Ivorian scrap yard metalworkers get creative

Like all major cities, especially in Africa, Abidjan struggles with waste management. But at a famous dumpsite for car wrecks in the Ivorian capital, young and proud mechanics, many illiterate, are recycling scrap metal into made-in-Abidjan auto parts.   

By Selay Marius Kouassi, Abidjan

Welcome to Abobo scrap yard, where the progressive thinking is even attracting university graduates to get grease on their hands. A cacophony of roaring jalopies, the hammering of steel, horns and loud bargains keeps growing as you approach the scrap yard. According to official figures, it spreads over an area of 600 square metres. But as you walk through, it feels much bigger. You can easily get lost in this labyrinth of stalls and workshops, smelling of grease and scrap metal.

Mechanics, welders, panel beaters, upholsterers, electricians, dealers in spare parts: you name it, they are all here. But the Abobo guys fast growing popular are the metalworkers.

Unlike many at the scrap yard who just sell broken parts and rusty pieces of metal, these young men, mostly in their 20s, are turning unwanted remnants into windscreen wipers, rims, brakes, rear-view mirrors and shocks. Since they come cheap, motorists in the capital are loving it.

“Just a piece of paper”

They are not the only ones. “There is no entry examination to get here,” 27-year-old mechanic Hamed Sangaré says sarcastically in broken French.

Almost 14 years ago his brother first took him to Abobo, introducing him to car mechanics. Today Sangaré, who has never set foot in a classroom, runs his own business and a workshop that employs his two brothers and three other teenagers referred by friends.

Yacouba Diané, 22, and Ousmane Koné, 24, are both mechanics at the scrap yard. They practically laugh at the notion of getting academic training to become a car mechanic. “Creativity is in the mind, says Diané, “the degree is just a piece of paper.”

Clearly, his imagination is not compromised by lack of schooling. His creations include a number of parts, adapted or made, which are displayed on the shelves of a metallic container where he sells his goods. “After observing and working on spare parts for years, one can be inspired… There is no need for a degree to do that,” Koné adds.

But lately, degree-holders are also attracted to the Abobo scrap yard. Some have a passion for cars and want to become mechanics. But, strangely enough, there are others who have no clue about automotives or how to fix them. Known as “salesmen” within Abobo, these university graduates are in dire need of earning a living. And here they are making a decent one.

Twenty-five-year-old Diarra Lanciné, who holds a degree in economics, says he makes between 91 and 122 euros every month. He is saving up to buy a second-hand car from one of his contacts within Abobo. “While I’m waiting to find myself a stable job, I will use the car as a taxi to save even more and stop hanging around here,” he explains.

For now, though, Lanciné is happy to receive drivers who come to the scrap yard seeking new or used parts or the ones repurposed by the mechanics. “We either offer to sell them the parts or take them to the dealers,” he says.

An African car

One of the regular customers at Abobo is Mahamadou Sana. Like a growing number of motorists in Abidjan, he says the affordability of spare parts and accessories made by the mechanics is why he comes to the scrap yard.

But not everyone sees Abobo as being so rosy. In fact, some are not convinced of its magic. According to them, the scrap yard is nothing but a place where stolen cars in Abidjan gets disassembled by unscrupulous mechanics ready to rip off unsuspecting clients.

The young and ambitious mechanics are not bothered by such comments. Instead, they prefer to focus on their big dream. “One day, we will be able to build an African car here. We just need machines and equipment to do so, but we will build it one day,” says Hamed Sangaré with an unmistakable Abobo positivity in his voice.

Date: 23 September 2012

Source: RNW Africa desk  


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