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Road Renovations to Ease Dakar's Traffic Bring Chaos and Allegations of Corruption

  • Nico Colombant

Traffic in Senegal's seaside capital, Dakar, is often described as the worst in Africa. Authorities are trying to solve this. But, temporarily, at least, road renovations are making gridlock even worse. VOA's Nico Colombant had this experience

The traffic is whizzing by on the outskirts of Dakar, but it is only six in the morning, and as you approach the center of town, the whizzing halts to a cacophony of idling engines.

This man is waiting for his bus, known as a "car rapide," meaning fast bus. It is anything but [fast].

He explains that all the major routes into the city are being repaired at the same time. During the rainy season, he warns, it will turn disastrous.

Oumar Sar is waiting for bus Number 5, the third of his commute. He says he has to wake up before five to make it to his office job on time at eight.

Many residents live on the outskirts of the capital, where lodging is cheaper. For them, commuting can take up to five hours per day.

The broiling sun now penetrates car windows, and this woman driver says she made a terrible decision, to try to leave the city center to go buy something. She says she has now wasted her day, and will not be able to get back to work.

Close by, amid the din of traffic noise, a housewife, Aisatou Sedi, is waving frantically to get on a bus. Speaking in the local wolof language, she says she can never predict traffic, even for short trips from her home to the closest markets.

She says her in-laws are often furious, because her lunches are late, putting unnecessary stress on her marriage.

As part of efforts to prepare the city for a summit of Islamic nations, the government has received tens of millions of dollars, mostly from Kuwait, to renovate the city.

Plans include refurbishing main roads and digging a 10-kilometer highway tunnel. Not everyone is against the idea.

This bus passenger says, people should be patient and proud that the government is trying to improve their city. He says it is normal. He says they should reserve judgment until later.

But delays in road renovation have already pushed back the summit until 2008. In charge of the renovation is the president's only son, Karim Wade.

His closest aides are being accused of massive corruption. Accusers, though, are being found guilty of blasphemy. The government denies any wrongdoing.

Wherever the guilt lies, themes of road repair and traffic are expected to be central topics in presidential elections planned for next year.

Meanwhile, far from politics, hundreds of youths zigzag among the slowly moving cars, begging or offering cheap goods for sale, risking arrest, because hawking is illegal.

One of the hawkers, Pap, says he is just 14. He says he dropped out of school because both his parents are handicapped and have no money.

He says he makes a few dollars a day reselling scarves, bracelets and small jewelry.

He says he has no choice but to face possible jail time and this life in the middle of exhaust fumes, because, he says, it is his duty to help feed weaker members of his family.

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