San Pedro, the small Ivorian town that dreams of modernity

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View of the port of San Pedro, Ivory Coast, September 13, 2016.

Tenon Kone, 34, a taxi driver, has high hopes for the newly opened university in San Pedro. He who ended his studies at the end of college hopes that his three children will pursue higher studies there, the promise for them of a future in the country, a way of escaping the mirage of exile in France. It is not Félix Anoblé who will deny it. Elected mayor in 2018, he fights to transform San Pedro into “Truly modern city, the most beautiful in Côte d’Ivoire”.

Without delay, he tackled the problem of sanitation to remedy the unsanitary conditions caused by the lack of maintenance of the networks and the marshy soil. And the needs are many: fifty years ago, San Pedro was still only a fishing village; today it is a sprawling city of nearly 400,000 inhabitants. Established in a vast marshy, hilly and lagoon area, it has extended well beyond its original site, which has been provided with mains services at great cost. It now spills over to the north into an area that is difficult to urbanize.

Séwéké, a district that the municipality plans to “completely raze” because it “no longer reflects the image that San Pedro wants to give”

Every Saturday, the operation “I love my city and I clean it” focuses on an urban sector. The population, led by its mayor or one of his deputies, is invited to clean the gutters and sweep the tracks. This citizen approach – suspended since the Covid-19 has raged – comes in addition to the efforts of the municipality on the subject. To compensate for the unsatisfactory work of the two national waste collection operators, the town hall has equipped itself with its own bins, which have been placed in the densest areas, and its own dump trucks to collect garbage.

Deputy in charge of the environment and public space, Rabé Danon likes to remind people that San Pedro is also “One of the rare town halls to have also set up a sanitation brigade, responsible for fighting against anarchic installations and incivism in the streets”.

Not content with being interested in maintenance, the city of San Pedro has also set out to create new rainwater harvesting channels in the Bardot, long described as the largest slum in West Africa, integrated into the municipality in 2011. Major electrification and sanitation works were then undertaken there. To continue this transformation, the municipality is now counting on the establishment of community spaces – areas for games, meetings, relaxation – which will create a collective and give residents a better image of their place of life. At the same time, new schools will be built to lighten the current structures where classes can have up to 90 students.

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On the other side of Boulevard Henri-Konan-Bédié, which crosses the city from north to south, Séwéké will bear the brunt of a radical transformation. The municipal team is planning, in its own words, “To completely raze this district which no longer reflects the image that San Pedro wants to give”. Instead of buildings deemed unhealthy, department stores, supermarkets and ultramodern homes will be erected, which will constitute “A city center, beautiful and chic”, assures Diomandé Messou, vice-president of the domain and town planning commission. The mayor plans, before building, to enhance this land now located below the level of the surrounding roads.

The first neighborhood built for workers, Séwéké now faces major drainage and sanitation problems which lead to regular flooding. Especially since the lowlands that surround it have been backfilled, on the port side to add truck parking, on the other to build a warehouse. The water is now stagnant in Séwéké, causing regular damage … “Before there were paved streets. Until 2000, it was good. But now the neighborhood is in a bind. It would be necessary to rethink all its sanitation ”, notes Franck, a resident.

HLMs for staff

Like him, his neighbors understand all the less that Séwéké has not been restored“Here there is life, insists Grace, a young woman in her twenties. People come to have fun at the stadium but also to eat, they appreciate our cuisine. And there is a good atmosphere, no violence: we are safe. Will there be life where they relocate us? “, she asks.

Narcissus, in his forties, is also worried despite promises of relocation. “Even if we are compensated for our house, of which we are mostly owners, we will never be able to afford the equivalent elsewhere”, he fears. The architects, urban planners and engineers, international as well as local, present at the workshops of the urban project management, which were held in March 2021 at the request of the ministry of the city and the municipality of San Pedro, nevertheless insisted on the heritage value of Séwéké.

To cope with the housing shortage, the municipality is considering the construction of a new town “Exemplary”: structured and eco-responsible. “The objective will be to respect nature there, to leave the rivers and the shallows alone. Or to develop them either for tourism, or for fish farming, urban agriculture “, pleads Félix Anoblé.

This is also where the town intends to strengthen its cultural facilities, with the opening of multipurpose rooms. Intended for executives in search of accommodation, this neighborhood in the making will have a few HLMs to house their staff, gardeners, drivers, laundries and guards. And prevent the creation of a slum nearby.

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A way of “making a city”, while avoiding increasing the economic and social fractures which are already strongly embedded in the occupation of space? “Sociologists and town planners will accompany us in all these developments, argues Diomandé Messou. And we are going to develop a bus network to connect all the districts of San Pedro. “ The project is ready, but it comes up against a simple reality: in San Pedro, only the main arteries are paved, and still many are severely degraded.

Natacha Koko, history and geography teacher, author of a thesis entitled “Environmental degradation and population health in San Pedro”, wonders if this new city should really be the priority. For her it would be better “First of all to strengthen what already exists: the old informal districts need to continue their integration and restructuring”. Without counting, she said, that“It is still possible to build in certain districts such as that of the university, which deserves to be considered rather than allowing wild, anarchic constructions to develop”. Decades of anarchic urbanization cannot be erased in just a few years …

This article was produced as part of a partnership with the Veolia Institute.

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Summary of our series “African cities facing their future”