The Abidjan Christmas lights display goes into its official last week in what to almost all accounts has been a great success (bar those who think the lights seem close to free-masonary symbols). While most cities have festive light displays, I’ve never known Abidjan really go to town with this sort of thing – something it did this year with help from a private company who sponsored the display. Even to this day crowds of people are travelling into the heart of Abidjan (normally dead outside office-hours) to admire, film and take photos of themselves with the lights. Frequent comments include that ‘it’s just like Tokyo’ or perhaps more often ‘just like France’, which for an Ivorian is about as big a superlative as you can use (the superlative’s superlative). It’s really created a sort of new public space with a totally new experience.
Many people feel that the light display has actually been a watershed event. A popular attraction that tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed. It’s hard to think of anything similar – football matches perhaps, but still you get the point. Speaking with some friends last night, it struck me that should the same thing be organised next year, it could become a far bigger event. Imagine if in the usually-empty-but-now-thronging streets of the commercial district, the crowds could admire not only the lights, but also public art, performances, dance, concerts, short films projected on buildings, photo galleries and all sorts of outdoor stuff, sort of like the Fete de la musique in France. That could be quite an event, and seems to me like a pretty cheap add-on that would add major value to the event. It could tip the balance for those tourists seeking an alternative winter break (the beaches + the lights + Abidjan light arts festival). If most cultural events are poorly attended, why not take the culture to this unique event where thousands are enjoying leisure time together. We’ve got 11 months to get organised!