Long-term perspective

I had an enjoyable meal last night with an American visitor who lived here for most of the 1980s and 1990s, having first visited Abidjan in 1974, and having last visited in 1998. That’s the kind of perspective you don’t get every day! What did he make of Abidjan in 2012 after the long crisis?

– firstly he was disappointed at the state of a place that really had been a shining light on the continent and broke all the stereotypes about what ‘living in Africa’ was like. Disappointment at the missed opportunities – that had Ouattara become president ten years earlier he would have been just what the country needed, and a technocrat far younger and without the current political debts. Disappointment at the state of the place where an Ivorian had introduced him to email long before it was well known back home in the US. Disappointment that a once sophisticated place had become rather crude. Disappointment that Gbagbo, who he knew well, had descended to the lowest form of populism, become so desperate to hold on to power, had failed to grasp any of the solutions needed and set the country back 30 years.

– having come from Lagos, he had a feeling that the place had got quiet. That coming from the airport, there didn’t seem to be much major development for several kilometres. That Plateau had become a dead zone when before it was the beating heart of the city. He said all Ivorians should be made to visit Lagos just to see the dynamism and speed of the place.

– he had the perception that Ivorians had become far humbler, no longer having an air of superiority (and as he remarked that they no longer had any reason to feel superior).

– surprise at the rapid growth of Abidjan – places like Angre emerging where previously there had been fields and dirt roads. But that infrastructure has not kept pace and that such a vast district lacked major access roads.

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