I spent Christmas in Dakar this year. The geography department of Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar invited me to do so. I am the external examiner on a doctoral thesis committee. Modou Ndiaye, who I first met two years ago when he served as field research assistant (see this post from 2018), was ready to defend his thesis in urban geography. Entitled “La Planification urbaine à lépreuve du développement durable au Sénégal : acteurs, enjeux et stratégies dans le projet de ville nouvelle de Diamniadio,” the thesis investigates the recent development of a new town, Diamniadio, on the eastern edge of the Dakar agglomeration.
The crux of Ndiaye’s research lies in the contradictory pressures of glitzy real-estate development (which I have called urban bling), government planning processes, and sustainable development. Not unexpectedly, this leads him to question both the meaning and the practice of urban governance. The Committee unanimously approved the thesis, though its author must modify it a bit before the final version is tabled.
While in Dakar, UCAD graciously housed me in the Maison de l’Université, a handsome example of mid-20th-century modern architecture. UCAD has a beautiful, serene campus. Its gardens and woods are a veritable haven in what is otherwise a crowded, noisy and polluted metropolis. The campus served as a botanical garden early in its history and the legacy of that practice still shades its alleyways and courtyards. The first sounds to waken those who reside there are the chirping, cooing and quacking of the various and sundry bird species that inhabit it. What a way to start the day!
My stay in Dakar was not all work. I had lots of time for sight-seeing. The city’s newly-restored 1880s train station looks like a jewel, and affirms a new commitment to passenger rail service–a solution to so many of today’s urban woes. The near-by Musée des civilisations noires is a welcome addition to both public space and the public sphere. I did not have my camera with me that morning, so no photos of those two buildings. Sorry.
I made sure to bring my camera along the next day when I visited the big new Murid mosque, Massalikoul Djinane, which now rises over Cerf-Volant neighborhood. Modeled (loosely) on Touba’s Great Mosque, Massalikoul Djinane has changed Dakar’s skyline. I was mostly impressed by the quality of workmanship of the interior decorations, and with the playful interpretation of classical Islamic motifs, all warmly rendered in shades of gold. Here is a glimpse:
I lived on UCAD campus back in 1988 (see this post). Spending a few days there over Christmas allowed me to revisit old haunts. There are more academic and residential buildings than there were 30 years ago, and far more businesses now cater to the needs of students. Also, I observed that the student activism for which UCAD has been famous for generations has in no way diminished. Some things change, others shouldn’t.