Monday, July 16, 2012

Dreams of Presidents: 1. The Atlantic Dubai

Take the R30 road west from Kébémer, Senegal, and some 25 miles of scrub and desert later you reach the atlantic coast and the tiny village of Lampoul. In 2007 the President, Abdoulaye Wade, born in the area when it was still part of colonial French Sudan, announced his vision of a new capital to be placed in this wild spot - a "Dubai on the Atlantic".

By 2010 the Government was to be transferred to the new city - by 2015 the population would be 2 million. Minister Ahmed Niasse spoke proudly that "We think this new Dubai can be more attractive than the Dubai in the Gulf," basing his hopes on a Paul Romer style tax free model.

The idea had some rationale to it. The existing capital, Dakar, has its growth strangled due to its position on a peninsular, and there are other recent West African precedents. The city had a price tag of $30 billion and memorandums of understanding were signed with Dubai World, the state owned Emirati company that grew a city from nothing once before. Wade was notorious for spending huge sums on "prestige projects". Work began making a hill for Wade's conception of an "African Renaissance Monument" in 2006. To be built by a North Korean construction company, when completed it would be the tallest statue in Africa.

After that the internet goes silent, as remain the dunes of Lampoul. There's no word of what scuppered the deal. In 2008, of course, the global economic crisis struck - a year later Dubai World asked creditors for a six-month ‘standstill’ on its debt repayments, which has since extended to 9 years. Add to that the fact that Sudan never had the oil capital that the Emirati's expansion was based upon and it hardly seems surprising the plan came to nothing.

Wade lost power in March 2012. He was praised by Hilary Clinton for accepting the result magnanimously. The new President's birthplace is to the south of Dakar, far from the small fishing village that was to become a global city. However, at least Wade got his statue.

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