Postcolonial Urbanisms in Dakar: Jan 6

A series of “journal entries” will follow from my time in Senegal, with several analytical questions at the end of each post. These questions are meant for reflective thinking and further research. These entries are required work for this particular course, but I also thought that they would be useful for the readers of this website who are perhaps interested in urban development, West Africa, and social movements in Senegal.

As I explained before, I chose to come to Dakar, Senegal in order to take a class focusing on postcolonial urban development and social movements with a professor at NYU Gallatin whom was highly recommended to me, Rosalind Fredericks. Rosalind focuses on postcolonial research, international development in the West African context, and social movements such as hip hop and youth movements. I had actually originally contacted Rosalind to ask her to be one of the advisors for my Gallatin colloquium (a kind of thesis) but she is on sabbatical in 2014, and I am graduating this year. I was lucky that she was teaching this course in Senegal, especially because I have wanted to come to Senegal for many years. My professors and various Senegalese friends have influenced this interest, and language wouldn’t be a problem, since I speak French.

I arrived to Dakar from Paris after a semester there, in contrast to the rest of the students who all departed from New York, and it was almost strange how easy the transition was to Dakar. I arrived late, and so did not meet any of the students until the morning of January 6th, when we had breakfast together and I briefly introduced myself. I was a little disoriented in general to be with American students again, speaking English, but it is my native language, and so I adapted quickly. But I had been speaking French since arriving to Dakar, and I was switching a lot. The thing that most struck me immediately is how French the breakfast was. There was coffee, bread, butter, confiture, fluffy croissants and some fruit. I write another blog about breakfasts from different countries (www.80breakfasts.wordpress.com), and I almost expected to find a more traditional Senegalese breakfast on the streets or in homes. Walking to our first class, however, I realized that the breakfasts that stalls served on the streets were also typically French. Since then, it seems that the classic petit-dejeuner français IS the typical Senegalese breakfast. It was at that moment that I realized that I was going to be seeing only more and more French influence in Senegal, perhaps more than I initially expected. We were staying in Point E, a rather middle to upper middle class neighborhood, and Rosalind was teaching our class at ACI Baobab Centre (Africa Consultants International) in the neighborhood of SICAP Baobab. Walking through Point E, I noticed that many homes seemed renovated and were beautifully decorated with flowers and trees. There were several embassies in the neighborhood as well, but of small countries. Arriving to SICAP Baobab, I could see more “chaos” in the streets, or simply more informal activity in the streets. Taxis were parked on a stretch of land between two major streets were filling up on gas out of containers. Newspapers were pinned to clotheslines and people were reading the headlines. There were many stalls on the streets and prayer mats rolled up, ready to be spread at prayer’s call.

ACI Baobab Centre has two buildings on almost the same street, and it is not only a research center that does consultancy work, but it also organizes educational programs for foreign students in Senegal. I arrived the day after the other students, so I missed the initial orientation, but I was able to take the survival Wolof class on this particular day. It was a very strange rapid-fire Wolof class, and we honestly could not learn Wolof using such a route memorization process in the space of an hour and a half. Still, I use the terms that we learned every day afterwards – simply knowing how to say hello, how are you, goodbye and thank you in the local language is respectful. I skipped the survival French class and took a walk around the neighborhood. SICAP Baobab is less ritzy than Point E – I didn’t see any foreign cuisine restaurants, for example. I walked pass several mosques and ended up on a small market street. The mostly female vendors were selling small piles of vegetables, fruits, and fish. Tiny stands offered haircutting services and there were quite a few machinery stores. I felt very comfortable walking around by myself, and chatted with a few of the women vendors. In comparison to my experiences walking around and living in Egypt and India, I felt very safe and comfortable walking around Dakar. The heat was quite intense in the afternoon though, and I soon returned to the Baobab Centre.

We had our first lecture in the afternoon, which was mostly a discussion about our responses to the three assigned articles about postcolonial development. We discussed the relationship between countries in the global North and South, and the history of international development. Senegal in particular has been extremely affected by Structural Assessment Program loans by the World Bank in the 1980’s, which has been shown to actually increase poverty instead of its stated goal of reducing poverty. SAP loans were part of a neoliberalisation trend in the ‘80s where many countries and governments believed that the way to develop and move forward was to liberalize markets. What actually happened was that many developing countries that never had a chance to protect their own markets and goods through subsidization and protectionist trade programs were thrown off the cliff with neoliberal economic policies that ravaged the power of the State and forced many people into the informal sector. Besides the economic legacy of the colonial powers, we also talked about the colonial influence on the physical infrastructure of Dakar. The French built Dakar in a certain way, with particular concessions. Post-independence, different Senegalese governments wanted to assert their nationalism and growth, which has led to many grand projects started in the city, but ultimately never finished because of lack of funds. There were also enormous projects began for highly publicized, international events such as the Economic Conference of Islamic Countries that were rather useless to the general population, such as a toll highway that was incredibly expensive to construct and which the majority of Senegalese people avoid because the toll is too expensive for them.

Questions: 1. How are the different neighborhoods in Dakar socioeconomically divided? Are informal settlements in every neighborhood as in New Delhi, or are they more concentrated in more affordable neighborhoods, especially those on the periphery?

2. It seems that Senegalese people eat a typically French breakfast, at least in Dakar – what other culinary influence have the French left in Senegal?

3. What percentage of the general population in Senegal know about the specifics and lasting effects of the Structual Adjustment Program loans? Does the general population feel that there is a sense of blame/responsability in terms of the global North’s relationship to Senegal?

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