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A day in the life of Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire

By Sidibé Oumar in Korhogo
Posted on Wednesday, 21 July 2010 13:23

670km north of Abidjan, daily life brings trials large and small for Ballo Oumar, an Ivorian labourer.

You can enter Korhogo easily, like slicing a melon. It is a welcoming city of 155,000 people and the market, held every five days, drives much of the activity. The stalls there are piled with clothes, shoes and food, especially the different types of flour that are found throughout the region. It is a market where you can find almost anything.

Korhogo, capital of the Ivorian savannah, is 670km

north of Abidjan, the economic capital. Affectionately called the city

of poro, meaning both an educational institution and a centuries-old

initiation rite, Korhogo is home to the Sénoufou people. At the heart

of northern Côte d’Ivoire, it is equidistant from Mali and Burkina

Faso. A commercial town, its Tchédal market is crowded with people. The

murmuring of generators – made in China – provide a rhythmic soundtrack

to the market due to the national load-shedding programme which has

made them a necessity.

The heat is stifling. A woman sweats in huge drops, and she is not the only one. The shoemaker quenches his thirst with some hastily-bought water. The town still carries the scars of the first hours of the Ivorian rebellion.Ballo Oumar walks around the streets of Korhogo during his many empty hours. He passes by the Pari Mutuelle Urbain betting shop to try his luck.

He takes a quick look at the newspapers to get an idea of the news and check if there are any job advertisements. He then stops by his grin, or circle of friends, leading to a round of green tea and a discussion of the day’s news. With stories about the French national identity debate, Oumar “wants to believe that the French authorities know how to navigate the contours of the ambiguous concept, to avoid similar ideas to those that turned Ivorian people against each other.”?

It is Korhogo’s market day, when all sorts of business is done. Oumar, like many men there, is “ground down”. He has been in and out of work for the last couple of years after the cotton ginning plant where he worked shut down. He now unloads onions from Niger and sometimes melons from Mali, smuggled cooking oil, sacks of sugar and motorbikes.

Is he the only Ivorian labourer of this type? “Of course not,” says Oumar, “there are Ivorians, but most of the workers are people from neighbouring countries who have come to make their fortunes in Côte d’Ivoire, which was considered the engine of West Africa before the politico-military crisis … at the point that people were still talking about the Ivorian miracle.” He says that because he has to put his two children through school, he has to swallow his pride and find any work that he can.

The last couple of months have been characterised by concerns about voters rolls and national polls. “I know that politics have become polarised and even dominated by the political crisis which followed the dissolution of the government of national unity and the Commission Eléctorale Indépendante. But the power cuts and the rationing of water are becoming a real catastrophe that paralyses even the most essential economic activities of our city and the savannah region.”

This article was first published in The Africa Report’s April-May edition.

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