Agnes Doh was abducted by the rebels when she was six months pregnant. “We walked and we walked through the jungle without rest. I prayed all the time that my death would be quick, ”he recalls. However, he survived. Today, at 52, she still misses the baby she lost shortly after. “No one came to ask us to forgive all that, but at least our children no longer kill each other,” he says with a tired look. The story of Agnes Doh is that of the Ivory Coast, a country where just a decade ago the monster of war took its teeth and that today opens roads and industrial zones, prospers and reconciles with itself. They call it “the Ivorian miracle”, although she knows the price she had to pay.
On the edges of the potholed road that leads to the western city of Man, you can see both bursting fruit stands of cassava and bananas and washed-out graveyards with tombstones without headstones. Agnes Doh, dressed in a green wax suit and headscarf, walks carelessly through the traffic in search of a shadow. “I still don’t understand why they used children and women in that war, why they tried to pit us against each other. In Côte d’Ivoire there are more than 60 different ethnic groups and all religions coexist, but they wanted to divide us, ”says Doh, who today chairs an association that combats female genital mutilation and violence against women.
On July 27, Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, defeated and victorious, the two political leaders whose electoral confrontation led the country to the battle of Abidjan, the last and bloodiest episode of the war in 2011, greeted each other and walked from the hand like old comrades. “This crisis has created divergences, but all that has been left behind. What matters is the Ivory Coast, it is peace for our country, ”said President Ouattara. Days before, Gbagbo returned to the country acquitted of the accusations of crimes against humanity that weighed against him in the International Criminal Court. If the legislative elections of last March, in which the main opposition parties participated for the first time since 2010, were a catharsis, the image of the former rivals together and smiling left no doubt that the Ivory Coast was undergoing a page of its history.
Today, Abidjan is a vibrant city with more than five million inhabitants. In recent years, numerous works have been launched to try to improve the mobility of its long, eternally collapsed streets, from two large traffic interchanges to a metro service. Its dynamic port, the second largest in Africa after Durban, connects Côte d’Ivoire with the world, but it is also a point of entry and exit of goods for countries like Mali and Burkina Faso that do not have access to the sea. During the war, the city languished. But the return of the African Development Bank (ADB) and its 1,800 staff to its official headquarters in Abidjan in 2014 was the launching point of economic recovery and especially of confidence. The worst was over.
“I don’t know if poverty has been reduced, but you feel like there are more opportunities,” says Wilfried Adringa, a young businessman. Ivory Coast has been growing at a rate of 7% per year for a decade, except in 2020, when the slowdown caused by covid-19 arrived. For this year an increase of 6% is expected. The Government’s plan is to double its Gross Domestic Product in 2025. “It is one of the strongest economies in the area,” says Mariano Muela, head of the Spanish commercial office in this country. A major exporter of raw materials, mainly cocoa and cotton, the Ivory Coast has embarked on the path of transformation. Industrial areas such as Yopougon, the largest in the country with 174 hectares, shopping centers, new roads: this is the face of the miracle. The challenge is for economic development to reduce inequality and reach the entire population.
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In the interior of the country, changes are slower. Gahossou Dao, professor of philosophy at the institute in Sinématiali, a northern city of 60,000 inhabitants, acknowledges investments in health or education, but complains of a certain north-south imbalance. “We need more teachers to combat illiteracy, more employment for young people,” he says. With his own money, he has bought land to build a peace research center, the word that pops up in all conversations. “Our first president, Félix Hophouet Boigny, dedicated himself to the mission of building a nation and thanks to a scholarship program he managed to mix all ethnicities in schools. It was the politicians who came later who wanted to confront us, but it didn’t work. Among the Ivorians there are no problems of coexistence ”, adds Dao.
In Korhogo, not far from the border with Burkina Faso, security has been tightened for fear of jihadist contagion. Attacks in the Comoé park area and at police outposts such as the one in June 2020 that cost the lives of a dozen soldiers, as well as arrests of suspected terrorists from the north, testify that the fear is well founded. At the entrance and exit of each city, the Ivorian Gendarmerie controls the entrances. However, no one asks for money or looks for excuses to fine, something common in other African countries. “An enormous effort has been made to fight corruption, to end impunity. Now there are phones to report. We must continue and get tougher sanctions, especially at high levels, ”says the young independent deputy Mahamadou Kebe.
Large and deserted avenues cross Yamoussoukro, the official capital of the country. Nothing to do with electrifying Abidjan. Today a development seminar is being held at the luxurious Parliamentary Hotel, attended by Kebe. “There is a new political generation that has to take responsibility, step forward. It is not a problem of age, but of vision ”, he assures. The three most important leaders of the country in the last three decades, Gbagbo, Ouattara and Henri Konan Bedié, continue to set the course of political life, but the general feeling is that they have to step aside and reach the electoral year of 2025 without violence.
“I feel that we have advanced in recent years, there are better infrastructures, hospitals, universities. But that has to be translated into well-being, for example I am concerned about the exaggerated rise in prices, especially after the covid-19 ″, adds the parliamentarian. In a regional context of democratic setbacks, coups d’état and instability due to the advance of jihadism, Côte d’Ivoire is on the way to heal the wounds of the war that split it in two for a decade and looks to the future with optimism. “There is still a long way to go, but we are on the move,” concludes Agnes Doh.
In love with Spanish
With 576,000 students, Côte d’Ivoire is the African country with the most Spanish-language students and the seventh in the world. Its two main universities, Bouaké and Cocody-Abidjan, have specific departments, a relationship that goes back a long way. Even before independence, in the 1950s, many young people were leaning towards Spanish as a second language over others such as German and, once in university, a whole generation of teachers perfected their Spanish in Salamanca or Valladolid. The recent creation of a Cervantes Classroom in Abidjan indicates that the Cervantes Institute, recently installed in Senegal, does not lose sight of the Ivory Coast.
The interest in Caribbean music, Latin American soap operas and now in La Liga de Fútbol are also behind this love story that does not stop growing and is also expressed in Spanish clubs in numerous educational centers or in the fact that Abidjan has It has already hosted three editions of the International Hispano-African Colloquium on Linguistics, Literature, Civilization and Translation, organized by Professor Ekou Williams from the Félix Houaphêt-Boigny University.
However, despite emerging economic opportunities and the immense potential of Spanish-speaking people, the Spanish business presence remains discreet, some 50 companies, especially when compared to the French peso in this country, where there are some 700 French companies installed.
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