Good and somewhat less good news

Good news are that the construction of the Yopougon studios is progressing fine, with no setbacks at all.  The builders are a family my partner has known for decades where funnily enough all family members are in the building business, each with different specialisations. We think they are pretty honest, but nevertheless decided that  paying them the full amount at the start of the construction was not a good idea.  What we have done on multiple occasions is to  go with them where they purchase building materials and pay the purchases directly.

I’m losing my fear of managing  (small scale) building projects in Abidjan, which means I can start looking at buying plots of land.  Looking at the numbers, buying land and building on it – quite unsurprisingly – seems to generally give better returns than buying a houses directly.

The slightly less good news is that I have decided not to buy the studio in Port Bouet. I intended to let it on per day basis, and put out a few ads for it during a three week period to check the demand, but got no responses.  It’s not high season at the moment, but I think that the main problem is the location, people who look for a reasonably nice place for a short stay in Abidjan prefer other areas.

On a per month basis it would have given an ok, but not great gross return of maybe 9-10%  which would have been reduced on a net basis by the cost of getting to Port Bouet and collecting the rent.  It was such a small investment that the transport cost would have mattered.

I’m still interested in letting something by the day, so I’ll keep on looking. I also really need to learn more of how letting by day works, so next time I’m in Abidjan I plan to stay in a number of let-by-day accommodations and talk to the agents and the owners to get a feeling for the market.  In the meantime online ads provide quite a lot of information.

The table below is from an ad for a studio and for a three room apartment in the Cocody Danga area, from someone who seems to know the property market in Abidjan quite well:

Period Length of stay
3-room apartment
Electricity included
High Season July and August
Per Month 500 000 450 000 150 KW
Per Week 190 000 175 000 40 KW
Per Day 30 000 30 000 7 KW
Per Day beyond 1 month 20 000 20 000 7 KW
December, January, June, September Per Month 450 000 400 000 150 KW
Per Week 165 000 150 000 40 KW
Per Day 25 000 22 000 7 KW
Per Day beyond 1 month 15 000 15 000 7 KW
Low Season February, Mars, April, May, October, November Per Month 400 000 350 000 150 KW
Per Week 150 000 125 000 40 KW
Per Day 15 000 15 000 7 KW
Per Day beyond 1 month 10 000 10 000 7 KW

100 F CFA will be charged for each KW consumed beyond the included amount.
A reimbursable deposit of 75 000 F CFA will be charged at the beginning of the stay.

Interesting here are the seasonal price differences (guess the French holidays have a big impact), the way to handle the electricity (aside the fact that it has to be KWh instead of KW), and the overall quite low prices for an attractive area. I may be wrong, but looking at the let-by-day offers online, I have the feeling that there are more offers now, than say six months ago, and that prices have gone down.

Further thoughts on Estate Agents

Given that there is a pool of buyers/prospective tenants that do not use the internet, the estate agents in Abidjan do actually add value to the sellers/landlords by providing access to these non-internet savvy buyers. They also add value to the seller by the traditional estate agent tasks of managing communications with all incoming prospective buyers/tenants and showing  the property.

For internet-using buyers such as myself it can be a bit annoying that it is the buyer that pays the estate agent. However, one way of looking at it, is that the fee to the agent is like a tax on a transaction akin to VAT, where the actual cost is shared by buyer and seller regardless of who pays the tax. In a low trust environment it might make sense that it is the party that has to bring up cash anyway that pays the agent.

Ivory Coast online

Popular sites

I had a look at the Top Sites in the Ivory Coast according to Alexa. The top 10 are:




4.  [This is the old address of Micorsoft’s search engine Bing]







The top 10 is pretty similar to the global top 10 dominated by search engines, webmail providers and social networking sites. What stands out is which on the global list – at the time I’m writing – is ranked  only 5,115.  I long assumed would be the most popular site for news and information relating to the Ivory Coast, and I guess the assumption can now be considered confirmed.

Looking for other interesting and/or locally produced sites on the Top Sites for Ivory Coast I find:

14.   – A portal for all things Ivory Coast just like just not as popular

19. – A site about African football seemingly based in the Ivory Coast as 90% of its traffic comes from the Ivory Coast.

25. – Radio France International, being the most popular site providing general news after the portals

26. A pretty ambitious site about schools in the Ivory Coast

35. Ivoirmixdj – A site for DJ:s and music lovers

Quality sites

Leaving popularity aside, sites that I find useful beside include:

AllAfrica News: Côte d’Ivoire | Informations | French News index

IRIN News Cote D’Ivoire – A UN news service

International Crisis group – Cote D’Ivoire – An NGO that provides very good reports and analysis on conflict areas around the world including the Ivory Coast.

Beyond news and analysis I would really like to read more personal accounts in blog or other form about business, politics or life in general in the Ivory Coast in French or English. So far I have only added the following three blogs to my aggregator:

Hudin – Blog I found pretty amusing covering personal reflections on life and stuff in the Ivory Coast and West Africa [In English]

west africa wins always – Great blog written by a journalist living in the Ivory Coast. [In English]

Le blog de Yoro –  Blog by an Ivorian covering recent events, usually by quoting a story from some professional news service and without adding any personal comments. It’s frequently updated though, and includes lots of links to other blogs. [In French]

Suggestions for high quality blogs covering the Ivory Coast or West Africa in French or English are welcome!

Estate agents

In Europe estate agents generally work for the landlord/seller. Agents that work for the buyer exist but are rare, and they generally work in the upscale part of the market for wealthy buyers (not prospective tenants) that have more money than time. It makes sense that it is the owner that use the services of an estate agent as selling is a business activity that brings in money whereas buying is not.

In the age of the internet when a property owner can both find potential buyers, and get a reasonable overview of market prices online, I’d say the value of the services provided by estate agents has been reduced significantly and possibly become  nonexistent in many cases. Services provided by chartered surveyors and notaries on the other hand, should not have been affected in the same way.

In Abidjan, interestingly, from what I have seen, estate agents are paid for by the buyer, but seem to be working for themselves more than for the buyer or the seller.  When I rented a (surprisingly nice) short term accomodation in Zone 4 for 30,000 CFA per day last year, the only really useful thing the agent did was to drive me to the place in question. The agent said that the price was 40,000 and that the absolutely lowest possible price was 35,000. When I arrived, I negotiated with the owner directly and got a better price. After that I held the opinion that it would make sense to pay the agent the equivalent of a taxi ride, but to avoid too much trouble I think at the end I paid the agent 10,000.

When I let the Cocody house I bypassed the agents completely and even put in “no middleman” as a selling point in the ad. It worked perfectly fine, and I don’t quite understand why not more people bypass the agents. Well, on a second thought, from a sellers perspective it does make more sense to bypass the agents in Europe than in Abidjan as it is the buyers that pay for it.

As a prospective tenant, if you do not know your way around Abidjan, paying for an agent could maybe make sense, but then you want them to really work for you. Currently their incentives are just close the deal regardless of the price, and hence they won’t negotiate as hard with the owner as the prospective tenant would. Also, the default price charged by agents seem to be one month’s rent which is really high, and for shorter lets the price is unclear which the agents take advantage of by not mentioning it until the deal has been done. Maybe, as a prospective tenant, one should tell them upfront that they will be paid more the better deal they manage to find in specific terms, possibly as a function of lowest price for a set quality level.

One downside with bypassing the agents as a seller could be that it angers them – in hindsight putting  “no middleman” in the ad was maybe a bit too provocative.

Third World Driving Hints and Tips

Ok, time for more stuff I found somewhere on the internet. This is an excerpt from P J O’Rourke’s absolutely hilarious book Holidays in Hell:

By P. J. O’Rourke

Over the years I’ve done my share of driving in the Third World — in Pakistan, Africa, Asia, Germany and Texas. (Germany and Texas are not technically part of the Third World, but no one has told the Germans or Texicans.) I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I have made a few notes. Maybe these notes will be useful to readers who are planning to do something really stupid with their Hertz #1 Club cards.

What would be a road hazard anyplace else, in the Third World is probably the road. There are two techniques for coping with this. One is to drive very fast so your wheels “get on top” of the ruts and your car sails over the ditches, gullies and pot holes. Predictably, this will result in disaster. The other technique is to drive very slow. This will result in disaster. No matter how slowly you drive into a ten-foot hole, you’re still going to get hurt. You’ll find the locals themselves can’t make up their minds. Either they drive at 2 mph — which they do when there’s absolutely no way to get around them. Or else they drive at 100 mph — which they do coming right at you when you finally get a chance to pass the guy going 2 mph.

Continue reading “Third World Driving Hints and Tips”

The psychology of scams

I just found this quite interesting study on the psychology of scams made by the University of Exeter in the UK:

The study covers the UK, but I think there are many lessons in the study that are useful for foreigners attempting to do business in the Ivory Coast.

Some excerpts:

it was striking how some scam victims kept their decision
to respond private and avoided speaking about it with family members
or friends. It was almost as if with some part of their minds, they knew
that what they were doing was unwise, and they feared the
confirmation of that that another person would have offered. Indeed to
some extent they hide their response to the scam from their more
rational selves.

There are clear downsides with providing too much information on the internet relating to ones’ business endeavors, but this is an updside I hadnt thought about before, that putting ideas up for scrutiny will cause the silliest ones, those that may involve falling for a scam, to be shot down.

Another counter-intuitive finding is that scam victims often have better
than average background knowledge in the area of the scam content.
For example, it seems that people with experience of playing legitimate
prize draws and lotteries are more likely to fall for a scam in this area
than people with less knowledge and experience in this field. This also
applies to those with some knowledge of investments. Such knowledge
can increase rather than decrease the risk of becoming a victim.

While I think this paragraph is mainly about some knowledge vs no/little knowledge it is a good reminder that one should be wary of overconfidence, and not be so sure in one’s own knowledge that one stops to question things.

Our research suggests that there is a minority of people who are
particularly vulnerable to scams. In particular, people who reported
having previously responded to a scam were consistently more likely to
show interest in responding again. Though a minority, it is not a small
minority; depending on how it is assessed, it could be between 10 per
cent and 20 per cent of the population. Furthermore, the research
suggests that the vulnerability is not specific to the persuasive
techniques most characteristic of current common mass marketed
scams, though it does include them. This means that there are other
techniques, which scammers do not currently use very much, which
would put people further at risk if they were introduced.

The existence of individual differences in general persuadability throws
some light on the fact that some people become ‘chronic’ or serial scam
victims: it would not be surprising to find that such victims are
exceptionally highly persuadable – though that is unlikely to be the
complete explanation of chronic victimhood, as other factors such as
cognitive impairment are likely to be of some relevance.

Well, those 10% – 20% should probably avoid attempting to do any business in a place like the Ivory Coast. That is,  given that they are aware of being in the 10-20% group which may be unlikely.

The study deals mostly with scammers approaching people. While that might well happen in the Ivory Coast, my main worry is about figuring out whether people I approach are fraudsters/scammers.  Regardless of who does the approach I’d say scammers exploit the same psychological vulnerabilities, so it’s good to be aware of those vulnerabilities. The Exeter study outlines  psychological vulnerabilities quite clearly in the executive summary.

And well, guess it’s a good time to point out that I find the people of the Ivory Coast on average pretty great, and it is definitely not a country populated by scam artists. It’s just that, like anywhere, some people, given the wrong incentives are likely to be dishonest, and as previously discussed the incentives look different in a country such as the Ivory Coast.

Online property ads

In many countries online property ads are dominated by a single website. This is due to network effects. Advertisers want to be on the site that has most viewers, and buyers want to look at the site with most ads, creating a winner takes it all situation.

Interestingly enough, in Ivory Coast there seem to be a two horse race between the property ad section at the main online portal for Ivory Coast ,  and the dedicated property ad site is clearly the larger site in terms of number of ads, but it’s not a 99% to 1% relation,  it looks more like  80% – 20% .  The reason for AbidjanMaison still being a contender is I believe that the site has a superior design, interface and ease of use compared to’s property ad section.

However, there seems to be very few new ads on AbidjanMaison since January – it is possible that the site has some problems or is closing down.  I am going to email the contact person for AbidjanMaison to see what’s going on and report back on the blog if I get a reply.     I used AbidjanMaison a few years ago, but I cant remember my username.  So today I tried to register again, but I never got a confirmation email – so something is not working.

One striking thing with AbidjanMaison is the use of images of wooden houses in a green grass setting looking very un-African. Guess there is some aspirational thing they are playing. Does the whole world aspire to live in McMansions on green grass fields?

I have looked for a third property ad site, but only found international sites with a handful of Ivory Coast ads, and which has very little activity.

Regarding non-online property advertisment opportunities I have noticed that there are public noticeboards in connection to supermarkets and malls in Abidjan which appear to be widely used for all kinds of ads. Then there are also ad sections in the Ivorian newspapers.  I would be interested to hear ideas from readers regarding online and offline advertisments in Abidjan!

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Watching the Oscar’s yesterday, I saw British actor  actor Colin Firth out of the blue saying the quote I have on the  “about” page,  answering a question about why he has played a somewhat different character in his latest movie compared to previous movies:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

I saw this quote on some site somewhere I can’t recall, and found it great, but I haven’t seen it since. A google search gives that it’s attributed to the American writer/poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and that the full quote is “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Along the same lines Oscar Wilde is quoted to have said:

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

Many people seem to always do the same and never contemplate other options, both when it comes to trivial matters such breakfast cereals, and less trivial things like life choices. They can even show hostility to good-hearted suggestions of ways to do things differently. I guess these people can derive happiness from not changing and having a seemingly stable environment, but – and this is why I like these quotes (or rather my interpretation of the quotes) – I’m the complete opposite, I derive happiness from curiosity, from trying new things, from travelling, and I like to question if what I am doing is what I really want, and imagine new ways conducting life.

Guess this attitude is a precondition for seriously considering switching from a well paid job in a stable European democracy to running a small business in West Africa.   Hmm, at a second thought, I got to admit that there is such a thing as foolish non-consistency (or non-conformity) too, and that it probably has more adverse consequences than foolish consistency.

Looking at the full Emerson quote it is possible that it was meant more for consistency in opinions, than for actions. John Maynard Keynes said that “When facts change I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” A foolish consistency would be to not re-evaluate one’s position when facts change.  Well, this interpretation is related to the one above, and I think I’ll stop worry about interpretations, and just go with the one that is most in line with my own biases and prejudices!

And to round up I would like to recommend a blog called The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau  who has taken the concept of doing your own thing to new highs.

Do we have an economist in the audience?

Ok, time for a run down of unanswered questions that have come up since I started the blog.  Here’s stuff I’d really like to know:

(1) Why is per day accomodation cheaper in relatively wealthier regions such as South East Asia than in West Africa/Ivory Coast?    My inconclusive thoughts about this are in the Daily Rental Mystery post.

(2) Building materials and tools used to construct houses in Abidjan – to what proportion are they locally produced in the Ivory Coast?  When I am in shops in Abidjan I always look at labels to see where things come from – which I believe gives some sort of indication on trade streams, eg is everything still being imported from France?.

(3) What impact would a devaluation of the CFA Franc have on rents and house prices (and demand and supply) in the various areas of Abidjan? I guess no one really knows until it happens, but it would be nice to have an educated guess.  Do we have an economist in the audience?

(4) Do people that rent at 30 EUR / month look for a place to live on the internet?  As asked in the Construction Underway post.

(5) Is there a behavioural bias against investing in less well off areas such as Yopougon, where the majority of Abidjan’s population lives, and can an external investor benefit from it?  My gut feeling is yes, and that an external investor can benefit with a trusted local partner, but I might be totally wrong. More on this in the No Grunge post.

(6) How do I identify people with very high integrity when looking for potential employees in the Ivory Coast?  This was raised in the Issue of Trust post.

(7) Who are my readers in Africa, and how did theymanage to find the (completely unSEOd) blog?  The blog recently got it’s first pageviews from Africa – hits from Benin and the Ivory Coast, and well, as a new blogger I’m curious about who is reading.  This is partially solved as I got feedback from the reader in the Ivory Coast – thanks a lot, made my day!

Construction underway

The piece of land in Yopougon (in Abidjan, Ivory Coast) is now a construction site. I got a price I deemed reasonable from the builder and  pulled the trigger.  As usual the bulk of the cost comes from the construction material, not the labour.  Anything that’s imported gets a surcharge coming mostly from bribes and customs paid to get through the port of Abidjan. I’m not sure where the construction material comes from actually – some of it at least has to be locally produced in the Ivory Coast . Ok, that’s yet another thing to find out.

That’s one good thing with the real estate business and one reason why I chose it – that you don’t have to worry about the complex bureaucracy of getting things into the country through the airport or the port, meaning that basically a corrupt customs agent has the power of putting you out of business.

This can be seen in the prices of consumer electronics such cellphones, laptops,and tvs which cost about 20% more in Abidjan than in western Europe.

A small piece of Yopougon

Anyhow, when the construction is finished in a month or so, I expect each of the six units to rent for an amount that would result in a gross return of over 35% assuming all six units will be let, and not including the cost of the land. Nevertheless it is quite a fantastic return.

The downsides that I can see are that in the case of a devaluation of the CFA Franc this property will offer no protection, as I don’t think the tenants ability to pay will go up in CFA terms. Also, due to the piece of land not being in a well-off area I expect more problems with tenants falling behind in rents. There’s already been problems with people putting trash in the empty piece of land, but that should go away once people start moving in.

On the other hand, I think this property is better protected from civil strife and socioeconic crisis, which casues europeans to leave the country, middle class ivorians to revert back to poverty and to some extent the super rich elite to get even further ahead. During the last major crisis in 2002/2003 Abidjan saw an influx of people fleeing wars in the rest of the country increasing the demand for cheap rented accomodation.   I would much prefer to benefit from an increasing middle class, than from increased poverty, but investments in cheap accomodation are clearly good for the Ivory Coast:

for the tenants that get a better deal than they would have found if it wasn’t built
for the builders who get work,
and for the employee I will hire to manage it.

One thing I wonder is whether people that rent for 30 EUR a month can be reached via ads on the internet. They should be able to afford internet access at internet cafes, but there could be other hurdles such as literacy and lack of computer experience. Well, I’ll try to put an ad and see, but I’ll also look for tenants with more traditional word of mouth methods.

To veer off course

Time for a blog post recommendation. Over at there’s an interview with Tim Ferriss touching some of the fundamentals of lifestyle design.

The things Grant (the guy to the left) says in the beginning are worth stressing: Basically that Tim made him change a paradigm from “put in time – exchange for money” and “don’t pursue dreams, because there is security to be found”  to pursue things that really matter to you, pursue dreams.

My parents are both employed at universities working with pretty theoretical stuff  so my paradigm has been: study hard – education is very important – get a degree – and exchange time for money in a large organisation where theoretical skills are valued. So I kind of did that, spent five year at a university, got a fancy degree and got a decent job at a big organisation.

I have always had a wish for the freedom of mastering my own time, not having a boss, and being sufficiently financially independent to travel the world with no fixed end time of when the money would run out. I have lots of projects I would like to do if I wasn’t bound by having to spend so much time at the day job. I just never really committed myself to achieving those goals, still influenced by my old paradigm.

Even before hearing of Tim Ferriss or lifestyle design I had been thinking of, and taking small steps towards veering off course, but it’s good to get a kick in the back which is what the Renmen guys and Tim Ferriss are providing. Kind of wish I had guys like these around me at university, but well, I’m still young and it’s not too late at all!


I have been trying to send money to the Ivory Coast from my bank account which is a lot cheaper than using services such as Western Union, but has the side effects of (a) people thinking that I have fallen victim of some internet scam and (b) creating visible stress among bank staff having absolutely no idea of whether it is possible to transfer funds to the Ivory Coast or not.

Today I recieved this email from the online banking support of my bank:

Apologies for the delay in coming back to you on your query. I have investigated this with our International Payments area and have been advised that currently there are EU and US sanction in place against Ivory Coast. Until such time as these sanctions are relaxed there will be no option to make a payment to this country using Internet Banking.

However, this payment can be made from your Branch. I understand that you have received incorrect information from your branch regarding this and I apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Ok, so online transfers to the Ivory Coast are not possible, but in person  transfers are.  Sounds like weird sanctions at first sight, but what it does, is to make anonymous transfers more difficult which might make sense.  I reckon they want to stop arms purchases for instance, and I guess it’s good to know that the person who actually made the transfer is also the owner of the account.

Iterative business

In the last post I was going to link to an article about how trying to answer all “what about” questions prior to an investment can actually be a bad idea.  I just couldnt remember where I had read article, guess I spent at least an hour on google looking for it to no avail.  But now I stumbled across it on Bloomberg, apparently it was called “How to kill Innovation:  Keep Asking Question”  by Scott Anthony and appeared at

About 15 minutes into the review, the questions began to come in.

What about the competitive landscape? Can we model the impact of someone entering the space early?

What about the market size? Are we sure these numbers are right?” another wondered.

What about the regulatory regime. Are these timelines really realistic?

They were important questions, and robust answers would help bring each opportunity into sharper focus. And the group’s intentions were good — figure out which opportunity was the most attractive so that the company could direct its resources appropriately.

The problem, though, is what follows “What about…” questions. The next step from almost any discussion like this one is to conduct further research. And, “What about…” questions never stop. Each answer generates questions whose answers lead to further questions. It could become infinite.


Resource-rich companies have the “luxury” of researching and researching problems. That can be a huge benefit in known markets where precision matters. But it can be a huge deficit in unknown markets where precision is impossible and attempts to create it through analysis are quixotic. Entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury of asking “What about…” questions, and in disruptive circumstances that works in their favor.

So what’s the alternative? Substitute early action for never-ending analysis. Figure out the quickest, cheapest way to do something market-facing to start the iterative process that so frequently typifies innovation. Be prepared to make quick decisions, but have the driver of the decision be in-market data, not conceptual analysis. In other words, go small and learn. Pitch (or even sell) your idea to colleagues. Open up a kiosk in a shopping mall for a week. Create a quick-and-dirty website describing your idea. Be prepared to make quick decisions.

This makes a lot of sense to me in general and especially in an environment like the Ivory Coast where things can change quickly, and where the information required to make conceptual analysis is hard to come by.  I am very much trying to start small and see how it works out, and base future business decision on the in-market data obtained in an iterative process.  One just have to take the plunge even if there are unanswered “what about” questions.