New funding has been approved for the construction of a 200km highway between Dakar and Saint-Louis.
The longstanding project, which will connect Senegal’s capital city to its centre for sugar production, and planned hub for offshore gas exploitation, Saint Louis, will move forward with a €166.36m loan from the African Development Bank (AfDB).
In 2019, a feasibility study by the AfDB estimated the project’s total cost at $870m. For the moment and according to the latest figures, 37% of the project’s estimated costs are covered.
The AfDB will be the second biggest lender to the project after the Islamic Development Bank, which committed $270m last February.
Three other development institutions have confirmed the size of their support: the West African Development Bank, the Saudi Fund for Development, and the OPEC Fund for Development, which committed $41m, $63m and $64.73m respectively.
Other institutions, including The Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development, and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, are also expected to announced their support for what will be Senegal’s fourth highway, giving the country 558km of high-speed roads.
In November 2021, Senegal signed $1bn of deals with the American project construction firm Bechtel, which include the construction of the Dakar-Saint Louis Highway, the installation of 375 traffic lights, the construction of the two bridges and the creation of a digital network for public safety.
The Dakar-Saint Louis Highway will be controlled by the Senegalese state-owned road management company Ageroute, which will also assist Bechtel in providing preliminary design and technical assistance during multiple construction phases.
A strategic highway
The Dakar-Saint Louis Highway is of commercial importance for Senegal’s growing economy.
The exploitation of new offshore gas terminals next year, one of which will be located about ten kilometres off Saint-Louis, is expected to dramatically change the country’s economic landscape.
The 200km highway could play an important role in the export of gas through the port of Dakar. The road is also expected to improve the Cairo-Dakar Trans-African Highway and increase intra-Africa trade, notably by giving easier access to the Moroccan coastal city of Tangier, the biggest port in Africa.
The highway will also connect to another longstanding project, the Rosso bridge, which will connect Mauritania and Senegal over the Senegal River Louis for the first time, boosting the trade between Dakar and Nouakchott. In recent years, Senegal and Mauritania have become increasingly close commercial partners due to the common exploitation of the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim LNG Terminal, Africa’s deepest offshore gas project.
The highway is also part of Macky Sall’s Emerging Senegal Plan (PES) to open up the country’s north and diversify the economy beyond Dakar.
The starting-point of the highway, Lac Rose (see map below), is one of Senegal’s most popular tourist attractions and is set to become a new city aimed at reducing congestion in Dakar.
Other land-locked cities, such as Tivaouane and Mékhé, are expected to benefit from the highway for the trade of agricultural products, which constitute the main economic activity in the region.
“The Dakar-Tivaouane-Saint Louis Highway will open up access to the northern regions, considered to be the breadbasket of Senegal in terms of rice cultivation,” said the Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade, AfDB’s Vice President for Regional Development and Business Delivery.
“It will contribute to the implementation of the government's strategy to process agricultural products, thereby substantially reducing their transport costs,” she added.
Environmental and social concerns
But the implementation of a 100m-wide and 200km long highway in the middle of Senegal’s northern provinces raises concerns over the loss of farm fields, in a region where agriculture is by far the main source of income.
A socio-economic survey by the Minister of Infrastructure and Land Transports has identified 6948 properties impacted by the project, of which nearly half are agricultural plots.
"The agricultural losses are very worrying, as most of our village’s fertile lands are within the motorway's right of way," an inhabitant living in a village close to Louga, a regional capital and strategic city for the implementation of the project, told the survey.
According to the thank-tank LEGS Africa, 1871 hectares of agricultural lands will be lost between Dakar and Mékhé, and 1309 hectares between Mékhé and Saint-Louis.
The Ministry of Infrastructure and Land Transport said farmers will receive financial compensations, but LEGS Africa argues that the destruction of 395,948 trees due to the construction of the highway will foster desertification in a region already affected by rising temperatures. The think tank advocates for a large reforestation plan alongside the construction works.