The statement is surprisingly: “Tomatoes are more powerful than petroleum. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje however drops this sentence as obvious. The governor of Kano State in northern Nigeria wants to believe that the economic development of his territory depends on agriculture.
Moreover, Mr. Ganduje endorses the great speeches of the Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari – to whom he is close – in favor of this sector still little considered but which nevertheless generates 16.2% of GDP and 60% of employment in Africa. He likes to quote Akinwumi Adesina, former Nigerian minister of agriculture who became president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), and calls on businessmen to invest heavily in this sector to create the conditions for a “green revolution” .
The governor of Kano wants to make his state – and the eponymous city – a small Nigerian laboratory and is betting on a product: the tomato. “The tomato could be Kano’s gold, because we have irrigation facilities and there is no shortage of land,” Ganduje said. What matters is ensuring profitability. We have the best businessmen in Africa and the tomato pays off. It will contribute to our future. ”
As a shrugged proverb, “Kano is not a city, it is the bush of God.” A former caravan stopover that has become a large Sahelian village, both neat and disorganized, which has continued to grow, stretch out and ogle the fertile lands that surround it.
Nigeria’s second-largest city is a megalopolis of nearly 13 million people – a figure that could double by 2050. Clean highways connect with earthy driveways carved into terrible ruts on which countless yellow keke, tricycles bounce. Indian motorized vehicles. Abandoned factories recall the industrial past of this city where electricity is lacking and which fuels the trans-Saharan trade of Chinese products transported by truck from the ports of Cotonou, Lomé and Lagos.
Kano shines from Dakar to Port Sudan with its gigantic markets which offer tons of cereals, fruits and vegetables, fabrics, products of all kinds. Everything sells, preferably wholesale. For a few dollars, the small and the poor benefit from the thousand informal jobs. With this sense of excess specific to Nigerians, the inhabitants of Kano like to boast of having “the largest markets in West Africa”, animated by “the greatest traders of the Sahel”, millionaires in life. simply punctuated by business and prayers.
The businessman Sani Dangote, brother
Sani Dangote, 54, is one of them. Younger brother and eminence grise of Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, he travels back and forth between Lagos, the economic capital, where the family group is located, and his hometown. He too swears by the tomato. He invested 35 million dollars (nearly 30 million euros) in a tomato sauce factory established in the middle of the fields, outside the city. “I am passionate about having total control over a production line. There I am enjoying myself, ”he confides in the vast living room of one of his villas in Kano.
This influential notable murmurs in the ear of the head of state as well as that of Governor Ganduje, so much so that the federal government ended up banning, in March, the importation of tomato sauce. The 14th largest tomato producer in the world and the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria imported nearly 189,000 tonnes of the product each year, mostly of poor quality and whose labeling failed to specify the presence of dyes and chemicals.
A colossal market
A protectionism that the Dangote family will not complain about, active in particular in cement, sugar or flour, from which it has drawn billions of dollars. “We don’t need government money, just good policy to grow our business,” continues Sani Dangote.
The tomato market is huge and the Dangotes do not intend to share it. “I visited West Africa’s only tomato sauce factory in Senegal, but it is small and poorly equipped. So in addition to Nigeria, the regional market is up for grabs, says Sani Dangote. I plan to double the size of the Kano plant in 2018, to create another in 2019 in a neighboring state, then another the following year, to reach a production of 6,000 tonnes per day with 30,000 employees. and thus contribute to the future of our city. ”
In the shadow of his factory set up along a highway bordered by fields irrigated by a canal, about twenty kilometers from downtown Kano, Awulu Okuma waits to see Dangote’s promises come true. “They promised us good seeds, good fertilizers and a good purchase price for our entire harvest, which will save us from losses and unsold rotting tomatoes,” says the 40-year-old farmer who also cultivates rice. “We grow tomatoes, but at home we eat Chinese tomato sauce. It is not normal. At least he is a Nigerian from Kano, ”he continues.
Sani Dangote wants to be able to benefit from the majority of the crops of 5,000 farmers this year, and then 45,000 by 2020, in order to supply his factory, especially during the dry season marked by rising prices. So the future king of the tomato pays the peasants. “Dangote agents gave us some money to be committed to working with them,” the farmer said in a low voice. I accepted, who knows? Maybe it will change our lives. ”
New ghost town
Every day, hundreds of trucks overflowing with baskets of tomatoes drive back and forth between Kano’s fields and markets. The landscape which borders the straight road has changed. It crosses an arid and desert plain, now dotted with large subdivisions of rather bourgeois villas still unfinished. Kwankwasiyya is one of Kano’s three “new towns”. A project launched by the former governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, to unclog the old town, where centuries-old walls stand side by side with new anarchic constructions, and encourage families who can afford it to settle in the outskirts.
For the moment, it is mostly Chinese who have bought houses, part of which is reserved for senior officials. And it is Mohammed, a Nigerien from Agadez, who watches over this ghost town. “There are no projects like this back home in Niger. Look, they are building a hotel, a market, shops, a police station… It’s going to do work, ”rejoices this former turbaned farmer. He stands guard from his tin hut nestled in this field of white villas that may never be inhabited.
“We decided to review the project’s policy by favoring low prices thanks to government aid and to build another 2,000 low-cost houses in the east of the city over the next four years,” said Bashir Mudi. At 44, this elegant architect and businessman is at the head of the authority responsible for thinking about the development of Kano, which he wants to transform into a Dubai of the Sahel, minus the buildings. “In Kano, we don’t work in offices, so there’s no point in having towers,” he said. We are lucky to have available land, so horizontal urban development allows us to expand and manage urban planning issues related to doubling the population by 2050.
A regular in London, Dubai or New York, Bashir Mudi strives “not to think like Africans and to expect nothing from the federal government.” However, he succumbed to the fashion, in vogue in African capitals, to build “new cities” rather than to develop the existing megalopolis. In its defense, Kano’s first town plan dates from 1963. The last, which dates back to 1983, has remained unfinished. Bashir Mudi ordered a new one. In the meantime, he favors the renovation of markets, which he wants to bring up to international standards, and has facilitated the creation of a modern shopping center inspired by Dubai, where the well-to-do like to hang out in the Shoprite supermarket, Levi’s stores, Converse and others.
“Kano is a regional trade hub that attracts buyers from all over West Africa. But there is no proper infrastructure, says Bashir Mudi. We are developing a business district project outside the city, covering 100 hectares. Everything a businessperson needs will be in one place. “Project cost: 450 million euros. Completion by 2022. But Bashir Mudi is well aware that many of the beautiful models of these flowery and modern “new towns” that adorn his office – as well as that of the governor – will struggle to become real.
Whatever, he is already thinking of returning to the arena of businessmen, convinced that agribusiness is the next El Dorado. “Dangote is leading the way with tomato. We will do the same with other products, he says. You know, in Kano, you can make a million bucks in a few months pretty easily. In Lagos, with a million dollars, you start to weigh. In Kano, you have a motorbike and you are going to pray. There is a lot of money here but we don’t show it. Don’t worry about the future of the city. ”
However, misery is revealed on every street corner. More than half of the population lives on less than $ 2 a day, the literacy rate is among the lowest in the country and drug use one of the highest. In the city as in the fields, poverty is growing. The tomato and Dubai utopia ignores the millions of destitute and struggles to forget the jihadists who have bloodied the city without however destabilizing it. “Boko Haram is behind us, wants to believe Governor Ganduje. Terrorism is a thing of the past. I think of the future Kano as a small regional Dubai and a benchmark agribusiness center. ”
Will the alliance between political power and wealthy businessmen secure a futuristic destiny for the “bush of God”?