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Covid-19: Noose tightens around Senegal’s informal sector

At the cost of strict measures such as the introduction of a curfew, Senegal has repositioned itself to fight the coronavirus, but an entire section of its informal sector is in danger of collapsing.By Abdourahmane Diallo 

It’s dusk in Ngor, a commune in the western district of the Senegalese capital. 

In the streets, passers-by are hurrying to get back to their homes before the beginning of the curfew at 8 p.m.

President Macky Sall, in order to head off a Covid-19 epidemic has declared a state of emergency with a curfew throughout the national territory.

Henceforth, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., it is strictly forbidden to be in circulation unless for specific authorisation. 

The defence and security forces are responsible for enforcing the measure every evening, often with truncheons.

 In Ngor, night life has stopped. In this small town, a cathedral-like silence has replaced the usual din. 

In the narrow and sometimes dark alleyways, only the mewing of cats punctures the dead calm in Dakar’s 18th district.

The situation has plunged into dismay many people who whose livelihoods depended on nocturnal activities. 

Alpha Diallo, the fifty-year old owner of a restaurant not far from a bus terminal with crossed legs is at his wits’ end.

 “I used to sell at least 180 sandwiches. But today, nothing. Unlike others, we’re very exposed here. And if we venture to break the law, we’re risking a lot,” he explains with a deflated look.

 While recognizing the need for curfews to stem the spread of the disease, the polygamist and father of a dozen children believes that its long-term application would have serious implications.

 “Let us all pray that this disease will disappear as soon as possible. Otherwise, many risk falling into chronic poverty,” Alpha says.

 Like him, Alsséni Diallo has been confined to his home for three days before being forced to return to work. 

For this kebab seller at the beach, it’s a matter of survival. 

“If the big traders and other bosses are already complaining about the effects of the coronavirus, what will happen to us who are struggling to earn CFA5,000 a day?” he wonders. 

His wife, sitting next to him, immediately reproaches him for not having followed his advice: 

“I told you to look for a spot. You told me that you will stay on the beach until the day they chase you away. And look at where that has led us”.

 Adapting to survive

 To date, 142 positive cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Senegal. 

Taking its cue from China and even the West, the government could tighten restrictions if the death toll worsens. 

Taking the lead, some restaurateurs are adjusting their schedules to cope with the situation. 

This is the case with Idrissa. His restaurant, nestling a stone’s throw from the village’s second mosque, is always full.

 It’s almost 8pm and all the customers have only one desire: to get their sandwiches back in time. 

Strongly recommended by the health authorities, social distancing measures are no longer a priority.

 “I haven’t even done the dusk prayer yet because of the customers who are trooping around,” he adds, looking at the stove used to prepare omelettes. 

Overwhelmed, Idy, as the buyers call him, has shaken up his habits: 

“Now I work from 3 p.m. on. Anyone who wants to buy can come in. And that’s the best I can do for my customers” he points out.

 On the first nights of the curfew, the young people of Ngor share a deep mistrust of the police. 

No living soul dares go out as soon as the curfew begins.

 “That’s good. It allows us to sell our food early and get some rest. That way, we wake up more easily to honour the dawn prayer,” says Abdourahmane, another gargote manager.

 In Dakar, where many families are struggling to make ends meet, fast food at night has grown exponentially. 

At a lower cost, citizens eat to their fill and hope of better days.

 But this is not the only sector affected by the curfew that has been in effect since last Monday. 

Standing in front of his cab, Babou Guèye, dressed in a large blue grand boubou with black headgear, is waiting for possible passengers wishing to travel to the neighbouring commune of Ouakam.

Like many of his colleagues, he has decided to make the journey during the day. 

“We used to work in the evenings. Sometimes I would drive until 1 or 2 a.m. But that’s all gone now. We have to compete with the other public transporters. And it’s not easy because they have cheaper fares,” the young man explains regretfully.

In neighbourhood shops, some vendors develop schemes to continue their activities during curfew. 

“I close at 7:45 p.m., but I don’t turn off the shop’s lights. Any customer who wants to buy a product knocks on the door. I sell and close it immediately. This allows us to avoid sleepless nights without filling the drawer with money,” says a young man, speaking on condition of anonymity.

To mitigate the effects of the health crisis on the national economy, President Sall has set up the Force Covid-19 Fund with a proposed CFA1000 billion. 

While this resource will be used, among other things, to support businesses, households and the diaspora, the informal sector will still need support to recover from this situation.


Published on 28.04.2020

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