Abidjan is a urban giant, ebullient, sprawling.
With an exponential growth, the town, with more than 5 million people, is the biggest urban center of the whole western Africa and concentrate about 20% of the population of Ivory Coast. Being a cultural crossroad, Abidjan keeps irrigating through its port and thousands of containers the neighboring countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, ….).
After the Ivory Coast miracle in the 70’s based on coffee and cocoa cropping, the country is now stuck since 2002 in a political, and then economical, crisis which do not seem to end with the presidential election being postponed years after years. Refugees from the north rush in the capital, joining the economical migrants who, as wherever in Africa, leave the countryside to, often, end up in the slums. In 2008, half of the Ivory Coast population was living on less than 1€ a day (source ENV 2008).
Do the middle classes really exist in Abidjan ? With between 1 and 7€ per person and per day, their income could seem pathetic to the occidental standards. However, they live far better than the poor (1€ or less a day) and can not be compared to the rich minority. Often coming from numerous and rural families, their education brought them in town and allowed them to emerge. For most of them, they have a steady job allowing them to build up their future, live in a flat with electricity, TV, fridge, …. and invest in their children’s education, sending them to private school if they feel it is necessary. Upon this definition, they represent 30% of the country’s population and hold 40% of its wealth.
However, life is not simple : above the economic recession, the globalization can be felt in particular through the up and downs of the oil and food prices, affecting the families budget instantaneously. Furthermore, they are the ones on which corruption is harshest, and they have to show extraordinary business skills to manage their way : a PhD student investing all her scholarship to create a cyber coffee, a businessman with no education which run a network of photocopy machine reparation shops, a German teacher with the same scrawny paycheck for 15 years, who can just dream about buying the flat her family leaves in…
Having understood that the State cannot, like before, guarantee them a decent job, they see state working as a stepping stone with stable income to launch private, side activities (”gombos”), which if they are talented could become something big: “Future is not within an office!”
Let’s meet middle classes of Abidjan…