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.
Recent images broadcast on CNN of a migrant camp in Libya, showing refugees chained and enslaved, served as a wake-up call in this corner of West Africa. In one single day in late November, 321 Ivorians returned home from Libya, taking advantage of a joint program of the United Nations and the European Union, which has helped 12,000 migrants return safely to their home countries. Despite the increase in returnees, an estimated 7,000 Ivorian migrants remain trapped in Libyan refugee camps in infernal conditions.
We may have little to eat here, but at least we have some.
"We don't need to be humiliated to achieve well-being, so let's seek it at home," shouts Asalfo, Magic System's frontman. Culture Minister Maurice Bandaman then takes the microphone on the stage. "We may have little to eat here, but at least we have some," he says. "We've created two million jobs and we'll keep creating more, it's always better than being enslaved in Libya or dying in the Mediterranean."
Anywhere else, such remarks might appear insensitive, but here they are received with applause from the large crowd. Protesters cheer, holding up signs against illegal emigration.
Photo: Magic System via Twitter
After the minister's speech, the evening's true star, Didier Drogba, appears on stage, wearing a hat that says, "Don't care to be a star." He urges his compatriots to stay positive: "With the EU-Africa summit hosted here in late November, we have a unique chance to have our voices heard," he says. "Every problem has a solution."
That may be easy to say for an extremely wealthy man in a country where 46% of the population lives under the international poverty line. While Ivory Coast boasts Africa's fastest-growing economy, with a GDP growth rate of 8%, the number of citizens living in poverty is rising and life expectancy hovers around 52, the lowest in West Africa.
Ivorians were the fourth-largest group among foreign arrivals on Italian shores in 2017, with around 7,700 making the journey to Italy. Only one in 10 was granted asylum, with the rest deemed economic migrants and ordered to leave.
They're victims of illusions peddled by smugglers.
"We're only treated well at home," says the zouglou star JC Pluriel. "We must try to improve conditions here through our work, that's the only thing that sets us free."
Many Ivorians who leave for Europe already have jobs but decide to leave anyway. "I know many people who left their jobs to go to Europe, they're victims of illusions peddled by smugglers," says Agriculture Minister Sangafowa Coulibaly. "Of course, lack of opportunity here is still a problem."
Ivory Coast is the world's leading cocoa producer, with 35% of global production, but Coulibaly laments that the industry has been using the same methods for 50 years. The EU, the top consumer and importer of cocoa, is funding projects to foster innovation in the sector.
European flags line the streets that lead to the center of Abidjan. Among locals, the perception is that the EU is bringing hope and money to this West African country. But underlying these expectations is a burning anger at the images from Libya.
"You Europeans have made a deal with criminals," says one local. "You are responsible."
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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