The triplex offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic coast. An “ideal” spot in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, to admire the sunset, praises Makhmoud Camara. The real estate agent, wearing designer glasses, lists the advantages of this exceptional property on the 60 m2 terrace: “600 m2. Five bedrooms. Italian marble tiles. Jacuzzi. Pool. Gym. Garden. » Despite its price of “several million euros” which Mr. Camara prefers to keep quiet, the apartment, like all of the developer’s “high-end” properties, quickly found a buyer. In 2024, Focus Immobilier is preparing to deliver three new ultra-modern six-story buildings located 500 m from the Dakar Corniche. “60% of our clients are African investors. Then come the French and the Asians. They rent their 300 m2 pied-à-terre for up to 3 million CFA francs per month (4,570 euros),” says Mr. Camara. A staggering sum in a country where more than half of the population lives below the poverty line.

A short distance from the housing estate, further north of the peninsula, dozens of workers are busy on the construction site of a villa by the ocean. On this Senegalese coast threatened by rising waters, the risk of flooding does not seem to worry the project manager. A simple concrete wall separates the gigantic house from the sea. The buyer, “an Ivorian personality”, paid 3.5 million euros. The 1,200 m2 villa offers five bedrooms, a 38 m long swimming pool surrounded by a vast garden. And an imposing living room overlooking the beach with double kitchen, one “American” in the living room, the other at the back where the domestic employees work. The latter are housed in an adjoining room of 8 m2.

“Eleven similar properties are already sold without advertising,” boasts Seyni Diagne, development director of the Vacap SA holding company. “We favor word of mouth to create harmonious cohabitation with a clientele who gets along well and shares compatible architectural tastes,” explains the developer, whose company is supervising the construction, on this 16-hectare site, of a neighborhood made up of around sixty apartments. The entry ticket is 1 million euros for 450 m2. And the projects are multiplying. In February, the company obtained a loan of $81 million (€75.7 million) from an American public body, the United States International Development Finance Corporation, for the construction of a complex hotel on the same site. “This is the most significant American public funding in the hotel sector in the world,” rejoiced the Senegalese company headed by businessman Amadou Loum Diagne.

“Anarchy in Almadies”

On this portion of the Senegalese coastline still inhabited by fishing families, and from which young people leave in canoes in search of a future in Europe, luxury real estate has experienced spectacular growth over the past twenty years. Coveted by investors, the 25 km of coastline are subject to intense land and environmental pressure. A privatization of the public domain which gives rise to strong tensions. “It’s anarchy in Almadies with these “waterfront” villas,” denounces architect Pierre Atepa Goudiaby, engaged in the defense of the coastline. “In our time, the Senegalese would go swimming, but they can no longer,” he notes. Our sea has been confiscated from us. »

This close friend of Ousmane Sonko created panic by announcing, on Sunday April 28, on national television, the shutdown of construction sites underway on the Dakar Corniche. A measure confirmed the next day by a note from the Minister of Finance, consulted by Le Monde, which also ordered a scrupulous examination of land files currently under investigation in several tense areas in Dakar and other cities in the country. The announced objective is to shed light on the “resurgence” of land disputes which threaten “social peace”.

“This will curb speculation and land predation. It is scandalous that on the Corniche people have bought land at 2,400 CFA francs per m2 (3.65 euros) which are resold for up to 1.8 million for the same m2. These land titles are illegal because this public domain can only be declassified for reasons of public and not private utility,” denounces Pierre Atepa Goudiaby.

“According to the law, it is prohibited to build solidly within 100 m of the high water mark. However, we see construction of several floors even on classified sites. This is an aberration that we have been denouncing for years,” regrets Colonel Papa Saboury Ndiaye, head of the Directorate of Land Use Surveillance and Control (DSCOS). Its body, made up of gendarmes, judicial police officers and environmentalists, is responsible for monitoring the legality of construction in progress.

“Where does this money come from? »

The real estate frenzy, far from being confined to the coast, also affects the residential areas of the capital. A consequence of the attractiveness of the Senegalese capital for multinationals and NGOs, accelerated by the policy of major works and the modernization of infrastructure during the twelve years of Macky Sall’s presidency. A boom which was simultaneously accompanied by the removal of the poorest from a city that had become too expensive.

“Even in the suburbs, a civil servant must pay at least 30 million CFA francs to acquire land. This is out of reach and fuels the misappropriation of public funds, warns Meissa Babou, professor of economics at Cheickh-Anta-Diop University (UCAD) in Dakar. Our country has very few dollar billionaires. However, hundreds of buildings are being built in upscale neighborhoods alone, for an amount that can go up to 1 billion CFA francs (1.5 million euros) per unbuilt land and without a bank loan. . Where does the money come from? »

In a country ranked among the poorest on the planet, the explosion of high-end real estate is fueling suspicions of money laundering. Even if the promoters interviewed assure that the origin of the funds is traced, the sector remains opaque.

According to a study by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) published in 2022, Senegal ranks eighth for “money laundering and terrorist financing risks”. Having become a transit zone for narcotics heading to Europe, the country has engaged under Macky Sall in the fight against drug traffickers by strengthening the police arsenal. However, drug money has massively seeped into the stone.

Great growing fortunes

“In 2013, 96% of the $480 million invested in the real estate sector came from dubious origins,” estimates researcher Abdelkader Abderrahmane, author of the ISS survey. In 2019, around 120 additional real estate agencies were created by drug traffickers in Dakar compared to the previous decade. This stimulated construction throughout the country and in the coastal cities of Dakar, Saly and Mbour and some mega-projects, including Akon City”, the new city supported by the rapper of the same name but which never saw the light of day .

For the new Senegalese authorities, whose popularity was built on the denunciation of corruption, one of the challenges today is to respond to the feeling of impoverishment felt by many Senegalese in the face of the enrichment of a minority. . With the corollary risk of putting hundreds of workers out of work if construction sites are suspended. The “clean-up” measures for the sector that President Bassirou Diomaye Faye could announce are already causing concern among certain promoters, fearing they will pay the price of tracking down ill-gotten assets. “More transparency is a good thing,” rejoices Makhmoud Camara. Companies that know the origin of funds thanks to banks and notaries have nothing to fear. This is not always the case for individuals who build multi-million dollar buildings without a bank loan. »

In a context where the number of wealthy people continues to grow and where Senegal is preparing to exploit oil and gas resources, the demand for luxury goods could continue to develop. “We are growing continuously, but saturation is looming over us. The continuation will depend on the directions taken by our new regime. Until then, the authorities have let it happen,” explains a promoter who sees in the economic promises of the Bassirou Diomaye Faye-Ousmane Sonko duo a possibility of limiting a hitherto uncontrolled expansion.