Abidjan, Ivory Coast

by Kouamé Appessika


The growth of Abidjan – and, therefore, its slums – is associated with three phases. During the first phase, from the 1930s to the 1950s, Abidjan was set up as the colonial capital, economically linked to the Abidjan–Niger railway. The town consisted of three areas: the administrative centre and European quarters of Le Plateau, and two African districts: Treichville and Adjamé.

The second phase is associated with a number of socioeconomic stimuli, including the opening of the Vridi canal and a deep-water port during the 1950s, and the establishment of industrial zones in the south-west and the commensurate growth of popular residential areas in the south.

The third phase is associated with sustained demographic growth from the 1960s onwards, and the emergence of new popular residential areas at the urban periphery.

Topographical factors, such as plateaux rising to 50 metres, added to spatial segregation of the urban area, placing major obstacles to urban structuring and functioning and considerable spatial imbalances between residential and working areas.

Slum dwellers represent one fifth of the Abidjan population. In response to a 1988 survey on why households chose to stay in slum areas, 23.7 per cent refused to answer. Among those who did answer, 69 per cent cited the cheaper cost of living; because they were born there or family lived in the slum (18 per cent); and proximity to work (8 per cent).

The case study recognizes three types of slums by area characteristics:

1 Areas distinguishable from formal residential areas only by their illegal land occupation forms: they primarily contain buildings of permanent materials and fair basic infrastructure. An example of such
neighbourhoods is Zoe Bruno.

2 Poorly structured areas: these areas have more buildings of non-permanent materials and lower levels of infrastructure provision (for example, Vridi Canal, Zimbabwe and Blingue).

3 Irregular areas with largely non-permanent structures: these areas have little, if any, infrastructure (for example, Alliodan).

Similar to the tenure type of the Abidjan population at large, the majority of slum residents (75 per cent) are tenants, 18.7 per cent are owner occupiers and 5.8 per cent stay free of charge.

In 1995, the urban population of Abidjan had grown to 2.7 million, with an annual growth rate of 5 per cent (down from 11 per cent during the 1970s) and with a transnational demographic collection basin spanning a large area of West Africa. Despite the slowing down of growth, the numbers of urban poor, in absolute terms, will continue to rise in the foreseeable future.

The residents of slum quarters are highly heterogeneous, with 40 per cent of Ivory Coast origin; 20 per cent from Burkina Faso; 9 per cent from Mali; 9 per cent from Ghana; and Togo and Bénin accounting for 12.3 per cent. The density in slums varies from one area to another: Zimbabwe lies at the top with 340 inhabitants per hectare; Zoé Bruno has 254.5 inhabitants per hectare; and Vridi- Canal has 206 inhabitants per hectare. Blingué has the least dense concentration of 69.6 inhabitants per hectare. On the whole, slums are stigmatized and are the focus of unfavourable prejudice as dens of highwaymen, drug addicts and the hangouts of impoverished foreigners who are incapable of living within the city legally.

Although the authorities previously dealt with slums through outright clearance, slums are, today, the focus of sustained development efforts. Since the 1980s, slum regularization has been implemented with assistance from the World Bank, aiming at:

basic infrastructure provision;

improvement of land security;

development of economic activities; and

promotion of community development.

This new context provides more tolerance and, to some extent, prevents slum clearance. A shortcoming is the ad hoc nature of these interventions and the relative lack of participatory approaches.

Although public authorities’ urban interventions have led to progress in some areas – notably, in the accessibility of social services – these efforts over the past few years have fallen well behind of expectations. In the absence of a comprehensive public policy on urban restructuring, slum regularization and the genuine involvement of all stakeholders, the slum issues to be faced and the number of poor will both remain significant. Unless public policy addresses the issues in a comprehensive manner, drawing on the capabilities and will of all stakeholders, many of the developmental efforts may remain largely marginal.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.
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2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh