve missed a blog along these lines, though if not, I wonder why we haven’t seen this. Speculatively, there are a few possibilities:

– Maybe Ivorians are not (yet) willingly returning home to take a job here, and enjoy either the lifestyle benefits or the chance to play a role in the AfricaRising story. The profiles in Tycoon magazine seem to suggest otherwise, with regular articles on those with a western masters, a few years at a blue-chip company, and then return. On my most recent trip, I was also told that the minor construction boom in places like Riviera Mputo is in part driven by expat Ivorians returning home, though perhaps these are slightly older folks than your stereotypical blogger.

– One answer might be that blogging was all the rage a few years back when Ivory Coast was in crisis and not a place many Ivorians in the West wanted to willingly return to.

– It may be that the repatriate blog is more of an anglophone phenomenon; perhaps there’s even something in the Ivorian psyche against the sort of transparent self-exposure in detailing the hopes, dreams and disillusions of the return home.

Any suggestions?

Posted in Diaspora, Web | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oil production in Ivory Coast

A recent report on Ivory Coast’s oil taxes on koaci.com caught my eye. Oil production in 2014 was apparently ‘19,000 bpd’, described in the article as ‘a significant reduction from the figures reported last year.’ But there was good news as well – the article goes on to quote the government spokesman saying: “The ambition is to reach 200,000 bpd by 2020. This is a realistic ambition because of the potential of Cote d’Ivoire in this area.”

This rang a few bells. In the summer of 2011 I attended a mining/extraction conference organised by the government in Yamoussoukro in which the government said it was planning on producing 200,000 bpd (or was it 300,000 bpd) by 2015 (cf News & co, edition 1, 2011).

[I don’t have the exact annual figures for oil production in earlier years, but I recall the figure of 57,000 bpd from perhaps 2008/9 which dropped to around 44,000 bpd though the situation was always rather opaque.]

Skip forward a couple of years from 2011 and we can find this Reuters story from 3 January 2013. The first key point is ‘Official says 200,000 bpd possible within five years’. Quoting the article: ‘Ivory Coast will be able to realise its target of raising output from around 32,000 barrels per day now to around 200,000 bpd in the five years ahead,” Ibrahima Diaby, head of hydrocarbons at the Ministry of Mines, Petroleum and Energy told Reuters in an interview.’

Moving forward a year, on 4 January 2014, Bloomberg published the following article. “Ivory Coast Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan said his nation will boost oil output within five years to 200,000 barrels a day, rivaling neighboring Ghana as stability returns to a country wracked by a decade of turmoil.” The article headline is “Ivory Coast Sees Soaring Oil Output Rivaling Ghana by 2019″.

So each year the prediction of ‘in five years’ is made but the production is actually declining. My point isn’t that Ivory Coast doesn’t have oil – it clearly does, production should rise soon, though this isn’t a new Nigeria/Gabon/Congo. The point is rather that officials are getting away with lazy predictions and no-one every seems to be holding them to account. This is as much a criticism of the press as anything else , refusing to hold people to account. The current mantra is that Ivory Coast will be an ‘emerging economy by 2020′. Now beyond what that actually means, which I hope will be the subject of a future blog post, I even wonder if we’ll get to 2020 and no-one will bother to ask ‘Well are we emergent or not?’

There are other parallels. The Marcory-Rivieria bridge that was just opened was promised in “27 months” after the official launch in September 2011. A year later it was again promised in “27 months”. When I last visited the construction site of the Jacqueville bridge, I was promised the bridge would be across the lagoon by January 2013 and handed over complete by the end of April that year. It still isn’t finished. It seems petty to say that the official target of each of the governments of Bedie, Gbagbo and Ouattara has been to semi-transform 50% of Ivorian cocoa bean production by 2015. I haven’t yet seen anyone asking how the country is doing on that (won’t be met this year).

Jeune Afrique had a very interesting article this week on the Louis Dreyfus rice project, announced with much fanfare two years ago. It was supposed to be a huge project with the investment of 46 million Euros. Two years later the journalist returns to the project and asks what has become of it. No-one seems to know.

I could go on. I can well understand that there are very good reasons not to move government institutions to Yamoussoukro, but it was an election promise, so let’s at least have an answer as to why this didn’t happen. The same applies to the promise of increasing the constitutional powers of the national assembly and reducing those of the head of state, which was also a pre-election promise.

It’s this basic journalist principal of returning to the subject to hold people to account that frequently seems lacking. It’s not to be critical or against someone. It’s just to hold people at their word – it’s actually a sign of respect. Difficulties might arise that delay things, they often do in this part of the world, but let the media cover more than the smiles when a project is launched or a foundation stone is laid.

Posted in Economics, Journalism | Leave a comment

Ivory Coast 2014 web review

The advantage of discussing the Ivorian web is that being outside the country is less of a hindrance than say if I was talking about the price of fruit and vegetables in Adjame. Looking back on the year, there were some interesting trends, almost all for the positive.

- The rise of e-commerce

Back in July I noted that 2014 seemed to be the year that e-commerce finally saw significant start-up growth in Ivory Coast, and indeed this trend has continued. Just look at this fancy advert for Jumia.ci. Towards the end of the year we even saw the web commerce launch of the main bookshop company, LDF, which shows even traditional names are getting in on the act. As Jeff Bezos says, it starts with books! Here’s a list of 12 Ivorian e-commerce sites that I’m copying with only minor edits from Facebook.

- Bloggers grow in power

Blogging has been part of the Ivorian web community from the start. In 2014, I felt that for the first time that the community was getting a bit more respect from the traditional powers that be. The latest Jeune Afrique magazine entitled Abidjan 2.0 highlights stalwarts of the field like Edith Brou, JP Ehouman and Israel Yoroba. Edith, Cyriac Gbogou and Yehni Djidji were recently invited by Nestle for a future leaders conference in Accra. Bloggers were also given a role by the organizers of the traditional institutional tech conferences. Members of the Association des Blogueurs de Côte d’Ivoire (A.B.C.I), formed in 2013, are now regularly invited to events, which in turn gives organisers credible online coverage (and as far as I know you don’t need to pay them a la presse ecrite either).

Ivorian blogging has been a mixed bag over the years – blogging doesn’t get much hype internationally now, and its a global trend that many blogs, like new year resolutions, are frequently started but quickly dropped. In my opinion, there are still too few with an interesting independent voice that are prepared to hold people to account and challenge. Bloggers are also often drawn from a rather narrow social strata – Abidjan based, 20s/30s, interested in tech, well educated within the country. What you don’t get almost anything of is someone blogging about buying a house, starting a business, retiring, working as a high ranking government employee, educating children. Sadly you don’t even see much blogging about people’s projects – Akendewa doesn’t blog any more, I didn’t see a single blog post written about this year’s barcamp, almost no one talks about what they are doing…

But perhaps the event that seemed most significant to me was the online discussion of Air Cote d’Ivoire, the recently created national airline. Bloggers and web folk are now increasingly travelling around the sub-region, and the encounter with extremely poor performance and service from the national airline has not been pretty. While the majority complain on social media, Israel Yoroba summed things up in a blog post (Air Cote d’Ivoire, the decline?). But what was interesting is that Air Cote d’Ivoire actually responded to the complaints, even going as far as to contact him and issue an apologetic public statement, published in local newspapers and distributed to customers. I’m less than convinced my next trip on Air Cote d’Ivoire will be entirely pleasurable, but I think the company response revealed a lot about the growing recognition certain bloggers are getting.

- The emergence of physical hubs

The first few days of 2015 saw the opening of the whub co-working space, while in 2014 things really got going at Ovillage and Akendewa’s Tech hub. These all join the pioneer AMN, while Israel Yoroba has a hub project in the wings for Abidjan, and this year launched Eyolab in Bonoua (an hour’s drive from Abidjan). I don’t have a good visibility on what’s going on in many of these places, which I think is to their discredit (how can you have a tech space with so limited an online voice), but anyway, the literal ‘concretisation’ of the web community has been interesting, and looks positive. What is worth noting is that the e-commerce web projects mentioned in the first section haven’t come from the young Ivorian web community. The hubs are in part meant to be a transition point so the web community can move into serious business, so they are the real testing point.

Posted in Economics, Web | 2 Comments

BRVM update 2014

By some measures, it’s been the least profitable year for me so far in my adventures on the Abidjan-based West African stock exchange (BRVM). Still, the last few days have seen a surge, and after a year hovering around 10% annual growth, I finish the year 18.6% up (in XOF terms). Long-term blog readers may remember that I don’t do any trading myself, I just leave the bank to manage. Not much compared to 2013’s 31.4% or 2012’s 27.2% but pretty respectable none the less. This is a calculation of the overall growth of capital invested over the year and a fair bit this year was only invested in the last third. My portfolio got a lot wider, even to the point where my fund manager invested in the local cigarette company, which is specifically against the instructions on the account. She fold a few days later, though the cost of the mistake was born by me.

Anyway, I only keep this annual blog strand going to show outsiders that there seem to be gains to be made on African stock markets, and to show Ivorians that there are alternatives to the too-good-to-be-true investment project that their cousin with no entrepreneurial experience is trumpeting. Shares can of course go up as well as down, and the big winners of five years ago, cash crop exporters, have been hit hard over the past two years with falling world rubber and palm oil prices.

The BRVM does have the added plus of being in the CFA Franc, pegged to the euro at a rate unchanged in twenty years, so that offers a good deal more stability than other exchanges on the continent. Imagine if you’d had shares in Ghana’s cedis over the past year! Nevertheless this year has witnessed a considerable decline in the euro (and hence the CFA): a million CFA francs (XOF) 12 months ago was worth (roughly) in dollar/pound terms $2,082 / £1,267, and today would get $1,859 / £1,196. And, so the UK Sterling value of my investment has risen only 9% over the year.

Posted in Economics | Leave a comment

Hype and reality

From afar, you can easily get sucked in by all the hype that Abidjan is somehow completely transformed. I don’t doubt things are moving in a positive direction, but just an hour into my recent trip I’d understood that much was still the same.

1. I flew in on Air Cote d’Ivoire – the reborn Air Ivoire, which of course was to a greater-or-lesser-extent the reborn Air Afrique. The genes flow through the blood line, or as Ivorians say, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. The plane took off nearly four hours late on its direct flight to Abidjan, though with no explanation as to why. When we finally touched down the captain announced our arrival in ‘The International airport of…Accra’. Even the hostesses were surprised by this unscheduled change of route. Again, no explanation was given, though I suspect they just noticed that 9/10 passengers were heading to Accra anyway, so just decided to go there first. Very odd.

2. Outside the terminal, the gendarmes had clamped a taxi that had momentarily stopped to unload passengers (so the driver claimed). Anyway, favours were exchanged and the taxi driver was able to take me as a customer, providing my fare was paid in advice in order to liberate the vehicle. The taxi man complained the whole way about corruption.

3. The new third bridge not at the time being open, we took the old way through Treichville and Plateau to get to Cocody. The potholes on the lagoon front highway are as bad as I remember them, though I know a re-surfacing of the highway has been launched.

4. Last but not least, as we tried to head through the main Indennie interchange into Cocody, our route was blocked by flood waters. We then had to about turn and drive the wrong way down the highway to take another junction and reach our destination. Solving the Indennie junction problem seems to elude even the most technocratic of presidents. Despite millions of dollars no solution has yet stopped the flooding, even outside the principal rainy season.

Posted in Economics, Politics | Leave a comment

Letter to Daniella

My dear daughter,

It is five in the evening in one of Africa’s greatest cities, Abidjan, and you’re dozing under a mosquito net in the next room just hours after you left hospital. Your tired mum is asleep too, and so out in the corridor through the front door that is rarely closed is an elder half-sister and your auntie who over the next three months has been officially appointed to wash you – an important ceremonial responsibility that normally my mother would be doing if she were not thousands of miles away. It’s siesta time, and the only noise is the cheap Chinese fan keeping your mother cool. In an hour or so, your auntie will pull and contort your limbs in every direction. But when your screams have died down, you’ll be massaged with shea butter from Ivory Coast’s north, and cocoa butter from Ivory Coast’s south, and you’ll sleep even deeper than they are now.

Outside of course the city is bustling. As I write, in the Marcory district of the city, Africa’s greatest football club, al-Ahly, have just been beaten 2-1 in the first leg of the African confederation cup final. Nearby in Treichville, the country’s biggest pop group, Magic System, are preparing for their first major concert at the mythical Palais de la Culture in almost a decade. Here in Cocody, they’re clearing away the wine glasses and canapés at the Cecile Fakhoury contemporary art gallery, which opened a new expo of photographs last night. In the streets, there are young fashionable people everywhere, restaurants bustling and families moving across the city for a weekend of marriages, funerals, or regular house visits to get the latest news. When you’re older, I hope you’ll come to love this city as I do. Not a perfect city, but a place where for me every few 100 metres holds memories. It’s a city your mum and I have seen in celebration and in mourning, in peace and at war.

Will you see this magical city as your home? I don’t know. How much time will we spend here in the next few decades? I don’t know. But it’s a place that has a habit of surprising you. We’d only planned one trip back here this year, but now here’s our third. A break from the Middle East in April, then a break from the conflict in the Central Africa Republic in the summer, and now here for your birth.

But where will you regard as home? You were conceived in Dubai, and since then you’re already on your third continent. You will have several passports, maybe even several identities. You’ll ask where home is, and sometimes wonder where you come from; I start doing that myself. Life isn’t as neat as geographic lines on a map – instead you’ll have Ivory Coast, West Africa, England and Europe all spinning around inside of you. At home you’ll hear French, English and Baoule. With your future friends in Sierra Leone, you’ll no doubt be speaking Krio among your very first words.

Maybe sometimes you’ll wonder if you belong anywhere – you won’t be able to find a place where everyone looks and acts like you, like mum and I can do, albeit in separate places. I hope that doesn’t hurt you. As you grow up, you’re likely to see so many different parts of the world, and I hope you can feel at home in so many places; like I do here, so far from where I grew up. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not this or not that. Decide for yourself what you want to see yourself as, although I know Africa will be a part of this. They say this is Africa’s century, and I think this will be an exciting time for all of us associated with the place.

An hour ago you were filling the corridor of this apartment block with your powerful lungs. It was milk time, and your mother – just days after her caesarean – was rushing around the city to buy you milk while I deciphered the instructions on the sterilisation kit. Your mother is a remarkable woman. When you are older she will tell you her story, and I will write it down. The decorated bed you’re now lying in, the butterflies on the wall, the painted apartment, are all down to her. You’ll appreciate the beauty if this tiny studio when your eyes get used to seeing.

As you grow up, you will realise you are in a family with a deep faith in God, and for us you are one of the richest blessings he has ever provided, and the result of long prayers from us and many of those you will grow up to know in our community. We hope you discover the same loving forgiving God, though it will be a choice you will have to make yourself. In Africa, you’ll find the idea that ‘Jesus saves’ so banal that it’s written on taxi cabs, while in Europe you’ll find it’s considered one of the most stupid things anyone could possibly say. We had it written on the car we used to have here, the one we all piled into before sunrise in March 2011 when we drove up to the north to escape the coming war. In which we survived unscratched the drunken youths scraping machetes in front of our front wheels at a check point on the outskirts of the city, and that was stolen for 5 minutes by militia from the other side when I drove down south again to follow the war.

Tonight you will pass your first night in what is for now the best candidate we have for calling home. It’s new for me too – since I arrived on Thursday night on the first plane from my new posting, I’ve been sleeping beside your mother on the hospital floor. They don’t normally allow that, but I think a combination of hiding myself discreetly behind the bed, and the fact of coming from so far, gave me some extra privileges. We’ve waited for you for several years now, so I want to spend all the time I can beside you before I head back. I haven’t been around you or your mother much over the past nine months. It wasn’t part of the plan but there are places my organisation doesn’t like you or mum to follow me – a summer in the Central African Republic where for several days the capital echoed to fighting between French and local forces kept us under curfew for three months. Now it’s one of the world’s nastiest diseases, Ebola, that is ravaging what is likely to be our next home. I don’t run after these crises, but there’s lots of work to do, and you see humanity at its best and worst. You’ll have some adventures with us and live in some remarkable places in the coming years, so I hope you’ll enjoy the ride. I just pray we can spend as much time as possible together.

I hope I’ll be a good father to you. I want to tell you so much about the world; I want you to be curious, wanting to find all you can about everything, to read and explore and ask questions. As a journalist, I was never one of the best – too much of a coward, and not putting enough value in being first with the news. But it took me to some amazing places, and experiences you’ll probably soon grow bored of me telling you. I hope you get to explore the world as well. Perhaps one day you’ll tell us about countries and continents that we know nothing about.

You arrived three weeks early, leaving me scrambling to travel back. But perhaps you came a little late as well. Nine months ago your British grandfather, my dad, went to be with his Saviour. You are his first grandchild and he would have given one of his famous big smiles just to hold you in his arms. I would probably have had to tell him not to hug you so tightly.

You don’t come from a rich family, but on the scale of things you’ll have a privileged life. Stay humble and full of love, never being arrogant but taking seriously the responsibilities your birth has given you. Change the world for the better, make us and your heavenly Father proud.
__
Daniella Ramissou J was born on 25 November 2014.

[Inspired by Fergal Keane’s famous 1996 FOOC]

Posted in Culture, Diaspora | 5 Comments