In Ivory Coast, the destruction of precarious neighborhoods shakes up political life

It was by disappearing from the map of Abidjan that the Gesco district acquired its greatest notoriety, monopolizing the front page of all Ivorian press titles and attracting the compassion of politicians of all persuasions

In Ivory Coast, the destruction of precarious neighborhoods shakes up political life

It was by disappearing from the map of Abidjan that the Gesco district acquired its greatest notoriety, monopolizing the front page of all Ivorian press titles and attracting the compassion of politicians of all persuasions. The expulsion, which began more than a month ago, of residents of the Eden city from their homes in this commune of Yopougon, on the western edge of Abidjan, cut short the euphoria of the African Cup of Nations. (CAN) and withered the illusion of national unity born from this success.

The contrast between the donations made to the Ivory Coast team that won the competition – a villa and 50 million CFA francs (76,000 euros) per player – and the fate reserved for the unfortunate inhabitants of this popular city is now even the subject of a joke on social networks: “We have a country that gives houses to footballers and destroys those of supporters. »

After a first series of demolitions on January 28, the excavators returned on February 19 to raze half of the 171 houses. Without prior notice, without compensation or rehousing offer, according to all the residents interviewed. However, some victims had a property title.

“They came one morning, they broke,” recounts a shopkeeper, taking refuge with friends on the other side of the street, in a housing estate that remained intact. “They just told us we were too close to the road. They didn’t compensate anyone, neither the tenants nor the owners,” she says, her eyes misty but in a voice that doesn’t tremble. Law 11-2004, which sets the framework for the expropriation procedure for reasons of public utility, nevertheless requires that the population be warned in advance, then relocated or compensated by the State.

However, the procedure has rarely been respected over the last decade, while "evictions" have multiplied, a consequence of the strong urban growth of Abidjan which relegates its low-income populations to the outskirts. This term in everyday language in Côte d'Ivoire is, according to the definition given by the geographer Irène Kassi, "an operation by which the occupants of land belonging to the public authority are required to evacuate it in order to reasons of public interest”.

“Bulldozer Policy”

The areas of Abidjan, Yopougon and Attécoubé, emptied in recent weeks should be followed by many others. The city district planned a new wave of demolitions from March 9 to 17, and published a list of 176 sites identified as “risk areas” to be vacated in the short or long term, depending on the urgency. According to this document, almost half of the eviction plans do not provide for rehousing sites. A “bulldozer policy”, denounce opposition newspapers and many Internet users on social networks, led by the new minister and governor of the Abidjan district, Ibrahima Cissé Bacongo.

In the case of Gesco, the file raises even more questions as the government signed in 2021 a financing agreement of 33 billion CFA francs (50.3 million euros) with the French Development Agency (AFD) for the restoration of the district, as part of a debt reduction and development contract (C2D) which makes it possible to reconvert part of the national debt into investments. Why go to all this trouble if the neighborhood was going to be razed three years later?

For two weeks, the government, visibly embarrassed, has communicated little about this affair. It was not until February 28 that Mr. Bacongo officially justified himself. At the end of his first meeting with the mayors of the thirteen communes of Abidjan, the minister-governor then affirmed that he was only complying with the orders of President Alassane Ouattara, the head of state having entrusted him with the mission to “fight against urban disorder, unsanitary conditions and clean up the Abidjan district”.

Comments supported the same day by government spokesperson Amadou Coulibaly, who spoke of "many high-risk precarious neighborhoods, exposed to flooding, landslides and recurring landslides" and recalled that the recent evictions were part of as part of a “sanitation program to protect and save human lives”. Concerning the agreement concluded with the AFD, Mr. Coulibaly invoked “long procedures” and assured that “not a cent has been released”. AFD indicates that the funds will be paid when the feasibility studies, still in progress, are completed.

“Not worthy.”

Questioned by the government newspaper Fraternité Matin on Saturday March 2, Ibrahima Cissé Bacongo assumes his policy. “The entrance to Abidjan from the Gesco side is not worthy of the reputation of our economic capital,” he declared, calling into question the road traffic jams as well as the image of the district, which would, according to the minister-governor, “the impression of entering a village”. “Faced with this observation,” continued Mr. Bacongo, “we had to start our work with the northern highway [which connects the west of Abidjan to Bouaké via the capital Yamoussoukro], ensuring that this important route ( …) is free from everything that encumbers it”, populations included.

But in the corridors of the municipalities of Abidjan, the case of Gesco divides. Starting with the Yopougon Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) town hall, led by Adama Bictogo, also president of the National Assembly. The municipality quickly dissociated itself from the evictions, denouncing in a press release “an action carried out unilaterally” and the mayor promised to pay back his 800,000 CFA francs in monthly salaries to the victims during the five years of his mandate. If Mr. Bacongo is currently leading the standoff against him, his support is becoming rarer within the government.

“Bacongo launched this in his corner, without consulting anyone,” laments one of his technical partners. Several party comrades criticize him for the brutality of his operations and their unpreparedness, since no rehousing plan had been established beforehand. Seeing the controversy growing, Prime Minister Robert Beugré Mambé, former governor of Abidjan, instructed the ministries concerned to find a rapid solution. With the priority being the reassignment of students from the razed school, Cha Hélène, the case which most moved public opinion, and the provision of new housing for the children and their families.

“Without compassion or respect”

While waiting for a solution to emerge, the opposition has seized the subject and is rushing to the side of the evacuees. Measured, Charles Blé Goudé, the president of the Pan-African Congress for Justice and Equality of Peoples (Cojep), asked to “accompany with humanity” the eviction measures, calling for “that we do not throw away the Ivorians like that on the street.” Assalé Tiémoko, an independent elected official from the town of Tiassalé, 120 km north of Abidjan, also went to the rubble to express his solidarity, along with former prime minister Pascal Affi N'Guessan and former president Laurent Gbagbo, who stopped on his way back from his village of Mama to share the “pain” “of populations in distress”.

In the political game sparked by these expulsions, the most virulent criticism came from the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI-RDA). While its new president, Tidjane Thiam, visited the “deguerpis” ​​on February 25, his parliamentary group published two days later an uncompromising press release for Ibrahima Cissé Bacongo who, “with a cold cynicism of which he alone has the secret , he writes, continues his disastrous project (…) with vague, elusive and elusive contours without compassion or minimum respect for human rights.”

The next day, the party's spokesperson, Soumaïla Bredoumy, pointed out at a press conference "an abuse of power" by the district of Abidjan, and presented the strategy of evictions as "the result of the failure of the housing policy social services", too few and too expensive for a large part of the population. Faced with these regular attacks, the government spokesperson denounces a “political exploitation” of personalities “in search of space for expression”.