It may sound like a top secret US military installation, but Zone 4 is one of the major expat centres in Abidjan. I’m not often there, but during the week I had the choice between the opening of two separate art exhibitions and I choose the one in Zone 4. It reminded my why I’m almost always uncomfortable there.
Those with a decent income in Abidjan generally live in three areas of the city. Plateau is the business district but has quite a few apartment blocks as well. Outside office hours it’s deathly quiet, but there are a handful of decent restaurants and it’s right in the centre of the city. The commune of Cocody is the home of the Ivorian middle and upper classes, the place most people aspire to live and where the head of state sleeps. It has a range of areas – newer districts to the north and east; suburbs with giant houses to more humble areas, but it’s a pleasant area with plenty of space, wide boulevards, green undulating valleys – but also a sense of being at the top of the pyramid with an authentic Ivorian spirit, rather than being a floating detached community.
The latter spirit is what I sense in Zone 4. It’s at the opposite end of the city close to the airport. I remember two things that people have told me about it – a leading French lady in the city told me it was never supposed to be a residential area but had been destined for industrial use, and someone else told me it only really became popular with expats because of the crisis when foreigners wanted to be near the airport/French military base. I heard someone in the French community also say that there are the French who live in Cocody and the French who live Zone 4 – I’m sure there’s a good sociological blog post in there but I’m not sure on the exact distinction.
Zone 4 lacks some of the key things I enjoy about Cocody – it’s flat, barely rising above the lagoon and much of it is reclaimed land and former marsh. It contains large industrial zones and narrow pot-holed streets. There’s almost nowhere that has any grandeur or beauty to it – small roads, few trees and concrete. There’s nothing of the grand vision that the Houphouet era gave to Cocody.
There’s also a sense of remoteness. These are rich people and the clientèle in Zone 4 have more disposable income than anyone else, as a group. Hence why it is tightly packed with high quality restaurants, shops, bars and nightclubs. This is the only place in the city where you can walk into a bar and find almost everyone is white except the slender unreal waitresses. It’s well placed for weekends in Bassam and Assinie. But at night there are prostitutes on almost every corner and until recently the police here were the worst behaved in the city, creating a constant friction with the expat population.
For me, I just don’t like the character of the place. Too aggresive, too much money that’s lost touch with reality. Yes people have well-equipped houses, but there are few beautiful buildings. You get the sense that a community is over-paying, getting ripped off, getting everything anyone wants for a price, but missing out on living in a more attractive environment. One where you feel part of a viable community and where neighbours share and exchange gifts. As Alpha Blondy sang, Cocody rocks.
I sometimes wonder if the principal aim behind the ‘third bridge’ currently being built in the city is to link Zone 4 to Cocody – Abidjan’t two richest communities. Perhaps the bridge will bring greater balance to the city. The bridge runs directly from the main entrance to Zone 4 (dubbed Blvd Mercedes) to Rivieria Golf/Rivieria III and Rue des Jardins.
I’d be interested to read your comments.