Thu, Jan 15, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Senegal counts cost of Dakar Rally relocation

AFP , LAC ROSE, SENEGAL

Former rally driver Rene Metge of France prepares to start the race on the beach in Saint-Louis for the 12th and last stage, between Saint-Louis and Dakar, Senegal, of the first edition of the Africa Race on Sunday. The Africa Race started on Dec. 30 in Nador, Morocco, and continued over 13 days and 7,000km through Mauritania to Lac Rose in Senegal.

PHOTO: AFP

On the banks of Senegal’s Lac Rose, the traditional finish for the Dakar Rally, the worrying sound of livelihoods disappearing has replaced the noisy din of car and motorcycle engines.

After hosting the climax of the world’s most grueling and dangerous desert race since the start of the 1980s, this year’s Dakar was switched to South America after a series of terror attacks in Mauritania compromised the event’s security.

As a result, instead of hundreds of competitors and camp-followers gleefully pouring desperately-needed hard currency into this west African state, the area is virtually deserted.

The only engines being heard this year are those of the local salt trucks.

“Not having the rally come here anymore is a huge blow. It brought in a lot,” said Assane Kane, the president of the village giftmakers and craftsmen who could “make around 250,000 West African [CFA] francs [US$500] in just one day” from the visitors.

Aliou Oumar Ndiaye, the owner of Chez Salim, is also nostalgic for the boost that the race brought.

“Financially, we could make 10 to 15 times more a month,” he said, reflecting on a second successive year when the rally has been missing.

Last year, the Dakar was canceled at the last minute following the murders of four French tourists by al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mauritania.

“There were repercussions as the rally’s loss means a shortfall for our hotel,” Ndiaye said.

A former campsite owner Idrissa Diop believes that the final stage of the rally would mean around 200-300 extra people gathered at Lac Rose.

“That could mean doing 5 million CFA francs a day,” he said.

In the craftsmen’s village, Cheikh Ba has spent the last 12 years selling traditional musical instruments and paintings.

One design, showing a silhouette of two desert nomads, bears the inscription “Lisbon-Dakar 2008.”

“I didn’t sell any of them last year,” Ba said.

Many businessmen in Senegal believe the loss of the Dakar will have major financial repercussions for the whole of the country, not just the region here.

“The rally was a major promotional event for Senegal throughout the world. People knew about the Dakar,” said El Hadj Malick Mbaye, the head of the national tourist authority.

Despite the gloom, Lac Rose will still enjoy a taste of motorsport this year.

At the weekend, a new competition, the Africa Race, the brainchild of former triple Dakar winner Hubert Auriol, was due to finish here.

But the Senegalese media refused to get too excited about the event which followed the trail from France to Senegal via Morocco and Mauritania and only boasted a small number of entrants.

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