Dakar’s history is rather recent, the oldest buildings dating back to 1860s. Dakar’s first inhabitants were Mandinka people. They were the ones discovered by Dinis Diasthe Portuguese explorer who landing on its coasts in 1444. At the end of the 15th century, some Leboufishermen who were fleeing Takrur, a kingdom located in the North-East of the Senegal Riverbegan to settle there.

The name of Dakar appeared for the first time on a map in 1750when Michel Adanson, a French botanist, drew a sketch of the Cap-Vert, another name of the city. According to a number of sources, Dakar could be the French version of Ndakaru, a local name, of which the etymology remains uncertain. Ndakarucomes from the Wolofexpression, deuk raw, which means “the one settling there, shall be at peace”. Others say that it comes from dëkk-raw, a combination of dëkk(country) and raw(escape). According to the same source, Dakar could also come from the Wolof term, dakharwhich refers to the tamarind, a tree which had a strong presence on the coast when the Lebou peoplearrived in the 16th-century.

The city of Dakar was founded on May 25 1857 by Léopold Protet, Division commander and senior commander of the Goree and its dependencies colony. Formerly and since 1793, the city was run by a government of the Lebou Republic Moreover, when Protet arrived in Dakar, he actually met with Lebou people with whom he secured agreements. The Lebou community faced the French settler with courage and determination during years.However, the true founder of Dakar is recognized as Emile Pinet-Laprade who submitted his first cadastral plan in 1858. The building of the Les Mamelles Lighthouse was launched in 1859, it was followed by work construction of the port in 1860.

On June 17 1887, Dakar became an independant town. She was not depending on Goree anymore and Jean Alexandre became its first mayor on December 9 1887. Heavy construction and sanitation work was performed. Dakar population reached 8737 inhabitants against 2100 for Goree. In 1902, the city became the capital of the French West Africa. In 1921, it had a population of 32440, including 1661 Europeans. During this period, a Lebanese-Syrian immigration wave was also observed, which actually started as soon as 1890 at Saint Louis. In the capital, those newcomers were integrated through small and medium trade sectors.

Historical events

The Battle of Dakar

The Battle of Dakar, also known as Dakar Operation, Dakar expedition or Operation Menance, was a naval battle opposing pro-German Vichy French against pro-British Free French and the British during World War II. From September 23 to 25 of 1940, off the coasts of Dakar and the Cap-Vert presque-isle, near the city of Rufisque, the Free French forces of General Charles de Gaulle and the British forces fought the French forces of the Vichy government led by Pierre Boisson, governor and general of the French West Africa since June 26 190. This ended as an unsuccessful attempt for the British and the Free French.

However, this operation was more of an ideological turning point for the involved governments than a crucial battle regarding the forces, the number of causalities or destroyed/damaged military units. The General Charles de Gaulle, who participated at the battle at sea, remained cut off after this event. He is even threatened politically by Admiral Muselier, wrongly accused to be a source of leak of information that prevented the landing. However, for Churchill, the Dakar matters was putting De Gaulle as a credible alternative for Vichy France in the colonies, this feeling being reinforced by the success of the Leclerc’s operation on the French Equatorial Africa in August, and on the eve of the Free French assertiveness at the Lebanon and Syrian events against the pro-Vichy people.

Political and administrative functions

Since its foundation in 1857, Dakar is marked by its important central political and administrative functions. Today, as the political capital of Senegal and seat of the economic and State power, Dakar gathers all the major legislative and executive institutions as well as all the headquarters of the organisations and public institutions (production and services). This politico-administrative hub is located between the South of the Boulevard de la République and the Cap Manuel. This administrative hub represents the basis of the city’s influence on a national level. In this limited location, you can find the Palace of the Republic and the government’s headquarters that represent the executive power; the National Assembly related to the legislative power; the Courthouse to stand for the judiciary power; the Economic and Social Council; one of the most important hospitals of the country and the military power.

Economic functions

If the country’s economy mostly relies on farming, it is also dominated by Dakar for two main reasons: firstly all the farming products intended for export are carried to Dakar to do so; secondly, the few industries in charge of processing the primary products are almost exclusively based in the capital.

Those economic functions also include the concentration of commercial installations such as the port of Dakar, Sandaga market and the financial and banking institutions. The retail sector remains the most dynamic one in the urban economy. It represents almost 72% of the micro business and 41.8% of the informal employment in the region. This is mostly explained by the fact that this is one of the rare sectors, together with the craft trades sector, to offer opportunities for economic integration to the young people with a lack of qualification.