In Abidjan, the rainy season ends but we never put away our “lêkê”: called “jellyfish” in France, these open plastic shoes, water-resistant and inexpensive, have become a symbol of identity Ivorian culture.

“Everyone wore lêkê,” says Rokia Daniogo, a 33-year-old trader, sitting on a street corner in the huge market in the Treichville district, where hundreds of stalls overloaded with goods and various objects are lined up. .

“All children wear (the) lêkê, even babies,” she adds. “They go to play ball with it, they go to school with it,” explains this mother of four children who “all” have been wearing them since they could walk. And “they like it,” she insists.

“We already wore that when we were little,” confirms Patrick Nguessan, wandering between the stands, even if he finds them “uncomfortable” today.

A few meters from Rokia Daniogo, Ousmane Kaba sells them and wears a white pair “every day”. “I feel comfortable in it,” he says, and “it sells well,” especially to young people “from 18 to 35” like him, “and during the rainy season.” From May to September, violent storms sometimes bring torrential rain, making some streets impassable.

The “lêkê” – French designed shoes born after the Second World War, part of which is made in Ivory Coast and the other imported – have been sold on Ivorian markets “for 30 or 40 years”, before the arrival of flip-flops in the country, according to Mounir Ben, trader.

But the global success of flip-flops has not succeeded in dethroning the “lêkê”, which have become a symbol of the country’s identity.

“In Senegal, in Mali, there are some, but in Ivory Coast it works well,” confirms a Senegalese trader, Samba Basse.

Ivorian fashion critic Emmanuelle Keïta also finds the origin of “lêkê” in the 1980s, at the feet of those who “had few” financial means.

“The people who played zouglou (an urban musical genre, whose first singers denounced the precariousness of student life) had lêkê on their feet, and zouglou remains the best-known musical identity” of the country, she says.

“For me it’s an essential fashion accessory for the busybody, for the guy who fights, who works a lot” but who is poor, explains the stylist.

Like the apprentices of the “gbaka”, the minibuses which serve Abidjan and its surroundings.

These young men trained by the drivers spend the journeys hanging on the rear doors of the vehicles, from which they regularly get out to run after customers at each stop, “lêkê” on their feet.

“The lêkê make everything easier”, they “are light” assures Seydou Sow, who uses them at his workplace, a store in which he transports heavy loads.

Their price is the first factor of success: they cost on average 1,000 CFA francs, or 1.50 euros.

The models are varied: plain, transparent, patterned shoes, in national colors (orange, white and green), displaying the names of footballers like the Frenchman Basile Boli or the Argentinian Lionel Messi. And all social classes wear them.

“When you’re poor, we say to ourselves that that’s all you have,” but “when you’re rich, it makes you look like a cool, humble guy,” explains Emmanuelle Keïta.

The most expensive “lêkê” that Mounir Ben sells cost 2,000 francs (3 euros). These are the “Benguistes”, a mocking name given to Africans expatriated in Europe by Ivorians who are supposed to have money. Their sole is thicker, adapted to the curve of the feet, “more resistant”, and “does not slip” according to him.

But luxury brands have gone much further: Gucci offers a pair for 400 euros, while Prada’s wedge version costs 500 euros.

09/19/2023 12:40:36 –         Abidjan (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP