This past Sunday, 18 people were killed in the French colonial capital–turned beach resort of Grand-Bassam, about 25 miles outside Abidjan. Here's a reconstruction of the events by my friend Robbie Corey-Boulet, along with Carley Petesch.
Fellow Fulbrighter and UC political science grad student Justine Davis and I wrote an article for The Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog, "6 things you need to know about Côte d'Ivoire in the wake of Sunday's attack." It's almost a primer on current events there and integrates our preliminary research. You should read it.
(all photos taken by my friend Eglantine)
This past weekend, I went with friends to Grand Bassam, Cote d'Ivoire's first capital, for Abissa, the cultural celebration of the people of that region (and the fishing village that's part of Bassam).
I'd been to Bassam a few times before for a day at the beach and to visit the run-down colonial-era buildings and the National Costume Museum, in need of a cash infusion.
Mostly, I wanted to share these photos my friend took of the festival. At the end, all of us had our faces painted with clay, but little evidence of this exists because we were grouchy from the day in the sun with no food.
More information on the festival and a video can be found here (in French):
Yes, I was in Abidjan for the elections on October 25. It was very, very quiet. An expat friend who had lived in Abidjan during the last election was a bit nervous about the outcome (unnecessarily, in my opinion) and asked a few of us to spend the weekend at her house for fun and because the city would be mostly shut down. So, because I'm not a journalist and had been told by the least-security-minded people that staying in Abidjan would be best rather than leaving to do work outside the city.
So I have absolutely nothing of my own to report, other than election rallies all over the city and outside that were only for the incumbent, Ouattara (ADO), and that had the huge balloons and tents so that they looked like American car dealerships on the weekends. I am advocating for the noodle men as campaigners in the next election in 2020.
I'm glad it was calm, as it was generally anticipated to be. Most of those who have any knowledge about Ivorian elections (all 15 of us) believe that the true results of Cote d'Ivoire's justice and peacebuilding efforts will be seen in 2020, when Ouattara will not be running.
Here's a roundup of mostly solid articles in English about the elections:
African Arguments, 19 October
Washington Post, 19 October
Washington Post, 20 October
Mail & Guardian, 21 October
BBC, 24 October
Reuters, 28 October
(update) Washington Post, 26 November
My final months in Abidjan (for now) were busy and exhausting. On my very last day, however, Abidjan provided me with not one, but two gifts in the form of #AnimalAdvertising.
Near my home:
And on the route to the airport!
Seems fitting that ridiculous animal advertising (about chicken, no less) greeted me upon arrival to Abidjan and bid me farewell.
The three 2014–2015 Fulbrighters left in Cote d'Ivoire (one student – me – and two public policy fellows – Erica and Laura) threw a pretty great 4th of July Party for all our non-American friends, complete with a poolside BBQ, hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, chips and guacamole, brownies, Coronas, and classic rock music. A bit expensive, considering all our food had to be purchased from the expensive supermarket because it was imported, but totally worth it.
I love living outside the U.S., but there are some traditions I miss. Next year, I'll see what I can do about the softball tournament and fireworks.
Seriously, what a great party.
I've been spending a bit of time over the past few weeks at a couple of maquis because fellow PhD polisci student Marion is in town. She's the only other PhD student that I know here (and I'm making the distinction between PhD and master's student, of which there are a number – from SAIS, Geneva, Oxford – doing their international development fieldwork).
So we've been discussing our dissertation (and advisor) troubles over beers, poulet braisé, alloco, and frites, just like the maquis gods intended.
Wartime Hymns just posted a description and political context of Abidjan's maquis, though I admit to not really staying late enough to experience the dancing. Even without the music and dancing, I love the general culture of sitting outside, though not under the sun, drinking a bit with friends or colleagues, people watching, eating, more drinking, more eating, and more people watching – and on the cheap. I think maquis will be one of the things I miss the most when I leave Abidjan.
Little by little, more is being written about Cote d'Ivoire's recent trials and its economic transformation, all viewed through a lens of the upcoming October elections (exact date TBD). French-language media is generally a better source, but English-language analysis is slowly catching up.
"Court decision deepens Ivory Coast opposition rift" for Reuters, by Joe Bavier
"Côte d’Ivoire’s victor’s Justice? ICC, the Gbagbos and the Mega-Trial" for African Arguments, by Giulia Piccolino
(seriously excellent overview of the set of trials set in political context)
"Investigations against pro-Ouattara camp to begin mid-2015, says ICC chief prosecutor" for The Interview, France 24
(the first time the ICC has explicitly addressed the criticisms of both the Ivorian opposition and human rights observers that the national and international justice mechanisms have been one-sided)
"Deja vu: And if the cocoa price dropped?" by John James on his blog Drogba's Country
(examination of the possible second round of CIV's "economic miracle" that could be based, once again, on high global cocoa prices; what could happen if prices plunge?)
Today is a post on something I learned the hard way: bill paying.
We received our electricity bill about a month before it was due, but I didn't get around to paying it until the due date. I walked into the office nearest my house around 10 a.m., fully expecting to wait in a short line to pay in cash (as I don't have a local bank account and this is essentially a cash society). I took my ticket and was number 584 in line. The number being called upon my arrival was 107.
I sat for three hours, went out to run an errand and grab some lunch (around number 250), and returned to sit for 2 more hours before the office closed. Good thing I brought a book. And my electricity bill was now overdue.
That night at home, I read the fine print on my bill and the website and realized that I could pay it through Orange Money, a mobile money system (similar to M-Pesa in East Africa) where you deposit money into your mobile phone account essentially and can then pay bills, pay individuals, or purchase mobile credit.
The account is free, and for Westerners, the payment fees (100-200 FCFA/0.20-0.40 USD) are negligible. And I would have saved hours and lots of confusion. Do it.
I've heard of this Harmattan and that somehow it extends all the way to tropical Abidjan. It's not the dusty winds of northern Cote d'Ivoire (or the rest of the Sahel and Sahara); here, it's the haze.
Will I really not see the sun for a while? After living in drought-stricken Southern California for so many years and then moving here, I can only hope. I can handle the heat if the sun isn't beating down on me. Let's see what will drive me the most crazy – this hazy Harmattan, the direct sun, or the late spring's incessant rains.
Travel and research notes
Fieldwork and travel in Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Mali, as well as Burkina Faso, Morocco, Tanzania, South Africa, and wherever else I end up. Plus occasional research-related thoughts.