A Brief History of Abidjan


Abidjan was a village in 1898, became a town in 1903, and was a rail terminus from 1904, although it depended on the wharf at Port-Bouët on the sandbar's ocean shore. The Petit-Bassam Wharf, the current Port Bouët, south of the metropolitan area, grew rapidly in competition with the Grand-Bassam Wharf. In 1904, when Bingerville had not yet been completed, Abidjan became the economic center of the Côte d'Ivoire colonies, a primary relay point for distribution of European goods further inland, notably by an increasingly important Lebanese community.

In 1931, the Plateau and Treichville (which became Commikro, "the city of clerks") were roughly connected by a floating bridge at the place du pont Houphouët Boigny. In this year, the first of the street addresses of Abidjan were set up. In 1933, Abidjan succeeded Bingerville as the capital of the French colony.

In years 1940 between 1950, like Cairo, Tangier and Istanbul, Abidjan became a part of popular imagination as a nest for spies and criminals. The Vridi Canal, completed in 1951, opened the lagoon to the sea, and the city soon became the shipping and financial center of French-speaking West Africa. After independence, in 1960, Abidjan retained its status as capital. The southern areas of Treichville, towards the international airport and the beaches, became the district for Europeans and middle class Abidjanians. The Cocody district (famous for the movie Le Gentleman de Cocody by Jean Marais) became an upper-class political district which contained the presidential residence, the French Embassy, the Ivory Hotel, and since 2006, the largest United States Embassy in Africa.

Abidjan entered a long economic boom which lasted until the 1980s, earning it the name "Paris of Africa." With elegant casinos and world-class hotels, the city billed itself as the safest and most desirable tourist destination in West Africa. But in 1983, Yamoussoukro, a town located about 170 miles (274km) to the northwest, became the new capital of Côte d'Ivoire under president Felix Houphouët-Boigny, who wanted to transform his native village into the Brasilia of the African Savannah. Abidjan entered into a decline in the 1990s, characterized by run-down infrastructure and a growth of pollution, blamed on negligent civil servants, political infighting following Houphouët-Boigny’s death, and high levels of corruption.

Since 1999, the city has suffered from the chaos and economic dislocation caused by civil war in the north Ivory Coast, political tumult, and flight of capital. Large working class zones of migrants were the location of the anti-French riots of November 2004. On September 6, 2006, hundreds of people protested in the streets following the deaths of two children who had inhaled fumes from toxic waste. Côte d'Ivoire fell into civil war in September 2002. Although most of the fighting ended by late 2004, the country remained split in two, with a rebel-held north and a government-held south. Both French troops and UN forces were brought in, in an attempt to secure peace. A peace agreement to end the conflict was signed in March 2007, however there continues to be instability. The crime rate has increased as a result of poor economic conditions, an influx of weapons and refugees from neighboring Liberia, and urban migration. Burglaries commonly occur at residences, restaurants, and small businesses. Petty theft is prevalent throughout Abidjan and armed gangs are a growing problem.

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