On a plain dotted with rotund baobab tree trunks Senegal is planning its future.
The government of the west African nation is laying the groundwork for a new city near the town of Diamniadio that is meant to ease congestion in the seaside capital, Dakar, home to almost a quarter of the country’s 14 million people. With plans for a new airport nearby, a university, state ministries and a 50-hectare industrial park funded by China, it is the most ambitious infrastructure project yet by the president Macky Sall, who has pledged to double growth by 2020.
Mr Sall, in office since 2012, uses the slogan “Emerging Senegal” to define his policy of attracting foreign investment to reduce the country’s dependence on fishing, agriculture and tourism and make Senegal a hub for French-speaking west Africa.
Cairn Energy has found an oil reserve off Senegal’s coast that may produce as much as 100,000 barrels a day when it is fully developed.
“It’s the first time we are developing a project of this size,” says Ousmane Kasse, who heads the state agency in charge of the Diamniadio project. “We’re preparing the site, and making land available to investors who wish to come here.”
Diamniadio, a town of about 30,000 people, is expected to expand tenfold by 2018. The idea is to ease the urbanisation pressure on Dakar.
Its narrow streets in the centre have not changed since the 1960s and cannot cope with the daily traffic, says Ale Badara Sy, an urban planner.
China’s CGC Overseas Construction is building the industrial park and Chinese companies may set up operations in the area, says Xia Huang, the Chinese ambassador in Senegal.
Senegal has strong economic ties with China, with trade reaching US$633 million in 2013, the UK risk advisory group Maplecroft says.
The UAE has also developed ties with the west Africa nation. The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) last year signed an agreement to provide a more than Dh53 million loan to the Senegal, according to Emirates 24/7, to fund transport initiatives in the country.
ADFD’s activity in Senegal goes back to 1978. The fund has since then offered three loans totalling about Dh140m.
Last week, ADFD participated in the opening ceremony of Kidaho-Ovinza road project in Tanzania.
The 51km road project was funded by ADFD through an Dh170m concessionary loan. The project aims to serve as a vital link between Kidaho, Ovinza and other cities located between them.
With Senegal’s economy forecast by the IMF to expand at least 5 per cent this year, up from 4.5 per cent last year, the pressure on Dakar, meanwhile, is only expected to intensify.
“There’s no space to build new schools or other public buildings,” Mr Sy says.
“More and more companies want to leave the centre and move to residential neighbourhoods.”
The government hopes the construction of golf courses, fountains and shopping malls in the Diamniadio area will lure residents from Dakar.
Relocating as many as 12 government ministries to the area, including energy and mining, should also help cut costs according to Dieynaba Diop, an urban planner at the project.
“The state doesn’t have the means to have all its ministries in Dakar – they are renting and it’s expensive,” Mr Diop says.
The Diamniadio project has attracted “hundreds of bids” from local and international companies since the plan was approved in 2013, including Germany’s state-owned KFW development bank, which plans to fund a $50m solar plant in the area, according to Mr Kasse.
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