FERKESSÉDOUGOU | “Corona has to go! Leave us in peace!” laments Fatima Kone, struggling to sell his peanuts on the market, Ferkessedougou, commercial crossroads of the northern Côte d’ivoire.
“To eat, it is difficult, I have five children. My husband is a farmer of mango, cotton and cashew nuts (cashew nuts). But it does not sell any more,” she said.
Ferkessedougou, commonly called Ferke, and its 160 000 inhabitants have known no cases of the coronavirus, but the city has been hit hard by the pandemic.
The health measures (closing the borders to travelers, isolation of Abidjan), have dried up the flow of trucks, buses, and vehicles that crossed the city, strategically located on the national road from Abidjan and the port towards the two neighboring countries, the landlocked Mali and Burkina Faso. Ferke is also on the line of the railway Abidjan-Ouagadougou.
Abidjan has focused the overwhelming majority of the 8 000 cases of Côte d’ivoire and the authorities have “isolated” the economic capital of the rest of the country. It should be a permission to go out or to go to Abidjan.
In principle, the goods continue to move freely in the country and in the region, but the men are blocked.
“Me, I often went to Abidjan to buy small things to sell in my shop. For that, we need to be able to choose to discuss. Today this is no longer possible. I lost 40 % of my sales since I can no longer travel since the beginning of the crisis,” said a shopkeeper of Ferke under cover of anonymity.
The small informal commerce, which supports a large majority of the ivorian population, which pays for the broken pots.
The traders who are going to Abidjan with fruits, cashew nuts, tomatoes, peppers or eggplants, and returned with aprons (textiles), clothing and candy, are now nailed to Ferké. Ditto for those that lived travel trade in Mali or Burkina.
“It impacts very negatively on the city,” says mayor Kaweli Ouattara. “There is the same influx in the market. The unemployment rises. The young people who did small trades are inactive. There was an increase of petty crime. There are parents who are unable to pay the tuition of their children. It requests the aid of the State, especially for young people”.
— “It is no longer working” —
Sinali Coulibaly, an engineer on the central square, Alassane Ouattara, was a regular at the Burkina and Mali to search for spare parts of motorcycle.
“Now I have to find here. It is more expensive and it takes more time. Before I could win 5 000 FCFA per day (7.5 euros). With the virus, it is rather 2 000 FCFA (3 euros).”
Lined by shops of mechanics, the central square is almost deserted. “Normally there are a lot of trucks parked. They carry livestock, sugar, agricultural products… They are waiting here with a load and take the opportunity to make repairs. Today, the traffic has plummeted,” says a mechanic.
Next, the employees of SAMA, a bus company, make act of presence. Usually, 50 buses per day passing through the stopover in Ferke. With the closing of borders, no more bus driving.
“All of the buses are in Mali, where Bamako is not isolated from the rest such as Abidjan in Côte d’ivoire. If you can’t roll away to Abidjan or out of the country, the lines are not cost-effective. Fortunately our boss continues to pay us, but it must be confessed that one does not work anymore,” said Koné Ouanlo Fusseni.
Despite the authorization of movement of goods, border post, Laleraba, 50 km from Ferke, is little frequented. A few trucks go by, controlled by customs and police officers, but the crowd usual to stamp his papers has given way to a parking lot desert.
In the police station, seven-Burkina faso, stopped in the neighboring town of Ouangolodougou, awaiting their expulsion. In normal times, these young people who were trying to make to gold mining in the region of Korhogo would be passed without any problem, legally. They have gone through a “walk,” they say, that do not disclose their method to the police.
In fact, a traffic is already born for the cross-border travelers that are hidden in trucks or accompany on foot and by bike on the numerous tracks that criss-cross the region, with local journalists. Even if some of them were arrested in flagrante delicto, the smugglers are the only ones to experience a boom of their business, with the virus.