Where are the leaves we cut?

 

A stranger met an African on the edge of the lagoon and asked, «What is the name of this place?» However, the local did not understand the language of the stranger and believed that he was asked to explain what he was doing. He said, «T’chan m’bi djan,» which meant: I have just cut leaves. The stranger understood «Abidjan» and mistakenly thought that this was the answer to his question. According to legend, this is how the economic capital of the Ivory Coast came to its name.

Today, Abidjan has become a mega-city, a chimera cast in concrete that hovers over the dark brackish water of the Ebrié Lagoon. Its ambitions are reflected in epithets such as the «Paris of Africa» or the «Manhattan of Africa». With its shiny boutiques and restaurants, large garbage dumps and glass skyscrapers, conflicts between tradition and modernity, between poor and rich, Abidjan shares the same contrasts with many other metropolises around the world. These contrasts are all the more impressive as you approach the city from the north, coming from the savannah, with its evergreen fauna and fiery red soil, its villages with palm thatch roofs and termite mounds taller than men.

The 21st century will be the century of African cities: the first urban area with a population reaching one hundred million people is expected to be on this continent, and it will have more inhabitants than California or France. Where will Abidjan be at the end of this century? It continues to grow, incessantly eating up land and lagoon, square metre by square metre, in all those places where not so long ago people had wandered around and unhurriedly cut leaves…