In 1979, the Ivorian economic miracle had reached its peak. The country was the world’s leading cocoa producer and Africa’s biggest exporter of pineapples, coffee, and palm oil. “There is no room for cut-rate Africanization,” proclaimed President Félix Houphouët-Boigny, as he funded the country’s aggressive expansion with foreign debt.
The President was already laying the groundwork to transform the village of his birth to the country’s political capital. In a country where the dominant form of transportation was walking, a six lane highway cut through the rainforest between Abidjan and Yamoussoukro, or Yakro, as many called the tiny village.
By 1989, Yakro would be a city with government buildings bounded by deciduous trees and street lights brighter than the stars. A five-star Hotel President would welcome guests with a first-rate golf course, restaurants, and a nightclub with European delicacies flown in from around the world. Sacred crocodiles would be fed live chickens daily in a moat around the presidential palace pond. A sacred elephant would wander the palace grounds. And the city would boast the
largest church in the world, The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, rising 518 feet from the jungle floor.
Today, after more than a decade of civil strife, Yakro no longer functions as the capital city of Cote d’Ivoire.