Outcry over ‘insanitary’ houses demolished in ICoast’s AbidjanThu, 29 Feb 2024 07:07:41 GMT

Napoleon Krizoa gazed stunned at the rubble before him, all that was left of his house, of his whole neighbourhood — swept away in a vast demolition operation by the Abidjan city authorities.”It was all torn down in front of us,” said his wife, Flora Seka, as she nursed their months-old baby daughter.She had only managed to save a few clothes and two mattresses. Their savings, small as they were, were lost under the rubble. They had been hidden away in the house.Officials said the “insanitary” housing, in a poor district of the city, was torn down on public health grounds.The fate of the demolished neighbourhood is indicative of rampant urbanisation in the capital, whose population mushroomed from three million to six million between 1998 and 2021, according to the National Institute of Statistics.Even beyond the capital, Ivory Coast is experiencing mass migration into cities which is exacerbating housing shortages and causing overcrowding while many properties are inadequately built.”Banco 1″, named after the forest it stood opposite, was one of Abidjan’s poorest districts, home to around a hundred people before it was torn down.But Napoleon and his wife were happy enough when they found a home there a year ago. “I had a pretty three-bedroom house with a terrace,” he said.He was getting ready to go to mass on Sunday morning, he said, when four bulldozers arrived — followed by tanks from the anti-riot brigade.Residents were ordered to empty their houses quickly, just before they were demolished, he said.”They gassed us,” said neighbour Oumar Sanogo, who was born in the neighbourhood 58 years ago.”We have no roof, we don’t have anywhere to go,” he said, distraught.A few kilometres away, residents of the Boribana district went through the same ordeal.They were woken with tear gas, said Idrissa Keita, and it was only after the houses had been demolished that they were able to recover their belongings.- ‘Unsanitary’ -The evictions were carried out because people who could not afford the available housing built their homes there without authorisation, said urban planning specialist Kouassi Ernest Yao.”The population preceded the subdivision,” he said. Some may have stood there for several generations but this housing was built in “zones that are not habitable”, he added.And if such eviction operations were not new, they were now being carried out on a massive scale.Ibrahim Bacongo Cisse, the governor of greater Abidjan, the country’s economic capital and a metropolis of six million people, announced the operation last week.He had signed off on “eviction campaigns” across the city, he said, targeting 176 sites in all. Timed to be carried out ahead of the rainy season, from May to September, they were due to run until mid-March, he added.The zones targeted were frequently hit by death and major property damage “because of flooding, landslides and building collapses”, he explained. The districts were also “insanitary”, he added.Last year, 39 people, some of them children, lost their lives in Abidjan during heavy rains, according to government spokesman Amadou Coulibaly.”Eviction yes, but compensation first,” retorted Idrissa Keita. He and other former residents insisted they had received nothing from the authorities. Nor had they received any offers for rehousing.But in an already overcrowded city, said geographer Kouassi Ernest Yao, “land prices have risen”.- ‘You can’t make an omelette…’ -The way the evictions have been carried out has divided politicians, even inside President Alassane Ouattara’s Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace party (RHDP).Among those hit by the operations was the working class district of Yopougon, run by an RHDP city council. They said nearly a thousand families had been hit by the eviction and demolition operations since late January. A school that catered for 1,880 students was among those demolished.Yopougon has become a political battlefield, visited by the main opposition leaders Tidjane Thiam of the Democratic Party (PDCI) and former president Laurent Gbagbo. Yopougon used to be his political stronghold.Although some of the evictions had been planned before the African Cup of Nations, which Ivory Coast hosted in mid-February, the authorities preferred to push them back until after the tournament.Despite the criticism, Bacongo Cisse has stood firm.”You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs… In Abidjan, as with Kigali, it’s possible,” said his communications team, drawing a parallel with the Rwandan capital, one of the continent’s cleanest cities.”Insanitary conditions are not inevitable.”