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In conversation with the Director of Technical Services in Dakar City Council

Published: 12 Jun 2024
Access to Energy Adaptation General Mitigation
In conversation with the Director of Technical Services in Dakar City Council
Cheikh Oumar El Foutiyou Ba was formed in engineering but also, he is an specialist in public infrastructure management. He has been the Director of the Technical Services of the Dakar City Council since 2021, although his work in the municipality began in 2014. Previously, Ba led the transport division and the public lighting and roads division. His current mission is to lead the transformation of the Senegalese capital into a more efficient, livable, and environmentally friendly city. Dakar, in the midst of a transition to clean energy, adopts an ecological approach to become a resilient, intelligent, and innovative city.
 
Dakar is a metropolis in the midst of demographic and urban expansion. How would you define the phenomenon that the city is experiencing now and what impact does it have? 
Dakar is one of the greatest African capitals. The city is growing at a dizzying pace, with explosive population growth... and the amount of waste is growing proportionally to the population. There is a great demand for new infrastructure and urban equipment that we must respond to. The city is undergoing a transformation, characterized by the transition to clean energy with a purely ecological approach. In the Technical Services division of the City Council, all our actions are guided by this approach in order to make Dakar a more resilient, pioneering and environmentally friendly metropolis.
 
What are the main challenges facing the city of Dakar due to rapid and unplanned population and urban growth?
Dakar is a city located on a peninsula that is densely populated and has frenetic activity. The problems are multiple, and the challenges are immense. However, the firm and determined will of the municipal authorities in collaboration with the technicians of the Town, along with the desire to ensure that our city continues to be a showcase for the major cities of the world, determine our work. Most of the economic and administrative activity is concentrated here, so at the end, Dakar is the container for all the country's problems, and we are aware of the difficulty of meeting the needs of a population that continues to grow.

Could you define these challenges? How do they materialise? 
Dakar is a historic city and there is great potential in terms of built heritage that must be preserved, so there are difficulties in safeguarding this heritage. On the other hand, there is a need to move towards modernity to implement new infrastructure that meets the demands of the population. The main challenge is related to urban planning; we know that between 2023 and 2040 the city's population will double, and the objective of the authorities is to alleviate congestion by renewing transportation, lighting, and city equipment. We are currently in an investment phase and facing several challenges. While we are eager to join the ecological transition like everyone else, it is costly, requires significant investment, and demands extensive technical staff training.

Do you believe that Dakar is equipped with all the necessary infrastructure? 
No. We have made some progress, but there is still a significant need for infrastructure to provide the population with access to urban services. As a coastal city, Dakar faces unique challenges: the humidity and salinity from the sea rapidly deteriorate materials. Therefore, we must carefully select the materials we use for urban furniture and other infrastructure. Recently, we changed all the city’s lighting for several reasons. The cost of the city’s energy bill was exorbitant, and many of the streetlights were damaged or non-functional. We replaced the sodium vapor lamps with low-consumption LED bulbs. This relamping program aligns with the city’s sustainable development goals, as it drastically reduces energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from the lighting sector. Today, Dakar is the second best-lit city in Africa, with 60,000 light points, while significantly lowering energy consumption.

The benefits are clear, but what are the disadvantages of changing the city's public lighting?
Currently, we have two warehouses overflowing with damaged or broken urban products. Due to space constraints, we are evaluating how to repurpose all the stored materials. This has led us to adopt a transformative approach to waste materials with the goal of reuse. It is a very important program, supported by Spanish Cooperation through the Basurama collective. Thanks to this project, we have been able to provide training for the city’s technicians to ensure successful transformation. This initiative aligns with Dakar’s vision and commitment to ecological sustainability.
 
What do you mean by reuse? How has the material been reused? 
Some of the streetlights removed during the relamping program have been repurposed into new urban furniture. We successfully created the first prototype with support from the AECID within the framework of the CoM SSA. The Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) financed Basurama's training of a group of local artisans, enabling them to create the prototype, which we have now installed in the garden behind the ‘’Hotel de Ville’’ (Town Hall). The batch of residual material from the relamping program is sufficient to make other prototypes and install them in the city's public spaces.
 
Do you think it is important to reuse materials?
It is essential. Recently, we have identified numerous residual spaces in the city—public areas intended for facilities, parks, and gardens. We recognise that play and leisure areas are scarce in Dakar. Children need places to play and have fun, young people need spaces for sports, and older adults need areas to walk and sit. Recycling materials offers a twofold advantage: it lowers the cost of urban equipment and reduces waste. Acquiring new urban furniture, which is almost always imported, is very expensive. However, training our technicians to create furniture from old streetlights or broken benches is not only an excellent idea but also more cost-effective.
 
But is the lack of furniture and equipment in the city really that significant?
Yes, it is an urgent issue. For example, there are no playgrounds in the city. Additionally, we have a significant deficit of urban furniture: there are very few benches to sit on or trash cans. We plan to develop 55 gardens in the residual spaces we have identified, which will be largely equipped with furniture recycled from the materials we have. We will make swings, slides, and benches, among other items.
 
What do you think of the circular economy and the impact this approach can have on the city of Dakar?
I find it interesting and necessary. The Basurama collective does excellent work in this regard. They have a very innovative and appealing approach for us, perfectly matching our needs. Dakar's potential for equipping public spaces is enormous: there is a great demand for urban furniture, and we have a lot of material in stock to recycle and transform. Projects like those proposed by this collective of artists allow us to meet our commitments to becoming a sustainable city and move towards optimal waste management.

What are your thoughts on the circular economy and its potential impact on the city of Dakar? 
I see it as both interesting and essential. Basurama has done an excellent job in this area, offering an innovative and appealing approach that aligns perfectly with our needs. Dakar has immense potential for enhancing public spaces, with a significant demand for urban furniture and abundant material available for recycling and transformation. Initiatives like those proposed by Basurama enable us to fulfill our commitments to becoming a sustainable city and advancing optimal waste management practices.
 
How do you see Dakar in ten or twenty years? How do you imagine the city?
If we successfully executed all the actions contained in our development plan, Dakar will be a more vital, vibrant city, but also, it will be resilient, intelligent, and attractive. All the actions we are currently implementing are moving in this direction. We are already seeing the results with the TER (regional express train), and soon we will see the impact of the BRT (bus rapid transit). In addition to the 55 gardens, we have a program to plant a million trees. These efforts will transform Dakar into a greener, more enjoyable, and significantly more livable city than it is today.
 
This article was written by Marta Moreiras, as part of the Covenant of Mayors in Sub-Saharan Africa (CoM SSA) initiative.

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