Cote D’ívoire: More than just coffee plantations

Cote D’ïvoire? You mean the former Ivory Coast, where there was a protracted military coup some years back and where there was a terrorist attack of recent? Is there really anything worthwhile for tourists in that country of 25 million people?

These were the posers I put across to an official of the Cote D’ívoire Embassy in Nigeria who called me some few weeks back, asking me to forward the information page of my international passport for an Eductour of his country.

The embassy official also informed me that my name was recommended by the Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Dr (Mrs) Sally Mbanefo.

It was with this mind-set of uncertainty that I made for the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Ikeja, Lagos on Thursday, June 5, 2016, where I met Dr (Mrs) Mbanefo and a top official in the Ministry of Information and Culture.

One of the shockers I got on arriving at the MMIA was the fact that I would be flying Cote D’ívoire Airline. This is an airline owned and run by the government of Cote D’ivoire, but the plane, though of a small capacity, was neat and manned by respectful hostesses.

The quality of service, the food, as well as the various promotional entertainment packages on the screen  on Cote D’ivoire tourism values, history and economic activities, made some of us on the flight wish that the flying time to Cote Dívoire from Lagos could  be lengthened than  the 1 hr 10 minutes that it took us; the documentary on Cote D’ívoire tourism shown onboard revealed that there are many sites to see in the country other than coffee plantation.

In Coto D’Ivoire, the Houphouet Boigny Airport, though small, was kept neat, prim and proper with the staff going about their duties with every sense of responsibility, smiling at those arriving into the country warmly.

Mrs Mbanefo, who was in full Fulani dress with a scarf designed in Nigeria’s national colour, made the Nigerian delegation the cynosure of all eyes at the airport.

Driving through Abidjan , the capital of Cote D’ívoire, one could see a beautiful city with good road networks, well-laid streets, and it is not surprising that this city is being called small Paris, a name which it has earned for its striking resemblance of Paris, the capital of France.

Going by my interest, the first port of call was the St Paul Cathedral, a magnificent Catholic church which was inaugurated in 1985. This is the second largest church on the African continent and one of the largest cathedrals in the world. From St Paul Cathedral, I headed for the Marian Shrine at Abidjan, which is called “Our Lady of Africa, Mother of All Graces.”

According to the tour guide, Koffi, “It is a title which includes a wish, a commitment to evangelisation, and a form of consecration of the entire African continent.”

The shrine is a sanctuary which has a fascinating architecture which looks like a hand trying to reach the skies and pointing to heaven.  At the entrance of the sanctuary, the gospel words of Mary are carved in large letters: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to your word.”

Having stocked good memories of the entertainment and religious tourism of the exciting city of Abidjan, the journey to Yamoussukro, the political capital of Cote D’ívoire, proved to be interesting as it exposed the development strides of the government which is wired by its intention of getting the best out of tourism.

On the way to Yamoussukro are a rapidly developing industrial and housing estates, national park, reserved forests, agricultural farms, among others.

Our tour guide pointed to the modern housing estates which lined both sides of the road into Yamoussukro, saying “these are the modern houses built by the former president, Houphouet Boigny, for the villagers whose houses and lands were taken over during the transformation of the town . Do you know that they refused to stay there because of its modernity but preferred to build the type of houses they were used to?”

The first port of call here was the St Joseph Moscat Catholic Hospital. It is a 250-bed specialist hospital which is being managed by the Vatican. From the hospital, we went to the personal residence of the late Houphouet Boigny. It has, among others, a family mausoleum constructed inside a bunker which the late political leader constructed before his death. The mausoleum has 26 tombs, out of which only four are empty.

Above the bunker sits the private church of the late president, where it is forbidden for anyone to sit on the chair he used to occupy when alive. It was told that whoever does will find himself transported into the tomb of the dead president!

The tour of the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussukro is a day’s affair and most necessary in many ways.

Of all the Basilicas in the world, the one in Yamoussukro is not only the largest, but the tallest; it beats that of Rome by nine centimetres! It is also one which was canonised by Pope John Paul 11. The Guinness World Records lists it as the largest “church” in the world, having surpassed the previous record holder, St. Peter’s Basilica. This church can accommodate 18,000 worshippers, and it was a gift to the Vatican from the late Boigny.

Mr Raphael Azaiki, a Nigerian religious tourist whom I saw praying fervently inside the Basilica said “I am of the Anglican faith. I came all the way from Nigeria to pray here. I have performed the holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem twice and I am capping it with the visit to this religious centre second to the one in Rome.”

Climbing the top of the Basilica was interesting, as it enabled one to have a stunning view of the aesthetic landscaping and layout of the town and the Basilica.

One would have thought that there was nothing more to see in Cote D’Ivore after Yamoussoukro, until one got to Grand Bassam, the first capital of the country.

Grand Bassam is the testimony of French colonisation activities and relics. It has among others, the first Church in West-Africa, historical buildings, artifacts, monument and library.

Another interesting site is the Dress Museum, which was formerly the Colonial Governor’s House, with its bitter history of oppression and inhuman treatment of the locals.

Grand Bassam is a lovely enclave which is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the lagoon and the hotels are bests of the old with exquisite facilities which offer good night sleep with the buffeting of the cool breeze from the Atlantic Ocean and a slightly warm air from the lagoon.