Society

From Abidjan To New Orleans, Shaking Out The Origins Of Twerking

Popularized by raucous music videos, sometimes considered quasi pornographic, this phenomenon has its origins in the ancestral Afro-descendant dances and advocates the liberation of the body.

PARIS — "Make your butt jump like a pancake! Did we come here to sit and hide it or to show it?"

Patricia Badin, 49, a particularly energetic twerking teacher, is leading a class at the FGO Barbara Center located in the vibrant Parisian district of Barbès: micro-shorts, sequined bras, sneakers, knee pads slipped under high socks — the armada of dancers sport the de rigueur outfit to do their twerking.

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China's 'Stadium Diplomacy,' A Winning Formula In Africa

For decades now, Beijing has been generating good will — and gaining privileged economic access — by donating and renovating sports facilities in select African nations.

EBIMPÉ — Brand spanking new, and in the eye-catching shape of a bird's nest, a massive Olympic stadium has now taken its place in the political history of the Ivory Coast.

Located north of Abidjan in the city of Ebimpé, the 60,000-capacity structure is an emblem of modern architecture. And it recently hosted several famous politicians and African pop stars who, at the behest of current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, sang and celebrated the life of his honorary "son," the late Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko, who died of cancer on March 20 in Germany.

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Ahmed The Elephant, A Mystic Man-v-Nature Tale In Ivory Coast

The pachyderm was believed to have special powers, but was also seen as dangerous, and ultimately was transferred to a nature reserve. What does his story tell us?

BOUAKÉ — Despite his imposing size and dark gray skin, Ahmed the elephant passes almost unnoticed in the vast wooded savannah of the N'Zi nature reserve, northeast of the city of Bouaké. Karl Diakité, operations manager at N'Zi River Lodge, the reserve's ecotourism center, lowers his voice to a whisper as he describes the elephant's daily routine: "He has found a watering place, and feeds on roots, branches and bark. He's adapting himself gently to his new habitat."

Diakité is whispering because the elephant is only about 20 meters away. Trackers and rangers are also close by to ensure the safety of both the animal and that of nearby villages. The reserve is soon to be fenced off on 25,000 of its 41,000 hectares.

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COVID-19 In Ivory Coast, Where Social Distancing Is Nearly Impossible

Self-quarantining is a concept incompatible with a culture that helps the sick and greets them with open arms.

ABIDJAN — Ousmane is bored stiff in his family's courtyard. Stuck at home since March 16th when Ivorian schools closed for 30 days, the young man seems paralyzed by the threat of COVID-19. He hardly goes out anymore and says he scrupulously respects every government decree, including the particularly difficult one of keeping at least one meter between yourself and other people in public places.

"I'm very careful; This disease scares me. I try to stay away from others, but once I get home to the yard, it's impossible. In the evenings, there are over a hundred of us living here: the Compaoré, the Kouanda, the Zangré," explains the young Abidjanese, pointing to each of the twenty-two small houses planted around this courtyard. Many of the small houses are too hot and too badly ventilated to keep anyone inside for the entire day.

Today, with just nine confirmed cases, the Ivory Coast is not yet on lockdown. Suspected cases entering the country are theoretically quarantined in one of 2,000 rooms provided specifically for the epidemic. But the first isolations are already being tested — and subsequently stopped — by the Ivorian government. And if even the state can't isolate 200 to 300 people properly, some worry about what will happen next.

In Abidjan, capital of Ivory Coast, life happens outside. There are many gathering places and constant congestion in the hundreds of wôrô-wôrô (collective taxis) but, above all, in the thousands of gbaka, the small vans converted into buses, where passengers continue to pile in every day. These places, already suspected of harboring highly contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, are once again being singled out.

"Who will help us live?"

Yet these means of transport — always crowded — are 10 times cheaper than a private taxi. What choice do citizens have? Biata Compaoré, who shares the same courtyard as Ousmane, is full of dismay. "We're obligated to use them to pick up our goods at the port," says the shopkeeper, who is nonetheless very aware of the risks involved.

"In Africa, distancing yourself from others is a luxury."

"In Africa, distancing yourself from others is a luxury," says Francis Akindès, a sociologist and professor at the University of Bouaké. In today's urban Ivory Coast, contact is omnipresent. "If you add that 46% of the population here lives below the poverty line, you can imagine how many poor people are living on top of each other."

Traders can still work at the Anono market in Abidjan, although the mayors of each district now have the freedom to close down these essential hubs, responsible for providing many families, if they so wish. This is beginning to worry Esther, a telephone saleswoman, with a mask on her face and a bottle of hydro-alcoholic gel on the stall. "If they decide to close everything and then lock us up, who will help us to live? If we don't work, the Ivorian state won't be able to support us like in France or Italy," she says. "We really can't afford to stay at home here."

Muslim worshipers in Abidjan in 2018 — Yvan Sonh/Xinhua via ZUMA

With a population of 25 million, Ivory Coast has a 92% rate of non-official employment (i.e. without a contract), which means life takes on a day-to-day dimension. The closure of certain economic sites and the potential confinement of the population would be catastrophic, according to anthropologist Issiaka Koné. "In Africa, we don't have a work-at-home culture; People won't do anything anymore. It will put a strain on the family budget and the cost will be exorbitant for the population." According to Koné, this loss of income could even generate "petty crime" if this already fragile population becomes even more disadvantaged.

For the moment, only a few people can be seen wearing masks in the streets of Abidjan. "If people don't have a loved one affected by the disease, they don't believe in it. There is a kind of disbelief towards the phenomenon and the measures aren't being respected," says Francis Akindès, drawing on his research from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa between 2013 and 2016.

There's something that worries him in particular about the local customs: "Everyone visits the sick, shakes their hand, wishes them a speedy recovery and gives them money," the sociologist explains. "It's a culture of sharing, speaking out and compassion. Socialization is everywhere." Confining oneself or withdrawing from society is unacceptable, financially and culturally.

Everyone visits the sick, shakes their hand, wishes them a speedy recovery and gives them money.

Even during the country's violent political crisis in 2002, Ivorians found it difficult to confine themselves to their homes. "Soldiers were on the streets and the curfew between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. was generally respected. But on the weekends, the middle class organized parties. there was a resistance to confinement as a deprivation of liberty. Living alone is looked down upon. It's considered to be living "like a white man" or is "morally poor," Akindès explains.

"Here, we say that family is invasive but we can't — and won't — live otherwise," continues Issiaka Koné. "The relationship between the individual and the community is a very African ambiguity: Its principals oppress us, but we need it when times are bad."

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Geopolitics
Youenn Gourlay

Ivory Coast Tries To Keep Terrorists From Crossing Border

They shall not pass: Since July, soldiers have stepped up patrols along the country's 1,600-km border with Mali and Burkina Faso.

KORHOGO — It's a delicate operation. Commander Roland Seahet of Gohouo repeats the instructions to the Fourth Battalion of Korhogo, a city in the north of the Ivory Coast. "Be vigilant and ready for combat," he says. "Have the men been deployed to the border? Have the positions been secured?"

In the Burkina Faso forest of Dida, along the Ivorian border, a sweeping operation is underway this October following an aerial military bombardment aimed at potential jihadists. "The Burkinabés shot at suspects," the commander explains. "We don't want them to flee and find refuge in Ivorian territory."

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LA STAMPA
Marco Bresolin

In Ivory Coast, Stars Campaign To Keep People From Emigrating

ABIDJAN — Jumping and dancing to the rhythm of the popular urban music zouglou, they snap pictures on their smartphones of their idols performing onstage. Always smiling and never sitting still, Ivory Coast's millennials have been nicknamed the "génération pressée pressée," the generation that is always in a rush.

Young Ivorians are dynamic and curious, and restless to leave their home country to explore a world they have so far only seen on TV. On a Sunday in late November, a free concert in Abidjan's sports stadium attracted many spectators. The country's largest city and financial capital hosted a show featuring some of the most popular Ivorian stars, including the band Magic System and the Ivorian soccer legend Didier Drogba. They all came together to send one message to their young fans, many of them eager to make the illegal journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to a better life in Europe: Don't go.

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Economy
Olivier Monnier and Ben Stupples

African Cashew Farmers Cash In On Lactose-Intolerant Americans

Salty-snack junkies, the lactose-intolerant and lovers of Asian food are providing an economic boost for farmers in the war-torn northern provinces of Ivory Coast.

ABIDJAN — The West African country is poised to surpass India as the world's top grower of cashews. Ivory Coast output has tripled in the past decade, including a jump after the civil war ended in 2011, industry data show. At the same time, prices have rallied as global exports surged along with rising consumption in the U.S., China and India. Long a staple in Asian cooking, the nut increasingly is eaten raw as a snack, and companies like WhiteWave Foods Co. use it to make non-dairy beverages and ice cream.

While people still consume far more peanuts — not technically a nut but treated like one — cashews have become a relative bargain among tree nuts such as pistachios, walnuts and hazelnuts. Almonds surged to records over the past two years during a prolonged drought in California, the biggest grower. Ivory Coast, already the world's top cocoa exporter, saw the value of its cashew shipments rise almost 50% this year to become the nation's second-most valuable crop. "Cashew nuts are now the cheapest tree nuts on the market," Pierre Ricau, an agriculture market analyst at N'Kalô Market Intelligence Services of Rongead, a non-profit providing agriculture assistance in developing countries, said in an interview from Lyon, France. "The snack market keeps developing, but the industry has the wind in its sails when it comes to ingredient usage."

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Sources
Joan Tilouine

The 'Black Jackie Kennedy' In Ivory Coast Inheritance Battle

BOSSEY — Her elegance dazzled the world's most powerful men. When she stood next to her late husband Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Ivory Coast's first president who served from 1960 to 1993, it was impossible not to notice the graceful Marie-Thérèse.

"Everywhere I went, I would transcend," says the former first lady, now 84. "Besides, he did choose me for my beauty."

Still smiling, she adds, "I was also Pope John expand=1] Paul II"s favorite."

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Economy
Frédéric Therin

Because No One Wants To Imagine A World Without Chocolate

Too small and not productive enough, cocoa plantations can no longer meet global demand. Industrialists are intervening to help the farmers and save an indulgence beloved the world over.

MUNICH — Andreas Jacobs and Paul Polman want to change working conditions and pay around the the world. But they're not human rights activists or union officials. They are instead captains of the chocolate industry, which is struggling to keep up with global demand because cocoa planters are suffering from poor pay and lack of modern production.

"It's time to put an end to this system in which money and profits are stuck on one side of the chain while people on the other side are still living in extreme poverty," explains Jacobs, head of multinational consumer goods company Unilever.

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blog

Fearing Ebola, Owners Abandon Pets In The Ivory Coast

As the Ebola epidemic continues to sweep across West Africa, fear is so great that people have begun to abandon their pet big cats and monkeys out of panic, leading local zoos to take in these animals to prevent potential spread of the deadly virus.

The AFP visited one Ivory Coast zoo where vets have created a quarantine zone, with cages of animals in isolation to prevent exposure to the virus. Though none of the animals appears infected with Ebola, the zoo is keeping them isolated out of precaution because they don't know all the animals' history.

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blog
Maureen Grisot

The Heavy Lifting To Save Ivory Coast's Endangered Elephants

DALOA — The Ivory Coast was on the verge of losing its last forest elephants. It is a risk with some bitter irony, as elephants are the emblem of the nation.

So a rescue operation like those already carried out in Zambia and Malawi, but unprecedented in West Africa, was launched at the end of July: the transfer of several of the pachyderms — five tons each — from the outskirts of Daloa, in the center of the county, 400 kilometers further south to the Azagny National Park.

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Sources
Maureen Grisot

Cocoa Farming vs. Chimpanzees In Ivory Coast

In Ivory Coast, the world's biggest source of cocoa beans, illegal cultivation has spread into Mont Péko National Park, threatening both wildlife and the well-being of children.

DUÉKOUÉ — Hamidou Ouedraogo doesn’t need his machete anymore to get through the Mont Péko National Park, in the Ivory Coast town of Duékoué. Where trees over 40 meters tall used to stand, there are now only burnt out remains.

“Cocoa doesn’t like trees, so we burned them," says the Burkinabé planter, seemingly apologetic as he assures us that he’d only heard a few months ago he was exploiting a protected area.

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Geopolitics

Sixty Dead, Hundreds Injured in Ivory Coast Stampede

CONNECTION IVORIENNE (Ivory Coast), BBC (UK)

Worldcrunch

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eyes on the U.S.
Venance Konan*

Four Years Later, Obama's African "Brothers" Give Him Mixed Marks

-Essay-

On September 18, I was returning from Benin where I had been presenting my latest book, and came to the Aneho border crossing, on the Togo side.

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