By Paul Ndiho
August 22, 2011
Projects to repair Ivory Coast’s roadways will spur a surge in demand for bitumen, boosting returns for a local producer of the road making material. But some Ivorians are concerned that the infrastructure expansion could leave some people without homes and business space as the government makes new roads. Paul Ndiho reports.
Ivory Coast is emerging this year from the civil war that erupted during the election dispute between former president Laurent Gbagbo and current President Alassane Ouattara.
The crisis deterred investment and delayed infrastructure improvements, but President Ouattara has made restoring services his top priority. Projects are underway to upgrade power stations, repair roads, expand the SIR oil refinery and increase oil production. Thomas Camara is director general of Bituman, the sole producer for road in West and Central Africa
“We have received many orders that we are currently delivering for the rehabilitation of the roads. At the moment, we are waiting for the beginning of the construction of the North highway, which will need a lot of bitumen. So we are waiting for that project to start, and other construction projects that were announced.”
But tensions are high in the leafy, palm fringed Abidjan suburb of Deux Plateaux, where construction workers are busy demolishing rows of colorfully painted shops that sold flowers or fashion accessories. Jean Noel Aba voted for President Ouattara – but that was before authorities shut down his furniture shop, which employed 27 people.
“I voted for him, I like him a lot. I don’t even regret that he chased us, but he promised us reconstruction and if he doesn’t, it will make me very angry and I will not vote for him again,”
Bulldozers have leveled the “Rue Princess” in the city’s crowded Yopougon district, once crammed with bars and night clubs pumping out loud Zouglou music and serving drinks.
In an address to Ivory Coast ahead of Independence Day last week, Ouattara pledged to destroy illegal settlements that block the city’s drainage during seasonal heavy rains. Analysts say scores of Ivorians die every year in flash floods because of illegal construction on flood plains.
But tell that to Adama Kone, a car wash worker whose roadside house in the chic Riviera suburb near the lagoon was flattened by bulldozers.
“It’s just so hard in Abidjan these days. We just came from a war, and after the war, people don’t have money. Even I, personally, I owe three or four months in rent on my house. Since the war ended, I would like to work again to be able to pay the bills, but when they come and demolish our houses like this, what am I suppose to do?”
Squatters say they were allowed to keep their illegal settlements in the past by making payments to authorities during the Gbagbo administration. Political observers say the demolitions could hurt Mr. Ouattara in parliamentary elections later this year, though his opposition is in disarray and probably pose little political threat.