Youssou Ndour, one of Senegal’s musical icons, may be no longer the Minister of Tourism and Culture in his country, but he still wants to play his part as an ambassador, with the launch of the inaugural edition of the “Dakar Forum / Afrika-Innovation”. The conference, scheduled to take place from April 24th to 26th in Dakar, will bring together more than 300 Senegalese, African and European investors and officials, in order to promote Senegal as a top destination for eco-tourism.
Organized by Afrika-Innovation, the company he launched in 2018 with the Brussels agency Phrenos, Youssou Ndour positioned this initiative within the broader framework of “Emerging Senegal Plan,” a governmental roadmap that has identified tourism as a top priority. The broader ambition is to increase the annual number of foreign visitors to Senegal from 1,3 million today to 3 million by 2023. Tourism, which currently contributes 6% to Senegal’s GDP, stands to create thousands of much needed jobs.
“Our focus will be on start-ups, eco-tourism and the promotion of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME),” the singer said during a short trip to Paris mid-April. “The hospitality and agro-business industries are priority sectors, given that they are already some of the pillars of our local economy. Besides our beaches on the Atlantic coast, the architectural jewels of Saint-Louis, our gastronomy and the Senegalese experience of teranga, we also want to promote one of our lesser known assets: eco-tourism around the many natural parks we have around the country.”
Youssou Ndour is already one of the main job creators in Senegal, with a production company, Xippi and his well established media group GFM, which is active in radio, TV and newspapers. GFM is currently trying to strike new partnerships with Belgian investors, such as the Antwerpen Harbour and the industrial group CMI (Cockerill, mechanical engineering), who will attend the Forum.
The Belgian cooperation agency ENABEL will also play an active role, alongside the Belgian development bank Bio-Invest. In an environment where France’s economic presence is Senegal is subject to increasing resentment, the Belgian investors seem willing to position themselves as an alternative, as a new kind of Francophone partner.
Innovation will be boosted by a hackathon, which will be open to young entrepreneurs who will be asked to work together to develop the VisitDakar app. The goal is to launch the app at Dak’Art, during the next arts biennale in 2020. An open call for new projects in the agro-industry will also take place through an Agrifood pitch, with the support of the Senegalese branch of the Nigerian industrial group Dangote and the Moroccan Office company OCP, a leading producer of fertilizers.
Ultimately, culture will be at the center of all conversations, with a debate between Guido Greyseels, director of the Belgian AfricaMuseum, which reopened in December, and Hamady Bocoum, director of the brand new Musée des Civilisations d’Afrique Noire, which also opened last December in Dakar. Their various conversations are meant to tackle the sensitive topic of African art restitution, bringing Dakar to the forefront of African cultural news.