Major cities are, by definition, dynamic. But there’s a difference between the energy you find in a developing nation’s capital and that of cities like London and New York. I find that too often, when used in the context of sub-Saharan African countries, the word ‘developing’ takes on an inert quality – evoking images of paralysed nations doomed forever to flounder under corruption and debt. But spend any time in a place like Abidjan and this misconception falls flat. Cities like Abidjan are constantly on the verge of change, actively developing; you can’t shake the feeling that the best is yet to come, and that it’s coming soon.
That said, not all change here is necessarily a move from Abidjan as it has traditionally been to a more Westernised form. For the most part, the two worlds are meeting in the middle. This is reflected in the way that people here dress for work – whenever I visit my mother’s office, there’s always a mix of people wearing traditional African dress, while others are dressed in the sort of suits you’d find in the City. Both are considered equally professional, and I think it’s important that our own cultures are not being rejected in favour of occidental values.
On a wider scale, similar changes can be seen in the use of language in Abidjan and other urban centres. There are over 60 individual languages spoken in Cote d’Ivoire, but the official lingua franca here is Ivorian French, due to its history as a French colony. Ivorian French is essentially standard French with a special prosody influenced by African tonal languages, but it is increasingly fusing with ‘street’ French, which borrows far more from the Ivorian languages. As a result, the French in Cote d’Ivoire is becoming more vernacular, moving away from its Western heritage and drawing more from its own traditional past.
With regard to development in general, it’s clear that this has been stunted after a decade of civil wars, yet hope for a speedy recovery remains. Major organisations such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank have recently rebuilt their headquarters in Abidjan, while investors have already shown an interest in doing business in the country which, in its hey-day, rivalled Nigeria as one of the major economic powers of West Africa.
It’s clearly an exciting time to be in Abidjan. It used to be hailed the ‘Paris of Africa’ and although it’s got a while to go until it gets there again, I don’t doubt that the city’s best days lie ahead, not in the past. I haven’t been able to write about everything I’ve seen in and loved about Abidjan because there’s far too much; it can’t be contained in a series of articles. This city and its country have so much potential, and it’s growing. I look forward to growing with it.