With its wide avenues, large wooded areas, 70s architecture and smooth road traffic, Yamoussoukro, in the peaceful center of Côte d'Ivoire, is unlike any other city in the country.
It is the fruit of a dream, that of the first president of independent Côte d'Ivoire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, to make his native village of N'Gokro the capital of his country. Which was done on March 21, 1983.
Over the course of the XNUMXth century, the village became a real city and inherited a name in homage to Yamousso, Baoulé queen and great-aunt of "FHB".
"Félix Houphouët-Boigny first wanted to correct the colonial legacy that we had received to stop everything being concentrated in a single city (Abidjan)", explains to AFP Jean-Noël Loucou, secretary general of the Félix Houphouët Foundation. Boigny, a research institute on peace issues.
"By creating this capital, the idea was to show the African genius with a particular architecture, without large buildings with a lot of green spaces", he adds.
Forty years later, the city is very large and has some 300.000 inhabitants. But still very few institutions.
The heart of Ivorian politics still beats in the coastal south, in Abidjan, only the Senate and the National Chamber of Kings and Traditional Chiefs having moved.
However, political incantations have not been lacking since the death of the founding father in 1993.
Laurent Gbagbo, president from 2000 to 2011, had even launched major projects to build a National Assembly and a presidential palace there. But the two sites are now abandoned, overgrown with vegetation.
"The will to transfer the capital to Yamoussoukro exists. It is the means that are lacking. As a local authority, we do not have the means to go into debt internationally, so we are forced to choose profitable financing that generates money themselves. But I am hopeful that it will happen one day," regional governor Augustin Thiam told AFP.
"Yamoussoukro is not yet the capital of Côte d'Ivoire. But it is out of the question to create a capital from scratch. There are many things to evaluate, quantify, before moving on to the realization “, he adds from the gardens of the residence of President Houphouët, his great-uncle.
For the time being, Yamoussoukro remains one of the country's main tourist attractions, in particular thanks to its basilica, inspired by that of Saint Peter's in Rome and which is the tallest Catholic religious building in the world with its 158 meters in height. .
Lac aux Caïmans, which borders the imposing residence of Houphouët, also attracts the curious who observe the dozens of saurians lounging on the banks, in the heart of the city.
"Crossroads" of the country
"Houphouët tried to build Yamoussoukro little by little around three pillars, education with large schools, religion with the basilica, and tourism. The position of the city is strategic, it is a big crossroads in the center of the country. Everyone passes by there", summarizes Nanan Kouassi Konan, chief of the neighboring village of Kami, one of the "cradles" of the ex-president.
The saturation and tumult of Abidjan with its 6 million inhabitants could also push more and more Ivorians to go back to Yamoussoukro.
Serge Pokou, hotelier and farmer, took the plunge a few years ago with his family.
"I naturally opted for the calm of Yamoussoukro which is a mix of modern city and countryside, imbued with a preserved African culture. The geometry of the main arteries, the lush green spaces, the surprising buildings maintain the calm, the charm and the splendor of the city", he appreciates.
It also remains to build a real economic fabric around the capital beyond tourism. The future creation of an industrial zone is therefore promising.
"We expect economic benefits because the capital has to live, so there needs to be activities. The major schools of Yamoussoukro are struggling to retain their engineers, their technicians for lack of industry here", points out Jean-Noël Loucou.
"But care must be taken to safeguard the identity of the city and its tranquility which remain, above all, the criterion of choice for those who live there or who seek to settle there", warns Serge Pokou.