Grand-Bas­sam looks to the fu­ture on cen­te­nary

The China Post - - LIFE - BY CHRISTOPHE KOFFI

Grand-Bas­sam’s or­nate colo­nial build­ings are a strik­ing sym­bol of France’s one­time rule over Ivory Coast, but of­fi­cials in the for­mer cap­i­tal say its glory days are yet to come.

While some lo­cal ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sures have been re­stored, many of the el­e­gant arched door­ways, pil­lars and ve­ran­das of the city’s French quar­ter are crum­bling into ru­ins — and con­serv­ing the colo­nial fa­cades that won the town UNESCO World Her­itage sta­tus is a pri­or­ity in 2015, its cen­ten­nial year.

But au­thor­i­ties say they’re fo­cused on build­ing a fu­ture for Grand-Bas­sam, home to 80,000 peo­ple, as well as try­ing to pre­serve its past.

A brand new uni­ver­sity has sprung up, while the mayor hopes a planned biotech­nol­ogy cen­ter will bring a touch of Sil­i­con Val­ley to the sleepy sea­side re­sort.

“For us, the cel­e­bra­tion of the cen­te­nary sig­nals the re­nais­sance of the his­tor­i­cal town,” said the king of Grand-Bas­sam Amon Ta­noe. Clad in a mul­ti­col­ored loin­cloth with a long golden chain around his neck, the for­mer diplo­mat holds the city’s tra­di­tional lead­er­ship and pre­sides along­side mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­i­ties.

The city is mark­ing its cen­te­nary in 2015 — 100 years af­ter it was de­clared Ivory Coast’s first ad­min­is­tra­tive mu­nic­i­pal­ity — even though it was founded as a trad­ing post on the Gulf of Guinea years ear­lier.

French rulers turned GrandBas­sam, which lies 35 kilo­me­ters (22 miles) east of Ivory Coast’s cur­rent com­mer­cial hub Abid­jan, into the cap­i­tal in the last decade of the 19th cen­tury, un­til an epi­demic of yel­low fever in 1899 killed two thirds of the colo­nial set­tlers.

Bingerville took over as cap­i­tal in 1900, fol­lowed by Abid­jan in 1934. Ya­mous­soukro, a small farm­ing town where found­ing pres­i­dent Felix Houphouet-Boigny was born, was then named cap­i­tal and de­vel­oped in 1983, 23 years af­ter the end of French rule.

Th­ese days Grand-Bas­sam dozes in the sun­shine dur­ing the week, be­fore liven­ing up at the week­end when city folk come to re­fresh them­selves on the beach and steep them­selves in its his­tory. But change is com­ing. “To­day we have large projects to turn Bas­sam back into a ma­jor devel­op­ment cen­ter, just as it was dur­ing the start of the build­ing of mod­ern Ivory Coast,” the king of Grand-Bas­sam told AFP.

Cry­ing Out for Con­ser­va­tion

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have their work cut out.

An enor­mous mango

tree has burst up through the three-story Ho­tel de France, where small ven­dors now spread out their wares on the floor of what was once the lobby.

The coun­try’s first court­house, built in 1893, has fallen into ruin, only sec­tions of its wall re­main­ing, cov­ered in graf­fiti and fenced off with a view to restora­tion.

“We must look af­ter Bas­sam as a his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ment,” said 99-year-old nov­el­ist and one­time cul­ture min­is­ter Bernard Dadie, who grew up in the for­mer colo­nial cap­i­tal and pub­lished a novel about it, “Clim­bie,” in 1956.

Some places are cry­ing out for con­ser­va­tion, in­clud­ing a nar­row al­ley­way, brim­ming with trees and flow­ers, that snakes be­tween beau­ti­ful ren­o­vated build­ings. The al­ley opens onto the for­mer veg­etable mar­ket, an area that now serves as a fo­cus for cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties.

In the French quar­ter, which lies be­tween the sea and an in­land stretch of la­goon, some streets are still named af­ter fa­mous colonists. Wide boule­vards honor Mar­cel Tre­ich-Lap­lene, the town’s first ad­min­is­tra­tor, and for­mer Gov. Gabriel An­goul­vant.

“We have to ac­cept the fact that this was the place where the colo­nial his­tory of our coun­try was an­chored,” said Grand-Bas­sam Mayor Ge­orges Philippe Eza­ley.

A photo ex­hi­bi­tion in honor of the cen­te­nary fea­tures por­traits of long-gone colo­nial fig­ures, in­clud­ing Tre­ich-Lap­lene.

‘Our Sil­i­con Val­ley’

While Grand-Bas­sam may be a show­piece of the past, most of its in­hab­i­tants live out­side the his­toric dis­trict and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have am­bi­tious plans for this part too.

A good ex­am­ple is the re­cently built In­ter­na­tional Uni­ver­sity of Grand-Bas­sam, a pri­vately owned in­sti­tu­tion with its name sign­posted in English, an un­ex­pected sight for vis­i­tors on the way into town.

Grand-Bas­sam is also poised to host a Vil­lage of In­for­ma­tion Tech­nolo­gies and Biotech­nol­ogy (Vitib), which would be “our Sil­i­con Val­ley, the tech­no­log­i­cal show­case of west Africa,” Mayor Eza­ley said en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

For­mer cul­ture min­is­ter Dadie is more cau­tious, who wor­ries that the his­toric town where he grew up is un­der attack from “un­con­trolled devel­op­ment,”

But the town is also un­der a dif­fer­ent threat: ram­pant ero­sion that is swiftly eat­ing away at the coast­line. Na­tional au­thor­i­ties have promised Grand-Bas­sam a dike in a bid to pro­tect its her­itage.

“This is the price of turn­ing Bas­sam into a keep­sake for Ivory Coast’s mem­o­ries and launch­ing it into the fu­ture,” the mayor said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Taiwan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.