Being with your people

Last month we were in France to witness the ‘soutenance’ (thesis presentation) of our eldest daughter. M has now spent five years at the University of Angers in western France, and she’ll be able to stay a little longer thanks to a professional masters programme she’s taking part in. Job opportunities look more favourable in France, than if she returned to Ivory Coast.

Hanging out with her, you immediately notice one thing – all but one of her close friends are either Ivorian or at least from francophone Africa. For a gathering at a restaurant, the most likely spot would be an Ivorian place in the city centre. Food shopping includes an inevitable stop at the West Africa food stores – one run by a Senegalese lady, another by Chinese. Conversation frequently turns around who has someone coming back from Abidjan who could bring some fresh food.

I see similar trends with my Ivorian relatives living in France. For me, it’s a reminder of just how strong the ties of culture are, whether for Ivorians in Europe or Europeans in Ivory Coast. Superficially it can often look like racism, and I’ve heard it described as such – ‘How can you live in a country and not mix more with the local population?’ It can certainly look like that in Abidjan. But given the same phenomenon is seen in France, I suspect it’s in fact culture which is the strong separator. I spoke with my daughter about why she didn’t have more French friends. She said that in the beginning she did, but she found them often ‘bizarre’, and didn’t fit in to the partying and drinking culture. I told my wife recently that when she wants to use the word bizarre, ‘think culture’.

Culture colours so much of who we are that it almost makes us different species of human. One can generalise too much, but for Ivorians in Europe there are points of diversion from the native population on many fronts. Ivorians tend to be religious – regularly attending church or the mosque (though even within church, these divisions often hold). Food is a key difference – and the culture around its preparation and sourcing ingredients. Attitudes to money are different – for many Ivorian students, money is in short supply and being sent at incredible sacrifice from families back home. There’s a responsibility to do well for the family (which is extended and frequently complicated) – prove that the investment wasn’t wasted, find a good job. For women, there’s a strong culture around hair and skin products. One should also mention music and football. Then there are similar sets of issues that they share – residency status, citizenship, politics, begging letters from family including health and education needs from the extended family etc.

I’m not saying anything new of course – this is the common migrant/expat experience. While moving to a foreign country as an adult changes us, we remain essentially the person we were when we stepped off the plane. On the surface it is easy to say ‘why don’t you mix more?’, but underneath there are strong undercurrents that drive people to stick with their own. Mixing is not impossible – when I pivoted my social circles after two years in Abidjan, I switched to almost all my friends and contacts being Ivorian. But I think that’s unusual, and it also comes at a cost. You never completely fit in.

Down the road is the challenge of children that are born in the foreign country, who are much more attached to the new country, and don’t have that grounding in their parents’ country. There are also mixed-culture children who find themselves with a foot in different camps. And there are mixed marriages, where cultures interact, sometimes with success, sometimes with tension, but always needing plenty of patience and understanding. So it’s no surprise that when you walk around cosmopolitan cities, you’ll see an Ivorian with an Ivorian, a Chinese person with Chinese, Indian with Indian etc.

Posted in Culture | 2 Comments

A quiet morning

It’s one of the those mornings here in Lusaka, where you head out of the drive at the usual time, and within 5 minutes you notice that it all seems a little too quiet. It’s a sort of mid-week Sunday feel. I don’t ever remember mornings like this when I used to live England, but in Africa, it’s something that’s happened on several occasions. It’s that sense that ‘something’s not quite right’. Everybody knows something that I don’t, or that I’ve forgotten.

In today’s case, it’s an election day, so a public holiday for most people (except me). At other times, it’s been more sinister. On the 6 August 2012, gunmen attacked the Akouedo military base in Abidjan, which isn’t too far from our home. When I left for work at 6am, there was almost no-one on the street. Those that were on the street looked like they didn’t want to be there. It’s the quietness and absence of people that comes first. It tends to be only later that you register the sounds of gunfire. The first time this happened, when I went out for an evening walk in Brazzaville in 2007, it took me a long time to realise I was listening to bullets and bombardments (a brief few days of fighting between forces loyal to Kabila and Bemba).

On that morning in Abidjan, I sped to the office, and then quickly returned to head to the source of what was going on. Things tend to get interesting when you go in the opposite direction to what people are avoiding. The assailants had long-since fled, but it was still quite raw. I posted the shots I filmed that day on YouTube, and it’s been popular over the years, though sometimes mistaken for a different event (213K views).

Maybe in the days of Twitter and WhatsApp, it’s easier to find out what’s going on before we head out the door. But it’s still worth having your antenna up.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | 4 Comments

A long complicated story told for no particular reason

Let me tell you the story of Edith, a woman in her late 30s who is a friend of my wife. The first time I met my wife, Edith was there. She was also there at our first meet-up after the initial encounter. She is pleasant and kind and smiles easily. Back in 2008, with her two-year-old daughter, she shared a bedroom with my wife who was with her own two teenage daughters, living at her aunt’s home (the younger sister of her late mother) in Abidjan’s middle class old-Cocody suburb. The story goes that my wife’s grand-parents sent this aunt to get educated, on the understanding that she would look after the others. My wife’s mother died when she was fourteen.

Edith didn’t go very far in school, and struggles to read, though at various points in recent years she has been taking literacy classes. She also doesn’t have a birth certificate which means she doesn’t have a national ID card. She makes her living as a hairdresser. The father of Edith’s daughter, Carole, was one of my wife’s half-brothers.

Skip forward ten years, and Carole is still at the same address and doing very well in school – in fact she gained a government bursary this year for secondary school studies. Edith is living somewhere else, with the woman who runs the hairdressing shop where she works, because the aforementioned aunt is ‘difficult’. She earns 50,000 cfa (about $100) a month from her work, giving 20,000 cfa to the lady for her rent, and 20,000 cfa to an after-school tutor (‘maitre de maison’) for her daughter. She lives on the rest ($20). She had another child, a son, with another man, about eight years ago, though he now lives with his father in San Pedro. The relationship with the father of Carole had ended even ten years ago, and he almost never contributes to their daughter’s upkeep, despite the fact that he recently settled a legal dispute to gain access to his parents’ land in the centre of the country and purportedly sold it and made around $60,000. He apparently has a nice car, and can be violent. He was about the only member of my wife’s family who didn’t come to our wedding in 2009. In fact, I’ve never met him.

Two weeks ago, the aunt where Carole stays and goes to school found that some money she had set aside had disappeared. In a rage, at 3am, she threw Carole and the son of another of my wife’s brothers who recently moved there to be close to his secondary school, out on the street. A solution had to be found, but Marie-Therese’s housemate doesn’t want Carole to live there as the place is already quite small. So she was sent north to the city of Bouake to stay with an uncle. Fortunately, it’s the summer school break.

Carole’s father proposes that she just be sent back to the ‘village’ to go to school there. My wife says that if she went there she’d be pregnant within two years. A second proposal has now been found for Carole to attend a boarding school run by nuns on the northern outskirts of Abidjan where Edith’s housemate’s daughter also attended, and passed her baccalaureate. The cost per year of the fees, including boarding, is about $600, which my wife has agreed to pay.
Why am I telling this story? A few reasons. Firstly, despite the distance, we still feel very involved in affairs in Abidjan. Secondly, these stories are totally run of the mill in Cote d’Ivoire, and you could probably find 15 million tales with similar themes (absent fathers, children born here and there, the ties between city and village, surviving on very little, family tensions and disputes, the prioritisation of education, the fear of teenage pregnancy). Thirdly, the one part of this story that really blew me away was that although there must be more to living on 50,000 cfa a month, the fact of dedicating 40% of this meagre income to some extra tuition for a daughter is really incredible, and highlights more than anything the desire and perceived value of education.

(Names have been changed)

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Abidjan v Lusaka

It’s been almost half a year now that we’ve been living in Lusaka, Zambia, and as with previous moves around Africa, I thought it would be interesting to spotlight a few differences compared with Abidjan. Development wise, there are a lot of similarities. But there’s a very different feel, and I’m enjoying my first experiences of southern Africa. The continent is far from uniform!

SPACE – a key feature of Zambia is the huge size of the country (752,618km2) compared to its 16 million population. It’s more than twice the size of Ivory Coast, with two thirds of the population. This has implications in a variety of areas including refugee policy (the country is very generous in giving land), to provision of Government services (quite hard as people are very spread out), to the quality of the tourism. In Lusaka, it’s apparent in the large university campuses, the high numbers of football/cricket/polo pitches and golf courses, and the healthy sizes of people’s gardens. The house we’re renting has a plot of 3,350m2, – not uncommon in my area or in Lusaka (for the middle class). Such a size would be very rare in Abidjan, a city with an extremely high population density even for African cities. I was looking at the paperwork for my Abidjan house this week – the plot size there for our 4 bedroom house (same number as here) is 270m2.

GARDENING – undoubtedly related to this, there’s a real culture of gardening. Many of these large plots have beautiful gardens, and each morning you can see gardeners out with their sprinklers watering the lawns and shrubs. You get almost no rain for six months of the year, but still the place stays fairly green. Many of the roads in certain areas of the city are lined by mature trees which are really beautiful, especially in October when the city turns red with Flamboyant flowers. In Abidjan, gardens tend to be on the small side, and tree lined avenues are not a strong feature of the city.

MALLS – As many residents in Lusaka will tell you, the big change over the last few years has been the sprouting of numerous malls around the city, generally South African, and often on opposite sides of major junctions. Abidjan has perhaps seem similar growth, and in that sense you get the feel that both cities have a relatively good sized middle class elite. The design here tends to be a different, shaped perhaps by i) the greater amount of space, ii) the more favourable climate.

CLIMATE – We’re really enjoying the weather. After the sticky humidity of Brazzaville, Abidjan and Freetown, Lusaka is a treat. This week, I’ve been the coldest I’ve ever been in Africa, and we even tried to get the fire going in our living room (yes, we have a chimney). We don’t have any air-conditioners in the house, and those at work are more often used to heat rather than cool the room. With limited humidity, long dry summers, and a temperature that averages 20C across the year, it’s hard to complain.

FOOD – the staple dish in Zambia is nshima, similar to what Ivorians call toh, made from maize meal. In general, I think Ivorians have a much broader range of indigenous staples (yams, rice, foufou, foutou, attieke, sweet potato, plaintains), something that isn’t so common in other countries I’ve spent time in. Related to this, the Ivorian culture of eating out (not just for the elite/expats), is also something that you don’t often find elsewhere. It explains where many cities seem sleepy compared to Abidjan.

SHOPPING – I have an odd habit of reading packaging labels, and I’m struck that it is actually quite rare to find a product that was not made on the African continent. Most things are either made in Zambia or in South Africa. This applies to 19/20 items. It is extremely rare to find something Made in China, Made in the UAE, or made somewhere in Europe. The only things I’ve found recently are delicacy foods (olive oil from Italy and blue cheese from Denmark). West Africa really has a long way to go in this regard – how odd that despite being a longer boat journey away, so much there comes from the East. It’s really tiresome to be drinking milk from European cows in Abidjan. Here they can be a bit resentful of the South African economic power. But it’s interesting that such products don’t appear much in the West African market. This might perhaps change if South African brands like Shoprite have more success, and I guess Abidjan has a language barrier to overcome. My ‘prior’ that has been shattered has been to discover that almost all necessary manufactured products are in fact already being produced on the continent.

PEOPLE – people here tend to view West Africans on the whole as quite aggressive. I’m sure Nigerians have done a lot to influence this stereotype. But it’s also certainly true that people here are in the main more towards the passive end of the scale (as Nigerians might think of Ghanaians). When you arrive at the airport here, almost no-one greets you, offers to help, tells you about a service they are offering etc. For western visitors, I’m sure it’s more welcoming then the shouting match that frequently results on arrival in a West African city. I do sometimes miss it though.

STREET LIGHTS – one odd thing is that street lighting is rather rare in Lusaka. Even on the dual carriageway that runs close to our house, there are lights, but they don’t seem to work. This wasn’t apparently the case in the past. Our residential area gets extremely dark at night. In Abidjan, it’s not commonly appreciated how much street lightening there is (which again encourages people to be out and about). Our very minor residential road in Abidjan is lit throughout (indeed we have a streetlight almost on our front door).

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Abidjan taxis and other fragments

In April 2014, I made my first return to Abidjan after leaving for Dubai in late 2012. I published some blog posts at the time, but a few others sat in a Word document on my desktop, and four years’ on, they are still there. Sadly, the thinking that prompted me to write has long since moved on. But for what it’s worth, let me publish these fragments below. The main unpublished post was a list of ten tips for those venturing into the Abidjan taxi business – on this blog I had recounted starting out, but hadn’t concluded (the project was by and large a failure). I had drawn up ten tips, but these are all forgotten, and I just have what I wrote at the time.

Ten mistakes to avoid in the Abidjan taxi business

After nine months as the owner of a taxi, I think it’s time to throw in the towel. We’ve been metaphorically taken for a ride by many of our drivers, so I think it’s best to call it quits. My general conclusion is to advise against entering the business – and I increasingly think it’s best to disbelieve any statement by an Ivorian talking about any sector that ‘ca marche’. Frequently this is only a very superficial assessment of how a business sector works. But, clearly the business works for some – I suspect particularly Lebanese and Chinese business people who have their own garages and are a lot tougher on drivers and demand daily payments from drivers at above average rates.

1. One of the main reasons small businesses fail in Abidjan is I think dishonest staff. The three key roles for a taxi owner are the day-to-day manger, the driver and the mechanic. In my case I had an honest manager, but we got in trouble with the drivers.

Starting with the driver, this person frequently has a motivational problem. They can hurt you by overloading the vehicle and driving recklessly. They are also in charge of your principal asset and out of sight for most of the day.

2. Taxi parking
At the end of the day, the taxi should be parked to rest with a full tank. Drivers will frequently want permission to park the taxi at their home. But this leaves you open to having the taxi used outside of hours for work, and even criminal activity.

3. Choosing the right car
There are very few exceptions to Toyota Corollas on the streets of Abidjan, though you get the odd Peugeot, and most recently some use of the famous Mercedes 190. Get to know your Corollas – they all have local names, generally associated with the historical era when they were introduced, so the latest Corolla is called an ‘Obama’. The major expense you’ll have when you’re on the road is vehicle repairs, so you need a car that is reliable and has cheap and readily-available car parts. Ask widely for advice so you don’t fall into unknown traps – for instance, some Corollas have a Peugeot engine, which will have a considerably shorter life-span than a Toyota equivalent.

Also, spend time making sure you’re bringing over a decent model. Newer models can save on import charges designed to punish older cars. And given the vehicle purchase cost is likely to be a minor part of your initial start-up costs, it can be worth paying a bit more.

[My draft ended here. I was sure to get on to the problem with mechanics – the major fault of the business venture. By placing spots of glue on engine parts, we discovered mechanics were removing them, to be replaced with cheaper/broken ones.]


I’m a real fan of the easy community in Abidjan. After a few days I feel I already have a connection with the people who work at my bank, the policewoman who produced my new identity papers, and the city’s taxi drivers. Human relations are real and alive in Abidjan. People also tend to really put down roots here – Abidjan is THE major city in Cote d’Ivoire, and once people have a house they tend to stay there. The same applies for jobs – once Ivorians are employed they try and hold on as best they can. Things are far different in the UK where you may work for a couple of years in one city, buying a house for a few years and then reselling and moving to another city.


Here so much of conversation consists of catching up on the well-being of extended groups of people. You can listen to people in the street when they meet…they can go through the list of everyone who lives in their neighbourhood getting an update.


Ivorians love their soap operas, and in fact we’ve arrived in Abidjan just as a film my wife starred in is being shown on the state television. I’m actually surprised the Brazilian soap operas are so popular here, because real life seems far more extreme. In the past few days I’ve heard numerous stories of mistresses, affairs, cheating, witchcraft, double-crossing, sudden death, falls from grace, etc.

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A full house

It might be personal taste, but one thing I appreciate about our life in our particular corner of West Africa is having a full house. There are six of us in our two bedroom place – two small children, myself and my wife, and our two house helps (one who has worked with us for almost a decade, and one a relative). In the West, this might be seen as odd and cramped, but I think it would have been quite familiar to people just a few generations back.

For me, when all is friendly and full of trust, it makes for a lively house, full of people for the children to interact with, and plenty of laughter. We might have less personal space than elsewhere in the world, but we don’t have much to hide.

(This was a post fragment from last year that never got published).

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Cocoa ramblings

The dust hasn’t quite settled, but it has certainly been an interesting season for cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire. Even just looking at the last few days we’ve seen the death of former all-powerful cocoa baron Henri Amazou, ex-boss of the FDPCC, and the official opening of the global HQ of the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) in Abidjan (interestingly, in a building that was once the FDPCC office).

I remember when I first arrived in Abidjan, the newspapers were regularly filled with the feud between Amazou, and the BCC boss, Tape Do. This old blog post from those days is a good reminder. The smell of corruption had been strong for years, but in 2008 the then president decided enough was enough and had almost everyone arrested and tried. The sector’s governance system then faced a massive overhaul – we now no longer have the BCC, FDPCC, ARCC and FGCCC (set up in the previous cocoa sector reform), all replaced by the CCC.

Speaking of great blogs that are no longer active, this week I discovered the insightful At Origin Blog, which is sadly now on hold, though still has a treasure-trove of past articles focused on Cote d’Ivoire and cash crops. I was particularly intrigued by this post on the cocoa price dated 3 October 2016 (the first week of the cocoa season). The cocoa farmgate price ended up being set at a higher level (XOF 1,100/kg) than almost anyone expected. To quote:

The CCC wanted to double the “rainy day” fund [by having a lower farmgate price]— which guarantees 60% of the international price to farmers even if the market collapses — to XOF 150bn, reflecting a conservative and prudent management on part of the regulator. But, the Ivorian government didn’t take the CCC’s advice, opting for the modest hike. This won’t break the bank. The CCC can well afford it, having forward sold the 2016/17 crop when international cocoa prices were still buoyant.

Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing when looking at investment mistakes. As we now know from the other side of the season, the previous years of massive production and high global prices didn’t last (indeed the peak had been in July 2016, and since then prices have dropped 30%). One would hope that the CCC stabilization fund built up in the good years would provide a cushion. But we witnessed far more unraveling than I’d expected – farmers protesting, cocoa piling up in the port, a cut to national state budgets, and almost immediately urgent appeals to the IMF and World Bank to step in (which they are doing). One hoped for a little more resilience.

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Boulevard VGE

I was a little taken aback yesterday reading in Fraternite Matin an interview with the architect of the new Azalai hotel in Abidjan, Ibrahima Konare, saying: “Personally, I consider the Boulevard Giscard d’Estaing as one of the most beautiful in the world. From the airport to the different bridges…we have a boulevard with two carriageways [‘contre-allees’ – not sure if I translated this correctly] that function perfectly. That exists almost no-where else.”

I can think of many things to say about the Boulevard VGE. For a start, it’s named after a French president without any of the glamour of De Gaulle or Mitterrand. Sometimes the francophilia of the FHB years definitely went too far. Secondly, it’s probably the place in the world I feel must uncertain about driving. At night you’ve got around six lanes in both directions, without a barrier in between, and junctions on which people just stop in the middle of the road waiting for a left turn. Don’t forget low lighting and people crossing all over the place with little regard for their safety.

Perhaps more relevant to this discussion, it also has nothing that takes one’s breath away, whatever your aesthetic sense. The buildings are almost uniformly ugly (Playce, Azalai, Cap Sud and Orca being perhaps exceptions), and most of them are decrepit and lacking grandeur – squat office blocks, humble flats, and quite a few used-car forecourts. While peaking over the buildings, you’re starting to see modern apartment blocks in Zone 4, there’s not much yet on the highway itself. The VGE junction to the third bridge has a certain impressiveness, but there’s a limit to the beauty of road bridges wherever you are in the world. Although I’ve seen several articles (including Bloomberg) describing Abidjan’s third bridge as an ‘architectural joy’, it couldn’t be more bog-standard despite its evident usefulness.

What could the highly respected architect actually mean? As he mentions there is something to the urban design. From the airport to Plateau, you get a smooth highway whisking you to the heart of the city. That’s certainly not a given in every city. In the article, direct comparison is made with Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed road, but we’re a very long way from that now. Overall, I read the quote as in line with a certain praise-language that sees the current ’emergence’ as moving forward in a perfect way in the most wonderful places in the best of all possible worlds.

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BRVM update and other economic notes

Twelve months ago, I announced the end to my series of annual posts focusing on investments on the Abidjan-based stock exchange. The posts seemed to be getting very similar – double digit growth reported, all in the (relative) safety of a currency tied to the Euro. Things hit a new high in 2015 with portfolio value growth of 44%. In that year the exchange, which covers countries in the West Africa CFA zone, but is dominated by Ivorian companies, was the fastest growing in Africa.

Well…skip forward 12 months and things aren’t so rosy, and so, in the interests of balance, I thought it best to write again and record that this year hasn’t been quite so good. After annual growth of 17.8%, 27.2%, 31.4%, 18.6% and 44.1%, 2016 saw growth of 4.4%. Looking more closely at 2016, I was basically up 20% in the first six months, and then falling back rapidly, roughly from the time of brexit (though I don’t think there’s much of a link). The downward trend doesn’t look to be abating – I’m down around 12% in the first 30 days of 2017. The overall figure of +4.4% for 2016 isn’t too bad on the surface, especially given the strengthening of the Euro against Sterling, but the downward trend does appear to be something new. This seems slightly at odds with the surface story of the country being one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

I’m no expert, but let me speculate on a few possible explanations, which have a bearing on the Ivorian economy. You can decide for yourself which you think holds the most water:

  • The explanation when I asked at my investing bank in Abidjan was that new listings on the exchange in 2016 hadn’t attracted new funds, but simply led people to sell-to-buy the new stocks.
  • Some World Bank analysis I read talked of the Ivorian economy ending the post-crisis dramatic growth phase, and moving to a more sustainable but lower level of growth. Growth remains high of course – by many accounts, the highest in Africa in 2016/17 and by some reports second only to Myanmar globally. A good proportion of this growth is through heavy public sector investment, so perhaps this doesn’t necessarily filter through to private sector stock value.
  • Globally it’s been a pretty depressing economic year. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, growth fell to 1.6%, the lowest levels seen for many years and signalling for some the end of the Africa Rising story. A rebound to 2.8% is predicted for this year. Nevertheless, Ivory Coast and Senegal have been exceptions, and the vast majority of the BRVM companies come from these two countries – so why have stocks not done well?
  • Given that Ivory Coast has a media profile as the economic success story at the moment, investors/new money gets drawn into the country, leading to lots of new start ups which make life more competitive for the established (and in some cases BRVM-listed) companies.
  • There was some interesting data in the Fraternite Matin newspaper yesterday from a survey of Ivory Coast-based businesses by the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie France-Cote d’Ivoire. Here are some of the key findings from respondents (224 businesses, 80% small and medium-sized, 20% large):
    • 75% had thought 2015 was a better year for their business than 2014, but only 18.48% thought that 2016 had been better than 2015.
    • 20% had seen their workforce grow, 80% had seen a decline [not sure about those staying the same]
    • A key difficulty seems to be relations with the public sector (getting access to the right officials, getting paid on time), though on the positive side, relations with banks had reportedly improved, and the new commercial tribunal seems to be appreciated.
  • Perhaps the poor performance in January is a result of recent social unrest which signal bad news to some investors who might have thought there were no medium-term effects of coming out of a ten year crisis.

So, in summary, the Ivorian economic growth story needs nuance, and doesn’t necessarily transfer to the stock market or to major business growth. For my own part, I’ll continue investing in the BRVM, though I’m a little more wary and will look to see if the balance is tipping towards investing in housing, or keeping funds outside the country.


Yesterday I read in the Sierra Leone press that two new companies listed on the Sierra Leone stock exchange last week…bringing the total number to three.

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7 things we learned from Didier Drogba’s ‘Commitment’

The other weekend I read a blog post about Didier Drogba’s latest autobiography ‘Commitment’, and after a quick Kindle purchase, the book had been downloaded and read by Sunday evening. I do have his previous autobiography (unread) on my shelf, and I suspect this is simply an update, though I haven’t examined the two side-by-side. Last year I read ‘Didier Drogba’ by Ian McShane, which is similar though not as insightful.

Here’s my run-down of a few things I learned from the book:

  1. Drogba believes divine power has helped him become the football player he is today. I’ve never known Didier mention his Catholic faith, though he sometimes wears a cross. But it turns out he’s often praying in the middle of games, particularly key ones, and that he feels his prayers have often been answered. Interestingly, his Marseille shirt hangs as a sort of relic in the cathedral in Marseille, the city where he used to play. His wife also invokes the Almighty in the famous video of them watching the African Cup of Nations penalty shoot out victory. He does of course have an incredible record in these big matches.
  2. When his parents moved to France (long after he’d been living there with his uncle) the whole family lived in terrible conditions squeezed into a tiny flat. His father went from middle class banker in Cote d’Ivoire to menial jobs in France. Drogba clearly believes the line between becoming a successful footballer, and a struggling inner-city immigrant in France was a narrow one.
  3. Drogba’s footballing career started late, and you can feel the pain when he sees people of his generation like Thierry Henry already playing for France while he’s fighting for places at minor teams. Like his footballing uncle, he moves around the small league sides before (in his case) finally making it big. When he moved to Chelsea as a big money signing, all these lower teams got a financial pay-out, enough for one of them to build a new stadium (named after Drogba). Perhaps his late start is one reason why he opted to play for Cote d’Ivoire – he might have initially struggled to fight for a place in the French side. When he finally wins the Champions League, a good number of these friends and coaches from these early days join him to celebrate.
  4. Leaving Marseille was tough for Drogba. It was the team he’d supported when young, he was culturally comfortable in France, and he had bought a nice house on the coast. In some ways it represented the height of his ambitions. But looking back, the more difficult path to Chelsea was the only way he could have achieved global greatness.
  5. Drogba speaks excellent English now, so it’s hard to imagine him moving to England with barely a word of English. That caused some problems in the early days, notably with the sometimes-I-dive MoTD interview. Interestingly, Drogba it seems doesn’t speak bete, the language of his ethnic group in Cote d’Ivoire. I hadn’t actually realised this – I’d just assumed that with two bete parents, he would have heard a lot of the language. It shows how French really is the mother tongue for most Ivorian children in the big city.
  6. It’s not explicit, but I get the impression from the book that Drogba has been one of the players to pioneer having a personal support team. He has two sports scientists who have worked with him for many years who help him with his post-match recovery, putting him in better shape. I was intrigued by how much of a difference these little things apparently can make. Similarly, the discussion of just how important the pre-season period is for a future successful season was fascinating.
  7. Drogba’s wife Lala has been a vital support in his life, including during his difficult first year at Chelsea. The family seems to have really settled in England and they stayed there during his move to China and Turkey. Lala had a child before hooking up with Didier, and the boy has been adopted into the home alongside his biological children.
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