Posts Tagged ‘Dakar’

Hello – anybody there? (part 3 and end)

March 31, 2012

Amsterdam residents with roots in the pre-digital age will (i.e. everyone over 40) remember that once upon a time they had to go to the rather unpleasant offices of the city’s electricity utility (Gemeente Energie Bedrijf, or GEB) to pay their bills. That’s all in the past of course. Here in Senegal, this is an evolving story.

ahhh, the good old days... (sort of)

Here, our great, wonderful, lovely electricity supplier Senelec (third largest company in the country, annual turnover of some 350 million euros, according to a 2011 survey by business magazine Reussir) used to insist on cash payment at one of their offices. There was one nearby, across the Autoroute de l’Aéroport. Was.

Routine procedure. Take a book along, because this will take time. Get in early. Take a number. If you’re late, you’ll be #150 in the queue. There are a grand total of TWO windows for this crowd of remarkably patient customers. If you hang in there, their numbers will drop fairly rapidly because a lot of people, facture in hand, payment at the ready, will leave before it’s their turn. Still, expect to spend an hour (or two – or three) here as the electronic queue counter bleeps the numbers up until it reaches you.

Now – a few enterprising men and women decided that there was a niche here. They gave you an alternative. Forget about the Senelec payment office, drab as only state utilities can build them. Instead, go to a neat little office, pay your bill, and leave. You get a receipt and are told to come back tomorrow. Takes all of five minutes. Come in the next day and find the receipt waiting, stamped and all – proof of payment.

Price of this excellent service? The grand total of 500 CFA Francs, €0,75. Needless to say, business was booming.

So what did Senelec do? Give thanks and praises to these entrepreneurs? Help them set up a system to incorporate this neat example of customer friendliness into their own system?

Er, no.

Instead, we got this advert in the press. I paraphrase, but only slightly:

‘For some time, courtesy cabinets have been offering, through the newspapers, services related to the payment of electricity bills in a private capacity. Senelec informs its customers that it has not set up any private structure outside its own commercial offices that can cash electricity bills…Paying the amount due to an intermediary does not constitute a settlement towards Senelec and does not exonerate the customer from the risk of having delivery of electricity suspended should the obligation of payment not be respected…’

and do note the payoff...

A fine piece of warm fuzzy, customer friendliness, written I’d suspect by some bureaucrat with warm fuzzy memories from certain European countries that used to be run by political parties wielding Red Stars and slogans about the World Proletariat Defeating Imperialism (yes, these existed and I visited four of them; I have the pictures…).

Now – fast-forward a few months (I told you: this is an evolving story) and the following happens.

You see: Senelec sends bills but it does not always send electricity. Amazingly, people get upset about this, especially if this goes on for months. So in June 2011, for a whole variety of reasons, people were really fed up and some members of the Great Senegalese Public went into the same offices where they used to sit, patiently, for hours on end, waiting their turn to pay their facture

…and smashed them up.

Senelec across the road from where I live? Closed.

Senelec in Ouakam, on the other side of the airport, which now administers the electricity supply for my part of town? Barely functioning.

The story is repeated all over town and indeed the country.

So who is there to take up the slack? Ha! Those maligned agents who had yanked Senelec’s bill settlement system straight into the 20th century!! They now sport brand new signs above their entrances and statements to the effect that they are “officially approved”. That includes the lady who runs my payment office. Only thing is: she now has to go all the way to town, to the Senelec Head Office with the factures and the cash. But that headache is royally offset by the fact that today she also runs payment services for water, the mobile phone – and of course: she’s a Western Union agent.

Hello – anybody there? (part 2)

March 11, 2012


So I left you moaning about bad service habits in the Senegalese capital. Are there any exceptions?


It starts, like most good things, on the streets where service is fast, efficient and reliable. Phone cards, newspapers, brooms, shoe repair, fruit stalls, roadside food (not as good as in, say, Indonesia but that may be a matter of time)… in short: if you want things quickly and efficiently delivered, hit the streets.

But there are others cottoning on to the idea that you need to show that you actually like your customer to be in your establishment…if you want him/her back. The guys and girls at the Fast Food, around the corner get this. The ladies at the hardware shop who sell me lamps and other things have got that one covered. And for an entirely different reason, Ibrahim, my hairdresser has it as well. While he rapidly reduces my hair to crew cut size, he fires off the basic philosophy of his faith: work hard, be kind, be honest, save money and don’t do extravagance. He’s a Baye Fall, of the genuine kind, as he keeps reminding me…

And of course this piece would never be complete without mentioning the two nicest people in the world, my friends Atoumane and Fatoumata, who run Figo Restaurant, around the corner from where I live. Their latest gig: telling you about today’s special in advance – by SMS. How’s that for service? These two could teach the entire Amsterdam leisure industry a thing or two. Because, A Bad Ja, if you think service in Dakar is bad – try and get noticed by a waiter in that supposedly hip and happening Dutch capital. In Amsterdam, service in a distressingly large number of restaurants and bars and terraces has reached astonishingly appalling levels. But that’s for another rant if I can be bothered…

Hello? Anybody there? (part 1)

March 9, 2012

The city life web and Facebook site AgenDakar is currently undergoing reconstruction but if and when it comes back I hope it quickly regains its place as a brilliant chronicle of life in a big West African city.

Here’s why.

A little while back, someone whose nom de plume is A Bad Ja has vented his or her spleen about the virtual non-existence of any sense of service in Dakar’s many shops and leisure facilities such as bars and restaurants and cafés.

I can relate. Here’s a scene. Office requirements shop, two minutes walk from my flat. Client walks in. Woman sits behind desk, watches computer screen. Deigns not to look up. So you…er…stand there until Her Majesty can be bothered to deal with the absolute nobody who just had the temerity to enter the shop and disturb Her Peace. After all, you’re only the client. The business depends on you, right? Her salary depends on you too, right? Yes, so? You have been, are, and will forever remain an inconvenience and a nuisance.

Get the idea? Here’s another one.

Furniture shop, big one. Five minutes walk from my flat. A young man sits behind the desk, on the phone, talking with a relative. I wander around the premises, looking for nothing in particular. No acknowledgement of my presence. Until I hit the stairs on the way up. And then there is a sharp…

“Monsieur, that staircase is closed.” Ah – so I suddenly commence to exist.

“I thought around here we say good morning first…”

We have the young man sleeping on the floor of a perfume shop who responded with complete amazement when I announced that I wanted…what???? Buy something? Are you insane? We had the lady running a retail outlet next door, who took a one  second break from the real life conference she was having with one of her girlfriends or relatives to respond to my question whether she had mineral water.

That was exactly one second more than the girl who did not even bother to put her phone down while I had to look on her computer screen to find out how much I owed the shop. Customers! Bloody nuisance I say! The first shop, by the way, has since closed. Goodbye and good riddance.

So let’s hear it from an exasperated A Bad Ja, laying out some of the basics of customer friendliness (and I paraphrase in translation):

One. You say “Good morning/afternoon/evening”. You are preferably the first to say it and preferably without a “sothiou” (toothpick) or chewing gum still in your mouth.

Two. You do not look the client up and down before replying to his or her “good morning”.

Three. You don’t criticise a client in front of another client, it gives us a creepy idea about what will happen to our own good selves as soon as we have left your establishment.

Four. You raise your feet while walking . Oh yes, A Bad Jah! The swish—-swish—-swish of slippers slowly mowing (no: it’s not a typo) themselves across the shop floor in my more or less general direction is certainly one of my pet hates – second only to…


Five. You do at least try and give us the idea that you like us being around, you know, paying you money to buy things and all that.

Six and most of all: if you haven’t got it, or cannot deliver, Let – Us – Know, preferably at the beginning of our exchange – not at the end. You are wasting our time with that.

AMEN to all that! And come back AgenDakar!

(Part Two coming soon)


February 16, 2011

Out the door, down the stairs, onto the street, turning around to close the front door behind me…


Three steps out, shop’s across the street…


…emerging from shop with baguette…


…four steps along the street in the direction of the fruit stall on the corner…


…six steps later on the way to same fruit stall…


…returning from fruit stall with a few Clementines, just crossing the street to another shop to get some mineral water (which is…


…I said: which is for my coffee machine).

Swinging by the newspaper stand and there is temporary relief…

…home stretch with the groceries but just before getting into the door…


This is not a car alarm constantly going off, nor is it an irritating kid playing with some obnoxious electronic device whilst keeping up with me.



…. the sound of Dakar’s taxis. And if there is one thing I could change about this place…


…I would BAN these incessant short sharp hits on the claxon button.


When it is


blatantly clear that I have no


intention to use a taxi because I did not wave my arm or nod my head, I did not look in the direction of the driver or made any gesture at all to suggest that I was going to need a ride.

BEEP! “Taxi?”

This is quickly (and unhealthily I admit!) becoming my Dakar pet hate. Taximen: I will let you know when I intend to make use of your services, thank you. No need to BEEP!, slow down when I am trying to cross the effin’ road, flash lights, BEEP! some more. I – WILL – LET – YOU – KNOW!!!

Bloody hell.

And there is no real solace in the realisation that they do it to absolutely everyone who looks well-dressed, briefcased, or foreign.

Last night, as I was taking out a pizza, sure enough: the inevitable BEEP! “Taxi?” right in front of the take away store. ‘Man, you’re joking – it’s 300 metres, tops, to my home.’ The reply: ‘Well, I’ll take you.’ It somehow never occurs to the dear drivers that someone who is walking fast in a straight line with a take away pizza in his hand it highly unlikely to be wanting a taxi. Nooooo – it’s…

BEEP! “Taxi?”

Told you it was becoming a pet hate, right?

Taking a break from the beep. Photo: Martin Waalboer

But there are times you do need a taxi, though, which is another minor headache.

‘Salaam aleikoum.’

‘Aleikoum salaam.’

‘Bëggue dem VDN – Cimetière’ (Trying out my rudimentary Wolof for ‘I’d like to go to VDN, which is a thoroughfare, Cimetière being near the office where I pay my rent. I walk it at times but not when I’m busy or can’t be bothered.)


‘Fii ba Cimetière ñaata?’ (Never get into a taxi without knowing the price)

=some ridiculous amount is mentioned=

‘Mon frère, seer na lool’ (probably won’t need translation.)

=slightly less ridiculous amount=

‘OK, mille francs.”

‘Deux mille.’

‘My good friend, it’s round the corner, you can take me to town for that amount.’

‘Mille cinq cents.’

By then, I want to be on my way. And again, no solace in the realisation that this happens to absolutely everyone who takes a taxi. It’s a ritual but one that wears out pretty quickly, especially when you have to do this often.

My street. Fruit stall roof on the top left. Very low taxi density on this pic.

But the real BEEP! problem is of course that there are BEEP! entirely too many of them. Way too BEEP! many taxis chasing way too little BEEP! money. At the Forum last week, someone offered me a ride from one building to the next building – for a thousand francs, €1,50. I’ll give you a hundred, I said and he was genuinely prepared to take the offer…

These are desperate times. Crisis in nearby Côte d’Ivoire lingers on with great impact on the whole region (still, bless Abidjan taxis – they have metres!); oil hits $100/barrel again (import bill goes through the roof here); economy stubbornly refuses to take off, as the government stifles any entrepreneurial spirit that isn’t tied to the Royal Family in one way or another. So, what’s a humble taxi driver to do? BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! for attention in the hope that someone will take him up on his offer. After negotiation.

But good grief – it’s annoying. Even more so when I know that once inside, you can have great conversation, crack jokes, take instant Wolof tutorials…just stop that bloody incessant…


Oh well.

The talk at the Forum

February 14, 2011

France! No country in the world does vague, pompous, obfuscating rhetoric better.

And since the language on much of the just-ended 11th World Social Forum in Dakar was French we were regaled to vociferous choruses of Y en a marre!!! Contestation!!  Restistances!!!

As a matter of fact, the long-winded speeches of France’s much-maligned (and he richly deserves that) president Nicholas Sarkozy and the massive wheezing chainsaw buzz of slogans here at the Forum have a lot in common apart from their Frenchness: they’re pretty meaningless.

Slogans also happen to be replete with extraordinarily lazy thinking. The exploitation of the poor countries by the rich, white, neo imperialists, neo liberalists, did I mention rich? Rich! Damn the lot of them. All this as China and India are rising and Brasil is getting its act together thanks to a decade of seriously smart social democratic government.

How did they pull this off, warts and all? That would be an intelligent question to ask. After all, they are the future. Africa should be part of that future. Europe is the past. So is the US of A.

Are Social Forums like these really necessary in the age of the internet and shouldn’t there be more effective ways? Ousmane Diba, a Senegalese Forum participant had a few interesting things to say about that. He managed to get his letter into at least three Senegalese newspapers and remarked that the Dakar version of the Forum had become more of a bazaar, a consumer fest. True that. There are more intelligent ways to organise alternatives, rather than meeting up with your fellow feel-good right-on folks so you can tell them that you’re ‘hanging out with the voiceless in Mali’, the same way someone in another Forum could say he’d be knocking down G&Ts in Malibu…

Unfortunately, Diba loses the plot towards the end when he writes that we need Leaders (Great ones? Big ones? Dear ones?) to forge the alternative, otherwise “the big international firms (World Bank-IMF-World Trade Organisation) will continue to march triumphantly through the pauperisation of the masses in our underdeveloped countries”. Ah! French rhetoric! Vague, pompous, uninformative chainsaw buzzing!

Anyway, just for the heck of it. The above trio are not firms, they are institutions. They are probably past their sell-by date and both the IMF and the World Bank are suffering from serious mission creep (go back to the original Bretton Woods conference that established the Bank and the Fund and you will ask yourself what the bleedin heck the IMF is doing in any “developing” country).

Equally true, Bank and Fund have been peddling unfettered free market economics in the 1980s to disastrous effect…which is why I believe that the aid establishment, of which these two are an integral part, should be subjected to international tort legislation.

‘It would focus minds wonderfully,’ as I remember one Indian expert say at a conference in the Netherlands, some 15 (!) years ago. And only 9 years back, another development expert made a similar plea in this book. Developing countries are not laboratories for someone else’s social experiments, however allegedly well-intentioned.

But! There is one thing these unwieldy, hubris-challenged and red-tape riddled organisations don’t do. They don’t “march triumphantly” on a pile of poor paupers. Great, Big, Dear Leaders do that. It’s this kind of sloppy, lazy, unhelpful cliché-mongering that a Social Forum could well do without.


At the Forum

February 13, 2011

‘Yeah man, you know, I’m hanging out with the voiceless in Mali…’

He talks according to type and is almost dressed the part as well. Bermuda trousers, tousled hair, know-all look in his eyes. Just add flip-flops and he’d be picture perfect. Of course, the minute he walks off this terrain he’d be identified as one of those underdressed tourists unfit to walk the streets of this unforgivingly elegant city. Women will raise one pencilled eyebrow before dismissing him as unworthy of their attention. But right now, he’s in the thick of it, colonizing my pen as he takes forever writing contact details on a scrap of paper and passing the pen around. While I wait, I look at a lovely crowd of young Africans gyrating to the beat of last year’s FIFA World Cup anthem, Waka Waka.

Wait. A. Minute.

Waka Waka… Yes, that ditty. It was the lame cover version of a great Cameroonian classic that was brazenly stolen by one of the biggest entertainment multinational corporations in the world until the Cameroonian press found out about it and raised a stink. (Listen to my radio story on that thievery here.) Surely that must be entirely out of place at an event that pillories everything that reeks of capitalism.

I am pondering this contradiction as the FIFA tune makes way for some equally ultra-commercial Ivorian couper-decaler and I finally get my pen back without so much as a nod from the French (of course) altermondialiste. I hope he treats the voiceless in Mali with a little more courtesy, if only for their generosity of spirit in allowing this bratty metropolitan into their midst.

Meanwhile, Senegal has taken full possession of the 11th World Social Forum. Mbalax, the trademark dance music here, thunders from the speakers. And the entire space between the various buildings where conferences are happening and statements discussed – has been taken up by vendors. Airport art, mostly, and some of the visitors think it jars a little.

Well, it doesn’t. Vendors say business is very good indeed, they say and I’d be surprised if not at least half of all the attendees will come home with a painting, a sculpted animal, a small talking drum, some jewellery. As far as they’re concerned, the Forum is over much too soon.

Students are less fortunate: the Forum uses their classrooms. I get talking to Ibrahim. We stand on the first floor of one of the faculty buildings strewn with papers, overlooking the busy market below.

‘I’m learning English,’ he says. Sounds like a good move, I tell him. That, or Mandarin Chinese. But he does not want to go to China. At least, not yet.

‘Can you recommend a university where I can further my English?’ he wants to know. Mind spins around sub-region and hits Ghana. By far his best bet I would say.

‘What about the UK?’ Ah, forget it, closed, increasingly xenophobic and losing relevance on the world stage rather fast. Bit like the rest of Europe really.

America – now that would be an opportunity. ‘That’s where I really want to go when I’m finished here.’

The USA!? Ibrahim – would you mind keeping your voice down…don’t you know what this crowd thinks of the USA? Phew – good thing no-one was listening in. I wish him the best of luck and hit the stalls below.

A town, a country, sick to the backteeth of this…

January 29, 2011


This revolution will most definitely not be televised….

…because televisions don’t work if there is isn’t any bloody electricity.

Alright, let’s review.

Today – woke up: no current, 4 hours and counting

Yesterday – twice, three times, first time for 3 hours, then two hours, then half an hour

Thursday – came in from town – it was off, had been for hours the neighbours said

Tuesday – 4 hours, at least

And last Sunday, for seven hours


…the owner of the pharmacy down the road must rush – yet again! – to get his generator going, otherwise he can throw his expensive stock of medicines in the bin

…people everywhere will worry how long this one will last or they may have  to throw out expensive food – yet again

…in the house, in the shops and everywhere it’s back to expensive battery lamps – yet again

…my friend who tries to keep his restaurant going must make sure – yet again – that his meat does not rot, his internet connection does not bomb and he will have to apologise – yet again – for the beers not being very cold… (meanwhile, his fuel bill is €300 a month and is there anyone to reimburse them? Is there f***)

…the launderette must turn away its customers yet again because they cannot work…

Right, class, today’s lesson. How do you to destroy an economy? Simple! Kill its electricity supply.

People assure me that this is the worst ever. Worse, there is absolutely no let-up in sight, in spite of what the Royal Family and its Party say. Senelec, the electricity utility is up to its neck in debts, there is no new money coming in, the mechanics are trying their damnedest to keep the old machinery going and are in fact covering up for the unspeakably bad management of their politically connected directors. And just yesterday, the folks in Ouakam (not exactly the most unprivileged part of town) went on the rampage, throwing stones at the utility’s office – and a house reportedly belonging to the Royal Family. Yoff, not exactly dirt poor either, could be next. It’s happened before.

But take a look at Guediawaye and Pikine, two massive suburbs with up to a million really poor people. You can smell the riots. There, people go without current for days. You read that right – days. So you have just put your family supplies in your old rickety fridge and off it goes – and off goes your food. You have not got the money to replace it. Cook it by candlelight, is all you can do. And hope that when they put it back on they don’t blow your fuses out like they did last time.

Tell you what. I’m seriously inconvenienced by this permanent annoyance (can’t work, no internet, no coffee) but my problems are absolutely dwarfed by those who live on a euro a day and are still facing the indignity of getting invoices from an electricity company that does not deliver. I’d be out on the streets too.

It is beyond a scandal and everyone is beyond fed up. And it’s been said before : it takes a special talent to really annoy the Senegalese. But I think I’m not remiss to say that what we have here could well be the makings of the first public uprising caused by electricity shortages. At least to my knowledge. You cannot piss people off so much for so long without consequence. And you certainly cannot take the piss out of people for such a long time. 2012 is around the corner and there will be something that starts with e-l-e-c-t but does not end in –tricity… Don’t even think about a computerised voting system – but do bring a torch to the polling booth.

So I predict a riot and a very hot election. You read it here. A round of (probably warm) beers when I get it wrong.

The music in my head

January 18, 2011

Quite fitting. I live in Dakar, have a nice little archive of West African music, write about it sometimes…and then I come across “The Music In My Head”. It’s a novel by writer and music critic Mark Hudson and published just over a decade ago. I know the music, heard about the book but never read it.

So, I am very very late with this but that mere fact (in keeping with the main character of the book) just shows you how totally cool I am. Right?

Everyone who has dipped even a small toe in the music business knows that it’s peopled with all kinds of characters and that there is among them a fairly sizeable contingent of individuals who are just, how shall I put it…not very nice. Even though they say they are.

That’s Andrew ‘Litch’ Litchfield, for you, our hero. In the book, he runs a label (of course), he claims deep, profound knowledge of non-White music, he never stops talking, and, oh yes: he has been everywhere. Bolivia. The Caribbean. Seville. Albania. The Himalayas. But nowhere feels better than here, this city, so thinly disguised in the story that the reader immediately recognises Dakar.

A full blown classic

Dakar is of course home to Youssou N’Dour who fronted the legendary Etoile de Dakar. Again thinly disguised, N’Dour (and he does have a melting syrup quality voice like no-one else) plays a major part in Litch’s life. Our World Music Expert, however, makers a mistake. He thinks that he also matters in the life of the great artist. He does not.

Oh and by the way: don’t ever make the mistake of associating Litch with World Music, OK? That’s a totally uncool bland marketing term.

In spite of all his bluster it all ends pretty badly for our authentic music expert. In fact, it ends so badly that he gets deported from the country, after a security officer has told him that he is ‘insignificant’. Ouch!

In the intervening pages a host of characters passes by. Salif Keita, other Senegalese musicians like Pape Seck, Youssou N’Dour’s band, Peter Gabriel, a world music DJ who has never been out of London, an A&R woman who would not know a kora from a balafon but ends up stealing “his” artists, a university graduate who sees the country and its people as a decor for her own larger-than-life drama…

A few of them come out fine, most do not. Which is one of Litch’s rare charms: he is unapologetically judgemental because he thinks he has earned the right. And dammit – sometimes he is right, even though this deep music expert cannot get out of his hotel room without putting his foot quite terribly wrong…

Downtown Dakar. You cannot see my house from here...

But in a way, all these characters are marginal. There are two main players in “The Music In My Head”. One is Dakar, the magnificent home to some of the best music on the planet and, in Litch’s words, ‘the most arrogantly beautiful women on earth.’ (I would agree with “beautiful” in that statement) The only thing I do not recognise at all is the level of danger he associates the city with. Sure, there are places to avoid but Dakar is nowhere near as paranoid as say, Johannesburg. Far, far from it.


The other, the main player, the music. Frenetic drums at a street party that play rhythms you only begin to understand after listening a thousand times. Soaring religious chants at the great annual Senegalese pilgrimage to the holy city of Touba. A band that records one psychedelic song in a garage using pre-historic recording equipment and scores a massive hit – the next day. And of course, Youssou N’Dour in concert and in full majestic flow.

Hudson describes these very well and so you’ll forgive him for some of Litch’s overlong clunky sentences, his ramblings about World Music (long but interesting) and his musings about life in England (long and boring).

But most of all: get the CD, will ya? Classic and I mean utterly classic tunes. Including that garage hit I told you about. Must end here, or else I’ll start sounding like Litch. Now there’s a scary thought…

Fesman glimpses and it ain’t pretty

December 23, 2010

The Global Festival of the Black Arts (Fesman, in French) was originally planned for December 2009. It also costs something like 70 billion CFA Francs, according to the Gazette, a decent weekly here. That’s a cool €107 million. So here’s the question: what the @##!!$$ have the organisers been doing with all that time and all that money. Because Fesman is, in all honesty, a bloody shambles. Take a look at these:

1. In Walfadjri (one of Dakar’s better newspapers) today, the report of a bitter press conference by the architects who were supposed to have had their public conference about architecture and urban development in Africa, an incredibly important issue. They were, according to this report, chiefly talking among themselves and some of their exhibition material never left Customs. Fesman did not pony up the cash to have it released.

2. Upstairs from the restaurant area at the exhibition space CICES: two tables. Parked on top of them, still in their plastic packaging: eight brand new Apple G5 desktop computers. These things ain’t cheap. I bought mine four years ago for €1,700. Do the math, that’s easily 20 grand parked there, without supervision. Three days later I pass the same scene. They haven’t been used once. Ten days on, some have been switched on but left standing. In the “children’s corner…’ There’s only one word for that: waste.

3. Same week, the Gazette reports that the festival has splashed just shy of eleven million euros on roughly one hundred luxury vehicles, acquired through a non-existing company, Six Senegal. You get the picture, right?

a fleur de presse. The lady on the cover is the president's daughter and therefore a Fesman top boss.

4. I meet a local musician who tells me that the organisers had not even considered him for the music programme, even though he lives and works in Dakar. Then, he tells me he gets an SMS in which a show is announced – featuring himself and a few colleagues. An SMS…riiiiight.

So basically, I ask him: you don’t know exactly when you are supposed to play, you don’t know where you are going to play, there is no contract and you have no time to rehearse. ‘That’s right,’ he says, ‘and that’s why I will be demanding cash up front. Otherwise, we won’t go. Besides, I have my own show coming up soon. I’ll concentrate on that – and my new clip. Fesman is secondary.’

5. The mayor of Saint Louis claims that his city’s organising committees never received any info about the Global Festival of the Black Arts. Corroborated by a few members in the organising committees. Quote: ‘In the morning we don’t know who will show up in the evening.’ Now this actually makes perfect sense: Saint Louis is run by the Opposition and this is very strictly a Dakar Showcase for the Ruling Family and Its Party.

6. Those hundreds of pretty festival hostesses in a special festival dress! Well, they only perk up when strictly necessary. Most of the time they spend talking among themselves, because the guests have – once again – failed to show up. Tell you what: when you are supposed to smile at incoming celebrities and VIPs but you don’t get paid as promised  (according to a report in Le Populaire), you quietly decide that said celebrities and VIPs can go %%##@@ themselves. You just don’t tell anyone.

PS: just done a spot check. They still haven’t been paid. There is a word for that but we’re trying to run a decent blog here…

7. Taximen!! Too may cars chasing too little money. Fesman would be manna from heaven…er…forget it. Quote: ‘We get nothing out of this festival. I tell you: nothing!’ All guests are transported by one and the same company, Senecartours. Here’s how.

‘Fesman?’ asks a man. Just him and the driver on a 40-seater passenger bus. ‘We’re going to town.’ I was actually just leaving for lunch in my own neigbourhood restaurant – otherwise I would have had an entire bus to myself. That’s why taximen don’t even bother to show up at the festival hotels and the festival sites. All business gone… and if you want to know how one company got to hog all Fesman transport, a trip to the Ruling Party headquarters might be instructive…the Fesman main site sits right opposite…

8. I really could go on. A few well-connected individuals and by chance also some small businesses are doing OK out of the festival but for most it’s like the FIFA World Cup in 2010: hot air, empty promises and no cash.

Some final thoughts on Fesman – tomorrow.

Random Exhibitions

December 19, 2010

Around the corner from my flat is CICES, a giant exhibition area. Every city’s got one – think of the RAI complex if you’re from Amsterdam.

CICES plays host to a series of conferences on cities, architecture and, as I found out by accident, cinema. All part of the massively disorganised shambles known as the Global Festival for the Black Arts, FESMAN being the French acronym. The Black Arts deserve a lot better than this presidential glorification party but I’ll stop boring you to tears with that…

So: last Monday, I went looking for the conference on cities, which finally took place – on Wednesday. I walked around the exhibition area…building site more like…when I was called. “Kai lekk!”, which means come and eat.

So instead of listening to some drone from academia discuss asymmetrical parallels (no, none of us knows what that means) or conceptual processes, deconstructivism (all in the conference program)…I was having thieboudien with Momar Thiam and his younger colleague, Mr Kassé. Thieboudien: – look that up, it’s among the top ten best dishes on the planet.

They were setting up an exhibition about the history of Senegalese cinema. Also intended to be a strong argument for a national museum of the national cinema. They don’t have to look far; Mr Thiam, himself a film director, keeps all the historical billboards, artefacts, press clippings and everything else…in his own home.

The caretaker of national cinema - and his private collection

Come last Saturday, five days after my first visit – and Mr Thiam’s exhibition is ready. The adjacent one on architecture still reverberates to the sounds of hammers pounding nails. There are very few visitors. Which he finds, quite naturally, disappointing. But he soldiers through with the interviews (first me, for Radio Netherlands, then a colleague for TV5) and still hopes that after years of non-committa promises, he will finally get his museum. I hope so too. But instead of a new home for Mr Thiam’s wonderful collection, we’re more likely to get this:

another monument that will dwarf another landmark...

This is from the architecture exhibition, featuring some work on traditional abodes in Benin, dwellings in Mauritania, a completely random set of new buildings and cityscapes in Ouagadougou, Accra, Dakar  and Bamako – and designs. Lots and lots of designs.

Like the one above.

This is not a copy of the “sail” building in Dubai. Nor is it the locally planned equivalent of a section of the Sydney Opera House. No. It’s…a Monument, a Memorial. We don’t nearly have enough of these in Dakar. It will sit off the historical island of Gorée, which over centuries of Portuguese, Dutch, French and English rule acted as a transit port for spices, hides, gold, gum arabic and most notoriously, slaves. Gorée’s role, though, has been much exaggerated; the main centre of the slave trade in Senegal was the old capital, St. Louis.

If this ever gets built, it will dwarf everything on this tiny island – just 900 metres long and a few hundred metres wide. It’s estimated to cost something of the order of €35m – that’s more than that other Monument. No-one will like it but the president wants it and what the president wants, happens.

Back to the lives of lesser mortals. On my way out of the CICES complex I ran into two young men from Pikine, miles and miles away. ‘We’re not connected to FESMAN…’ Well, that makes you part of the vast majority of Senegalese…

‘This is our marketing: walking around with our arts.’ Would I come and visit them? Definitely, as they gave away glimpses of their lives in the few minutes we spoke: failed overseas migration, life in one of Dakar’s poorest areas, struggling to make money through arts and not being shy about wandering into a party to which they were obviously not invited.

Moral of the story? Ignore official programs. Always accept an invitation to eat. Talk to everyone who does not carry an official badge.