Abidjan and Freetown are two commercial capitals in West Africa that are a proverbial stone’s throw away, and to the untrained eye you could see a lot that they have in common. But here are a few differences I’ve spotted.
Things you see a lot of in the streets of Freetown but not Abidjan…
– Dogs – a taxi driver in Freetown explained to me that the reason there were so many stray dogs in Freetown was because unlike in Liberia, they are not seen as a culinary delicacy. I’m not sure if that’s the true reason and the insult of saying others are ‘dog eaters’ seems common in my West African experience. But there’s no denying the reality that Freetown has a huge number of dogs in the streets, and you can hear them howling throughout the night.
– Motorbikes – you really notice in Abidjan the almost complete absence of motorbikes. In Freetown, motorbike taxis (okada bikes) are a regular part of daily life (though post-Ebola not permitted after 7pm). They certainly make driving tricky. Given the similar economics, it’s amazing that one city should have so many motorbikes and the other so few. One reason is that motorbike taxis are illegal in Ivory Coast. But even for personal transport, I’m mystified as to why more people don’t use them to get around.
– Joggers – here’s something I really struggle to work out. Why does almost no-one jog in Abidjan and so many people jog in Freetown? Very strange, but that’s the reality.
Things you see a lot of in the streets of Abidjan but not Freetown…
– Pharmacies – it’s amazing to see that Abidjan has pharmacies on almost every corner, but in two months in Freetown I’ve only once spotted a single pharmacy. Ivorians of course have adopted the infamous French habit of popping pills and visiting the doctor at the drop of hat.
– Boulevards – one speculative reason for the plethora of moto-taxis in Freetown may be the absence of principal arteries on the scale of francophone African cities. In Abidjan you can catch minibuses and shared taxis up and down the major highways.
– Aside from the French baguettes, the absence of kiosks is something I really find hard to explain. What better way to start the day than at a road side shack, designed like an American bar, where you can order omelette sandwiches, surgery tea and yogurt. Probably not something that can be described as uniquely Ivorian, given the people who run such joints tend to come from countries to the north.
– African cities can be tough places to drive in, but Freetown’s lack of street lights make it a place where you need to be constantly alert driving at night. I don’t think I’ve seen a traffic light yet either. In Abidjan by contrast the nights are times for lots of activity outside, from street food to market sales. Places like Rivieria II roundabout transform into open air informal markets once the formal shops close.