Tag: Côte d’Ivoire

Meet the Elephant’s Bikers, Côte d’Ivoire’s version of Hells Angels

Decked out in leather gear, their powerful Harley-Davidsons girded in sleek chrome, the Elephant’s Bikers make an almost surreal sight in the poor and sometimes barren Côte d’Ivoire villages they visit.

As the west African country’s “Easy Rider” team roars into communities where residents are lucky to own a rundown moped, ecstatic crowds typically form to greet them on their journey from the economic capital Abidjan to the industrial port of San Pedro almost 400 kilometres to the west.

Wherever the club makes a pit-stop for supplies, men, women and children flock around the 30 or so bikes and their owners. Young drink-sellers use ageing cellphones to snap pictures of the Harleys and grinning villagers chat to the bikers.

Members of the Elephant's Bikers club ride near San-Pedro. (Pic: AFP)
Members of the Elephant’s Bikers club ride near San Pedro. (Pic: AFP)

“We’re sharing a pleasure, a dream. People identify with that. They see that it’s accessible, it’s not just on television,” says one of the bikers, Landry Ouegnin.

“Just because we live in an underdeveloped country doesn’t mean we can’t share this kind of thing,” adds the 34-year-old business manager, who helps run the club of inveterate riders.

The Elephant’s Bikers, created 10 years ago to mark the centenary of legendary American motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson, has about 50 members – mostly native Ivorians, but also expatriates, some of whom have become citizens of Côte d’Ivoire.

The whole gang displays the distinctive signs of a pack like the Hells Angels – bandanas, omnipresent skulls and crossbones, leather jackets with the Harley logo or that of their club, an elephant wearing cowboy boots.

The Elephant's Bikers club, an Ivorian version of Hells Angels, was created ten years ago to commemorate Harley Davidson's centenary. (Pic: AFP)
The Elephant’s Bikers club, an Ivorian version of Hells Angels, was created ten years ago to commemorate Harley Davidson’s centenary. (Pic: AFP)

For Jackie Thelen, who leads the club and came from France to take on Ivorian nationality, the regalia is “a disguise” that unites members with “a spirit of brotherhood” like in other such groups scattered around the world.

“You’ll often see a big boss show up with ripped jeans, a flashy belt and skulls even though he’s in charge of a highly rated company. That’s the paradox among Harley-Davidson lovers,” says Thelen (52), who runs a business himself and sports a ring in his left ear.

Benevolent bikers
In Côte d’Ivoire, the bikers are anything but bad boys, in contrast to the reputation of notorious counterparts like the Hells Angels. And their rides are expensive. Including the cost of transport and import duty, the cheapest bike in the club cost four million CFA francs ($8 200), while the most pricey cost 25-million ($52 000).

Such sums are way above the means of most villagers along the bikers’ route, but they sometimes help the people they meet by making donations to schools, medical dispensaries or entire villages.

While some members of the club are not wealthy and assembled their own bikes, most are well off and a few are very rich.

A son of late president Henri Konan Bedie is a member, together with an adviser to a cabinet minister. To protect such prominent figures, paramilitary police follow the pack in a four-by-four truck and occasionally direct traffic.

Once they reach San Pedro, after a trek that began in the rain and has been strewn with potholes, the bikers are all smiles.

“That was wonderful!” shouts Gerard Lokossou (41) at the end of his first outing with the club.

A marketing director of 41 who has ridden with a biker group in the US state of New Jersey, Lokossou says he experienced the same joy being part of the Ivorian horde.

“It gave me a chance to discover a part of the country that I had never seen from that point of view,” he says, as wide-eyed staff from the hotel where the Elephant’s Bikers are staying film the group’s arrival.

Joris Fioriti for AFP

Côte d’Ivoire puts hope in first feature film on conflict years

Chased by a lynch-mob, a young man runs for his life – closely watched by director Philippe Lacote who is shooting the first feature film on the bloody chaos that rocked his native Côte d’Ivoire from 2002 to 2011.

The film “Run”, shot in Bassam near the Ivorian capital Abidjan and directed by Philippe Lacote, tells the story of the 2010-2011 political and military crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. (Pic: AFP)
The film “Run”, shot in Bassam near the Ivorian capital Abidjan and directed by Philippe Lacote, tells the story of the 2010-2011 political and military crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. (Pic: AFP)

Run, both the film title and the main character’s name, chronicles the slide from innocence to violence and crime in this resource-rich country that was once a beacon of stability in west Africa. Today, the wounds of war remain raw, politicians still trade crude insults and the former president awaits trial for crimes against humanity.

“The film’s main question is, ‘How did we come to such violence?'” said the Franco-Ivorian director, lamenting the thousands of people killed during a decade of rebellion, civil war and post-election violence.

Lacote, who finished shooting in September, hopes his film will be both cathartic for victims of the crisis and instructive for younger Ivorians, but also revive cinema in a country where only two of the 80 movie houses are still in use.

His project drew attention when presented in pre-production at the 2012 Cannes film festival. And while the film has touched some nerves at home, the state has agreed to finance seven percent of its €1.8-million (R24-million) budget, with the rest coming from France and Israel.

The buzz has also brought native son Isaach de Bankole – who appeared in the 2006 James Bond thriller Casino Royale and Lars von Trier’s 2005 film Manderlay – back home for the first time in 17 years to play a role in Run.

Based on real events
The story centres around a peaceable teenager who is on track to become a village “rainmaker” or sorcerer but instead joins the Young Patriots, followers of the former president Laurent Gbagbo who are capable of extreme violence.

“When I was filming the Young Patriots, I asked one of the youths how he came to join them,” says the 42-year-old Lacote of an earlier documentary. “He answered, ‘I have three lives!’ – and that became the basis for writing the film.”

Although fiction, Lacote’s film is grounded in real events. “There are scenes that remind me exactly of what I lived through during and after the war,” says Abdul Karim Konate, 32, who plays the role of Run.

Some 3 000 people lost their lives in the violence triggered by Gbagbo’s refusal to admit defeat in 2010 elections to his arch-rival Alassane Ouattara, who finally took office in May 2011.

“I was there in Yopougon (a Gbagbo stronghold), there where things really got hot,” said Konate. “We are telling the story. We need to tell it to those who have not seen it.”

Run is Lacote’s first full-length feature film. He calls it “indirectly political” and asserts his “right to approach the subject matter via fiction” while admitting that he finds himself on “slippery ground”.

Starting from scratch
“We have already had problems,” the director conceded. “We were filming in a former headquarters of the FPI (Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front party) occupied now by the Ivorian army. The FPI press accused us of making a film to gather evidence against Laurent Gbagbo,” who is jailed in The Hague awaiting trial by the International Criminal Court.

“My objective is not to say who is right or wrong. It is to recount the crisis seen through an individual prism,” Lacote said.

Officials in charge of the country’s film industry also hope Run will help get Ivorian cinema back on its feet.

The film business here is currently “flat on its face”, said Mamidou Coulibaly-Diakite, who manages public funds earmarked for Ivorian cinema. Prominent Ivorian directors such as Henri Duparc, Gnoan M’Bala, Yeo Kozoloa and Fadika Kramo-Lancine have either died or have not worked in more than a decade.
“We have to start everything again from scratch,” he said.

In the long run, Coulibaly-Diakite said he dreams that Côte d’Ivoire, formerly the economic and financial hub of west Africa, can rival Nigeria’s thriving cinema scene.

Run is due to be released in 2014 and distributed in France and Germany, and to be screened at several festivals, according to the film’s French producer Claire Gadea.

Christophe Koffi for AFP

‘Female Drogba’ aims to inspire African athletes

Côte d’Ivoire’s Murielle Ahoure made history on Monday by becoming the first female African sprinter to win a medal in the history of the World Athletics Championships in the 100 metres.

The 25-year-old – the daughter of General Mathias Doue a former chief of staff of the Ivorian army until he was sacked in 2004 by ex-president Laurent Gbagbo – is keen to add another chapter of history by becoming the first African woman to win a medal in the 200m.

Those heats begin on Thursday with the final on Friday.

Ahoure, who reached both the 100m and 200m finals at last year’s Olympics, showed in relegating defending world champion Carmelita Jeter into third in the 100m that she has the mental strength to cope with the major finals.

Even before the final, her status back in Côte d’Ivoire was assuming huge proportions, rivalling that of the national football team and their iconic striker Didier Drogba.

“Am I as well known as the national football team? Yes I am. They (the people) call me the ‘female Drogba’ in terms of being a sporting star… not much pressure there then!” laughed the engaging law graduate.

“When I won world indoor silver in Istanbul last year I returned to Côte d’Ivoire and I couldn’t believe my eyes as there was a huge crowd to greet me at the airport. It was crazy!”

Murielle Ahore won a silver medal in the women's 100m at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow on August 12 2013. (Pic: AFP)
Murielle Ahoure won a silver medal in the women’s 100m at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow on August 12 2013. (Pic: AFP)

Ahoure has remained very much an Ivorian despite a bohemian lifestyle from an early age which saw her sent to France aged three and then on to the United States where she was educated.

One of her ambitions is to be a role model to other African athletes and stop them from moving abroad and accepting payment to change nationality and run for other countries.

“This medal was for [Côte d’Ivoire], no other country,” said Ahoure.

“I think it is sad so many African athletes feel it is necessary to move abroad and run for other countries.

“At the same time I understand as they have to make a living and an athlete’s life is a precarious one, one lives with the ever present fear of injury which can end your career.”

While Ahoure is grateful to the United States for having provided her with an education and with her future career assured as a lawyer, she said she wants her exploits on the track to persuade other Africans to follow her example.

“I hope that I can serve to be an inspiration to other African athletes and inspire other young Africans to take up athletics.

“The pride I feel when I put on the national team vest is huge and I repay their faith in me by putting [Côte d’Ivoire] on the athletics map. This too could be the reward for other African athletes.”

Pirate Irwin for AFP.

Dancing my weight away in West Africa

The year is 1985 and somewhere in the United States, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and a posse of their pop star chums huddle into a studio to sing for Africa’s supper.The song is the heart-stirring We Are the World.

Recorded to raise funds to aid citizens of a drought- and poverty stricken Ethiopia, the charity song du jour was accompanied by pictures of desperate-looking African others and ash-skinned children with torsos as thin as spaghetti, very large heads and bones you could count one by one. These were not just people in need of a meal; they were so starved they barely had the strength to breathe, let alone muster the strength to wave away the flies that congregated on their mouths.

There was famine in Africa. So God bless the pop stars.

More than 20 years later those images seem to have raised more ignorance than consciousness. Because, years later, people still perceive Africa as the starving continent. So much so that pop tart Mariah Carey once said she wants to visit Africa, if only for the circumstantial dieting that would be bound to succeed.

Meanwhile, the news that I was planning to travel to West Africa was met with concern by family and friends that I would be afflicted with all sorts of diseases or even starve, though some in my circle seemed to feel that it would help me to shed the excess weight I have carried all my life.

Indeed, after spending a year and five months in West Africa, I am 40kg lighter. But it was not from starvation.

On the contrary, West Africa turned out to be the land of plenty food. There is food around the clock here: from the street chow standard of rice and meat sauce to kebabs, braai meat, fried fish, chips and plantain. The region has so much food, I began to feel as though I was starring in Supersize Me: West Africa.

In Senegal I piled on the lard by way of schwarmas and the nation’s beloved and addictive rice and fish dish, tcheip djenne.

Mali has as many braai and roastmeat outlets as it does mosques. And here, people will chase you down the street to invite you over for lunch. Though polite, Malians do not take no for an answer. They also do not accept that you have had enough to eat unless they see you flatten the mountain of food they put in front on you.

In Burkina Faso tasteless local food forced me into a staple of fried chicken and chips.

This was a mere five weeks into my trip and already I was starting to swell up.

Then came Ghana with its jollof rice, a rice-and-bean dish called waatchi, fried rice and much more that I was only too happy to sample.

Jollof rice served with plantain and meat. (Rosalyn Davis/Flickr)

On to Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire. It is said West Africans spend a whack of their money on clothes and food. Ivorians are over the top in this regard with Abidjan being Frenchspeaking West Africa’s capital of food, booze and partying. Here, everyone who sells food does it around the clock. And it is not just your standard kebabs and sandwiches.

Some nightclubs have fully fledged outdoor restaurants. And if a plate of grilled chicken and attieke (cassava) are not your thing, take a few steps on to the streets and you can have even more of food you would never associate with a post-clubbing binge, like pork stew.

I was now six months into my trip. My French was starting to pick up. So I could at last understand what Salif Keita was saying in his song Africa. The song is a declaration of the good times that are rolling in our continent, which he reiterates by stating “manje beaucoup” (“eat lots”). He then has a verse in which he lists some of West Africa’s culinary delights, including tcheip, fufu, alloko, yassa, peanut-butter stew and attieke, which also doubles as a breakfast staple served with fried fish, raw chilli and a splash of oil.

Spicy West African peanut stew. (leshoward/Flickr)

I was in trouble.

I even started wishing that there was some truth in the prevailing stereotype of Africa being the land of starvation.

I had to act. This journey started in April 2009. The results have convinced me that anyone with lots of lard to push and some cash to spare should indeed head to West Africa.

The region has hundreds of robust traditional dances and I started to learn them on a rooftop in Bamako.

Thinking I was alone in fighting my lard, I was wonderfully surprised when a teenage girl walked up to me to offer her services as a “jogging partner”.

There is also zero privacy here. So my afternoon dance sessions were a daily spectacle for the neighbourhood, which made people offer tips and encouragement at every turn.

Random strangers in Guinea, Conakry, Ghana, Togo and Benin, where I was scattering my fat, had advice to offer. The region is obsessed with fitness. Noting a fat person attacking her lard, people would invite me to play beach soccer, join their troupe for an afternoon, tell me where to find fresh produce and offer me their kitchens so I could cook my own food.

They turned into a colony of personal trainers and gatekeepers I had to account to. Especially the children. They demanded that I spend many hours chasing after them or teaching them dance routines that they already knew better than me.

I left South Africa open to the journeys that I knew would come out of the act of booking my ticket out of the country. Yet losing weight was far from my mind. And it struck me, as the kilos started peeling off, that Africa is indeed the land of clichés.

The most enduring are of Africans as loving, humane and selfless.

My waist is a case in point.

Lerato Mogoatlhe is a South African journalist travelling around the continent. This post was first published in the M&G newspaper.