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In Senegal, a new city waiting for its inhabitants

Behind puny shrubs, the white and orange villas all look alike. Wisely aligned by the side of the road, the houses of SD-City, one of the first residences of the new town of Diamniadio, in Senegal, contrast with the usual disorder of sub-Saharan cities.

In this space, where minerality dominates, the human presence is still limited to rare inhabitants and to the workers of the construction sites still in progress. Seydina Touré, a trader installed there since 2018, is proud to have been the first resident. Arrived even before the water and electricity connections were in place.

But now the grocer-pastry chef longs to receive a few more neighbors. For the moment, he mostly works with executives and engineers from Turkish, Chinese or Indian construction companies who came to work on this vast project launched by the Senegalese state in 2014: to create from scratch a city, about thirty kilometers from Dakar. , on 1,644 hectares. A modern, orderly and sustainable urban area, a sort of model city, financed in large part by public-private partnerships.

Seydina Amza Toure, delegate of the urban center of SD-City of Senegindia, in the living room of one of his furnished apartments that he offers for rent, November 26, 2021. Diamniadio (Senegal), November 26, 2021.
The city of officials.  Diamniadio (Senegal), November 26, 2021.

As long as the regional express train does not run between Dakar and Diamniadio, it is as if life had not really entered the great urban body. The activity takes there in a sparse way. Here a research center, there a business … But once this crucial step – scheduled for December 2021 – has been passed, the deliveries of housing programs should accelerate and give the place a soul.

The Olympic Stadium and Amadou-Mahtar-Mbow University will follow. Like the imposing circular building of the United Nations which will bring together the thirty-four agencies – that is to say more than 1000 employees – today still scattered in Dakar. The idea being that these structures, which will come next to the special economic zone or the conference center, create a dynamic economic center, very close to the international airport.

Mutualized optical fiber

The General Delegation for the Promotion of Urban Poles (DGPU) responsible for the implementation of this new city has also validated a series of ten new projects ready to be launched. Because “The construction of the city of Diamniadio is part of the national ambition to boost growth through investment”, recalls Diene Farba Sarr, the general delegate. The latter’s mission therefore involves rigorous monitoring of the work, because this city, which aims to be innovative, sustainable and green, “Must above all not repeat the planning and urbanization errors of the past”, he assures.

On paper, Diamniadio is a futuristic dream. While internet access remains a luxury on the continent, “There, a shared optical fiber will make it possible to offer public Wi-Fi in addition to serving administrations and large companies”, Dieynaba Diop Gueye, the head of the smart city unit at the DGPU, is projected. The latter adds that episode 2 of the development of the place will go through “Video surveillance and digital management of waste and public lighting”.

Read also Senegal: rents explode in Dakar

A project is being studied with the help of the French consultancy firm Tactis, specializing in the digital development of territories. For Stéphane Lelux, its president, “Diamniadio is the first city in Africa to be the subject of a real global digital planning at the time of its construction”. This does not mean that the project will succeed … This is also the reason why “We will have to prevent telecommunications operators from occupying space in a wild way”, he continues, otherwise the beautiful dream of a smart city will be difficult to achieve.

Moreover, the architect Mamy Tall, who takes an interested eye on this gigantic construction site, believes that what is emerging from the ground in this red plain is still far from resembling a real city, even less like a smart city. “It lacks cohesion, intelligent planning”, she regrets, especially since “It is not an urbanization which takes into account the needs of the men”.

Sign for a hotel construction project stopped by the inhabitants of the village of Déni Malick Guèye.  Diamniadio (Senegal), November 26, 2021.
A view of the SD-City residential and commercial complex of Senegindia.  Diamniadio (Senegal), November 26, 2021.

For now, it’s hard to imagine the final phase. A few large asphalt avenues, without pedestrian crossings, sidewalks or traffic lights, form the junction between infrastructures that are independent of each other. The new town is cut off by a toll highway, crossed by a single bridge.

“Other interchanges will be installed to create new exits, Mr. Farba Sarr justifies. When we built the highway, we didn’t know there would be stadiums or large infrastructure that would drain crowds. ” The risk is real of seeing the faults of Dakar reproduced, for example: stuck on a narrow peninsula, the capital shelters somehow 17% of the 17 million Senegalese on only 0.3% of the territory.

“We accept public utility projects such as ministries or the Institut Pasteur on our arable land, but certainly not a five-star hotel. Mamadou Mbengue, president of the collective for the defense of the lands of Déni Malick Guèye

If the result is not guaranteed, an effort has been made to make Diamniadio an ecological hub. The buildings are white, well insulated, and photovoltaic panels are multiplying to supply buildings for the most part erected within the framework of a public-private partnership and available for hire-purchase.

“We had easy access to land, then we built the buildings for which we still have the management for five years before the State paid us and became the owner”, specifies El Hadji Hamidou Badji, strategy and development director at Teyliom, an operator responsible for building one of the ministerial spheres which have hosted fourteen relocated ministries for two years.

The fact remains that this use of rural land does not appeal to everyone and that the inhabitants of neighboring municipalities do not all share this dream of a smart city on their doorstep. Okra fields stretch a stone’s throw from a derelict witness villa; they are part of a village of 3,000 people called Déni Malick Guèye. “We accept public utility projects such as ministries or the Institut Pasteur on our arable land, but certainly not a five-star hotel”, launches Mamadou Mbengue, president of the collective for the defense of the lands of Déni Malick Guèye.

House part of a construction project stopped by the populations of the village of Déni Malick Guèye.  Diamniadio (Senegal), November 26, 2021.
A view of the farming village of Déni Malick Guèye, where the inhabitants fight against private construction on their land handed down from generation to generation.  Diamniadio (Senegal), November 26, 2021.

He asks for an extension of the land reserve so that the inhabitants can continue to live from agriculture. Even if some now work in construction sites or in new infrastructures, “These are just the jobs that are not valued when some of us have studied”, sorry Gora Sylla, a young activist from the village. And then, “Only uneven tracks allow us to enter the village”, notes Mamadou Mbengue, who has more and more the impression that even the crumbs of neighboring urban development will escape him.

This article was produced in the framework of a partnership with the Veolia Institute.

Summary of our series “African cities facing their future”

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Conference | “From Rabat to Cape Town, Africa as a sustainable continent of the 22nd century”
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