Everywhere we went in Dakar there was evidence of building. From rubble piles to sand in the streets, to cranes dotting the city skyline. I’m not sure who’s going to live in these places in the city but it was evident that a building frenzy is occurring.
Building was not limited to Dakar (and Saint Louis). Projects of all sizes were seen whenever we did a countryside trip. One of our acquaintances told us that people often put their money into building a new house, even if they could not complete it. It also tied up available, liquid cash — so no money accessible for loans or gifts to family members. (This might seem harsh but in some countries and cultures, money is to be spread amongst close and extended family members if needed. This is a way to minimize that possibility.)
Interestingly enough, in 2012 houses built for less than $60,000 did not require a building permit (cuz I’m a geek and did some research) which could account for some of the building. But probably more likely to be relevant to the building boom in Dakar is the investment of the global north (including China — the big elephant now in global real estate investment.) Basically, urban areas in Africa are being viewed as good investment areas as governments make it easier (and lower the risk) for international investors. There’s a market in the growth of African cities and a strong push by organizations like the World Bank for local governments to make investment easy, appealing and risk-limited.
Having traveled a bit in the developing world, I’m more than a little sad to see that the rush to development seems to impose a “western” ideology in places where perhaps development could still happen with a more indigenous approach. Does it really do the local population that much good if it ends up selling its birthright (land for instance) for tax breaks and short term monies? I’m not economist or a development thinker, but I wonder if selling out just wraps a city (or country) in a (pollution-choked) shroud, lowering the life span and overall standards for most people in the service of the 1%.