Christmas In Abidjan, Part I

10 years later : December 1999 – December 2009

not like any other day

It was nice and sunny in Abidjan on December 23rd 1999. Pretty much everyone woke up in a nice mood, to get the last Christmas presents and enjoy the year 2K celebration with their families.

The city was warm, busy, and terribly noisy. Everyone was getting ready for the upcoming parties. People were buying gifts, shopping for food, lighting fireworks… My brothers and I were on Christmas school break. People’s car were blasting loud music, and Abidjan people were leaving the city to the countryside. Damn, even the president was getting ready to shake it in Daoukro, his village.

Around 1PM, I realized that the loud claps we were hearing from not so far away weren’t party people testing fireworks, but soldiers looting and firing in the air. My friend in Riviera III called me to tell me his Toyota Corolla had been stolen by soldiers, and that they were parading in it, shooting in the air.

There is not doubt the country was going downhill from the eighties.

One man (the late Felix Houphouet Boigny) and one political party (Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire) had monopolized the political scene for more than twenty years. The opening of Côte d’Ivoire to multipartism only happened in the late eighties. As Houphouet was getting old, the big fuss at that time was about who was going to succeed to the father of the nation.
On the economical level, the country hit rock bottom when the cocoa / coffee prices fell and the government had to resort to massive debt (an interesting subject we are going to discuss in another post). The structural adjustment programs linked to that debt imposed social restrictions (salary freezes, cut in educational and health budgets…).

The nineties were not so much better. To me, that’s when people saw the destruction of the Ivorian miracle happen. All the problems we thought the country had escaped to become the “African Elephant” crystalized during the decade. Public services ceased to operate, insecurity exploded, investments stalled. More importantly, two events happened during that decade : the death of Houphouet Boigny, and the rise of ethnicity issues. Where they the trigger of the changes to come ? Maybe. What’s sure is that people were eager for change in December 1999.

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