Ivory Coast faces the challenge of the African Cup of Nations

Ivory Coast is under construction

Ivory Coast faces the challenge of the African Cup of Nations

Ivory Coast is under construction. From the historic Félix-Houphouët-Boigny stadium in Abidjan, which workers are finishing refurbishing, to the concrete poured on major roads, the country is entirely focused on organizing the African Cup of Nations ( CAN), which is scheduled to open on January 13, 2024.

“January 13 is tomorrow,” breathes an Ivorian minister, faced with the scale of the task that remains to be accomplished for this CAN to be “the best in history,” as President Alassane Ouattara wishes. Twelve years after the end of the post-electoral crisis which tore the country apart and left at least 3,000 dead, Ivory Coast is playing big. This is the first time that it has hosted an event of this size, which should be an economic, political and tourist showcase.

There is urgency and still much to do. A sign of the head of state's dissatisfaction, he has just chosen a new prime minister, Robert Beugré Mambé, whose primary task will be to bring the competition to a successful conclusion. Appointed on October 16, two and a half months before the biggest continental sporting event, the former governor of Abidjan has a profile cut out for him: this public works engineer had already been called urgently in 2016 to organize the Games of the Francophonie, which took place a year later.

In his government, one of the rare changes is the ouster of the sports minister, who was occupied by Claude Paulin Danho, in open war with François Amichia, the president of the CAN organizing committee. He was replaced by a minister responsible for sports, Metch Adjé Silas, directly attached to the head of government.

An unusable lawn

Questions surrounding the CAN gave way to crisis when on September 12, the pitch at the Ebimpé stadium (60,000 seats), north of Abidjan, found itself soaked and unusable after a heavy downpour, forcing the referee to suspend the match between Ivory Coast and Mali. Unacceptable for a lawn that cost 1.2 billion CFA francs (1.8 million euros); on average, those in major European stadiums cost half as much.

In total, the State has invested more than 500 billion CFA francs for the construction and rehabilitation of infrastructure. He had to build four stadiums – in Ebimpé, San Pedro (south-west), Yamoussoukro (centre) and Korhogo (north) –, rehabilitate two – in Abidjan and Bouaké (centre) –, rehabilitate 24 pitches training, building “CAN villages” to welcome players and their staff…

The State has also renovated the roads connecting host cities, such as Côtière, between Abidjan and San Pedro. While the route had become almost impassable, it now takes less than five hours to cover 340 km, compared to up to twelve hours previously. The highway leading to Yamoussoukro was also extended to Bouaké, and the technical platforms of dispensaries and hospitals were modernized to meet the needs of the players and be able to accommodate tens of thousands of supporters.

So many investments that should benefit Ivorians. “This will boost the activity of traders, industrial zones will redouble their enthusiasm and creativity to produce derivative products bearing the image of the stars. This will benefit hoteliers and restaurateurs, many of whom have rehabilitated their establishments. There will be job creation in transport and tourism. And in the medium term, this will boost growth,” explains economist Yao Séraphin Prao.

The risk of a “white elephant”

And after ? The authorities want to avoid scandals like that of the Olympic pool at the Rio Olympics or the abandoned athletes' village at the Sochi Winter Games. The risk is to make the CAN a “white elephant”, as these gigantic investments are nicknamed which turn out to be more costly than profitable.

“There has been no prior thought about what these new stadiums will be used for after the CAN. "Old-fashioned infrastructures, made of concrete, cannot be dismantled and oversized", deplores an actor in the sector who requires anonymity and criticizes the requirements imposed by the "specifications of CAF", the Confederation of African Football.

The problem also concerns the Ivorian authorities, who are looking for solutions. “Throughout the year, the Ivorian championship does not attract many people, it is not reasonable to hope that these stadiums are only useful for football,” explains Yacouba Konaté, technical advisor to the president of the football committee. organization of the CAN.

For several months, 350 Ivorians have been trained in cultural and sporting event professions so that these structures can accommodate sports other than football, shows, concerts, but also so that they can be places of daily gathering for the various associations of the cities concerned. “We are starting to have them work on CAN sites to complete their training. But then who is going to need them? We will have to put in place a mechanism to promote all this human capital,” continues Yacouba Konaté.

For economist Yao Séraphin Prao, the State will not be able to do without social measures if it wants the CAN to benefit Ivorians: fight against the racketeering of highway robbers and the corruption of law enforcement; accelerate the deployment of universal health coverage... and above all, ensure the smooth running of the event. “If we organize it well, if there is no congestion, no mayhem, no thefts, no attacks, I think the country will improve its image and attract foreign investment,” predicts Yao Séraphin Prao.