On a hill overlooking the Senegalese capital of Dakar stand a bronze man, woman and child. The statue, called the “African Renaissance Monument” was commissioned by then-President Abdoulaye Wade in 2006 both as a potential tourist destination and as a symbol of liberty and learning.
It was controversial. Members of the rather conservative community found it at best unrepresentative of their culture, at worst, a violation of the Muslim restrictions on depicting the human form. Many considered it a complete waste of money. The monument cost $27 million, a sum sorely needed in Dakar’s city streets.
As the capital, Dakar is one of Senegal’s richer cities. It houses the National Assembly of Senegal, as well as the Presidential Palace. It is a center for West African financial institutions and NGOs. Half of its residents have never experienced poverty, but the third of Dakar’s population living in chronic poverty is concentrated in the slums.
Families in the city are relatively large. A World Bank survey of nearly 2,000 households determined an average household size of 9.6.
Though slum conditions could never be called ‘good,’ Dakar’s poorer areas are relatively so.
Most residents, over 90 percent, live in homes with permanent walls built of brick, stone or concrete. The majority of people own their houses and about 76 percent of people have access to running water and electricity.
Garbage and sewage disposal services are available for most residents, and access to telecommunications has improved greatly over the past years. Now as many as half of the households in Dakar’s slums have a mobile phone.
The fact that there is so little difference in the living condition’s of the slum’s poor and non-poor is an amazing accomplishment. But the differences that remain are crippling to many.
There are very few roads and minimal public transportation in Dakar. Less than half of the people there report feeling safe.
According to the World Bank report, six percent of the labor force is unemployed. This would be remarkable if more than eight percent of adults in Dakar were regularly employed. Small businesses are the greatest source of income for many who live in Dakar, a reported quarter of whom report running microenterprises.
A strong correlation exists between poverty in Dakar and a lack of education. While over half of people have access to public education, only one third complete elementary schooling and very few finish a secondary education. In Senegal, 84 percent of people living in chronic poverty have not had schooling. Education may be the key to their advancement.
– Olivia Kostreva