In Attécoubé, a west Abidjan neighborhood, two retired septuagenarians discuss life in their courtyard, emphasizing a reluctance to spend their old days in a retirement home.
Côte d’Ivoire’s first such establishment, opened in September, had no residents by November.
Elisabeth Qwansah, 78, expresses her desire for the familial care she receives from her niece, Mamitchi, making it clear that the retirement home cannot offer what she truly values.
“I want to see my niece, Mamitchi in the morning. She will make me coffee, give me cereal porridge, grind foutou (plantain, ed.), wash my clothes. “
“Mamitchi will do all that. Why would I get the trouble to go over there (to the retirement home, ed.)? I’ll die quickly there. I’m going to stay with Mamitchi.”
The cultural and familial connections integral to Ivorian elderly care make the prospect of retirement homes less appealing.
Situated in Bingerville on the outskirts of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s inaugural retirement home boasts seven adapted beds and trained geriatric staff.
However, according to sociologist Arnaud Dayoro, 80% of the elderly in Côte d’Ivoire are cared for by family members, with neighbors stepping in where needed.
The reluctance to engage with retirement homes is not only rooted in cultural values but is exacerbated by the stigma surrounding those who consider such facilities.
Nina Zougo, the director of the retirement home, points out that the fear of judgment prevents potential residents from considering this option.
“What stops people who call us from coming to this retirement home is their fear of being judged”, the founder says.
“They are afraid of [the judgemental looks] they will receive. They wonder: What will my friends say? What will my family think? That’s their concern.”
Albert Kipré, who returned to Côte d’Ivoire from France after nearly half a century, attributes his decision to the connection between generations and the quality of life in his home country.
“Since I had retired and had nothing to do over there, so I told myself, I’m going to be with my family again. Even though I’ve got six children over there, they’re working, they’re busy. Life in Europe doesn’t allow you to be with them most of the time. But here, we’re a family. Over there, I have a family without having one actually.“
He values being with his family, emphasizing the differences in lifestyle and familial connections between Côte d’Ivoire and Europe.
Nina Zougo acknowledges Western retirement home anomalies and aspires to create a lively living space for the elderly. However, the obstacle of affordability remains significant. With a daily cost of approximately $60, half the minimum monthly salary in Côte d’Ivoire, ensuring accessibility to such facilities remains a challenge.