By legend, when the first French colonists arrived in the late nineteenth century, they asked a woman what she called her village protected from the sea by a large lagoon. Not understanding the question, the woman replied, “T’chan m’bi djan,” or “I’ve just been cutting leaves.” Those first French settlers, assuming they had been understood, named the region Abidjan.
In 1931 after a wharf was constructed, the population expanded. In 1933 after the settlement was designated the capital of the French colony of Côte d’Ivoire, population grew further. Soon the sleepy backwater became an important outpost. By the 1940’s Abidjan had developed a reputation as a meeting place for smugglers and international spies.
In 1951, the French built the Vridi Canal connecting the Ebrié Lagoon with the ocean, thus establishing Abidjan as a strategic West African port. Before long the town became a city, responsible for nearly half the trade of the region and was nicknamed the Paris of Africa for its skyscrapers, its love of music, fashion, art, and literature, and its burgeoning population of immigrants from its West African neighbors.
The French administration occupied the desirable Plateau section of town where they built their hotels and embassies. The natives settled near the factories and warehouses in places like Treichville.
Following independence from France in 1960 was a time of great pride and optimism and economic growth throughout the city and the country. By 1979, the agrarian economy was sagging under the combined weight of two devastating droughts in the north, a crushing sovereign debt, and a culture of corruption.