The Port of Dakar is the western-most point on the continent of Africa. It is also the capital of Senegal and one of the major seaports in West Africa. The Port of Dakar’s harbor is outstanding, protected by limestone cliffs and a system of breakwaters. In 2004, over one million people lived in the Port of Dakar, and over two million lived in the Dakar urban area.
Located half-way between the mouths of the Senegal and Gambia rivers on the southern Cape Verde Peninsula, the city has the Wolof name for the tamarind tree (Dakhar) and a Lebu village once located south of the Port of Dakar’s first pier. The Port of Dakar is an important service and industrial center for West Africa. Industries located there can fish, mill flour, brew, assemble trucks, and refine peanut-oil and petroleum. The Port of Dakar’s Leopold Sedar Senghor International Airport is a major stopping point for flights traveling between South America and Europe.
With its strategic location on Africa’s western-most point and near busy international trade routes, the Port of Dakar was almost guaranteed success. The modern port of call was established in 1857 when the French built a fort on Cape Verde, although commercial trade had been occurring there for many years already. In that year, the French governor signed an agreement with the Imperial freight forwarders making Dakar a mandatory stop on the regular shipping line between France and Brazil. The agreement led to efforts to improve the port and provide top-quality services to incoming vessels. In the mid-1860s, a short breakwater at Dakar Point and several lighthouses around Cape Verde went into operation.
The Port of Dakar remained a small peanut-exporting settlement until the mid-1880s when West Africa’s first railroad connected the city to Saint-Louis, the colony’s capital. The railroad drove increases in peanut cultivation to the area, and the city began to grow. By 1902, the Port of Dakar was the federal capital of French West Africa.
The Port of Dakar became more important during World War I. In 1923, a new rail line to Mali (French) opened, bringing new trade to the port. Between 1910 and 1926, the road and rail network services for the Port of Dakar were developed. Warehouses wired for electricity and cranes and tugboats were purchased for the Port of Dakar. From 1926 to 1933, three new piers were added to the port’s installations, an oil berth was added to the northern pier, and dredging work was completed. In the 1930s, Pier No. 3 was built, as were warehouses on Piers 2 and 3. By the end of the 1930s, the Port of Dakar was the major peanut-shipping port in the region.
Development of the Port of Dakar slowed during World war II while France was occupied by Germany. Dakar recognized the German-backed Vichy government of France. Only when French West Africa came to support the Allies in 1943 did further development begin. However, the need, both locally and in North Africa, for vegetable oil made peanut-oil refining an important industry in the Port of Dakar during the war when they could no longer get the oil that had been refined in France.
After the end of World War II, Pier 4 and the petroleum wharf were constructed. By 1961, French West Africa had split into eight independent states, and the Port of Dakar’s markets shrank. Dakar was for a short time the capital of the Mali Federation, and it became the capital of Senegal. The first fishing dock was added in 1962, and the second in 1972. In 1972, the first fishing pier was opened.
In 1980, the western side of Pier 1 was deepened from 8.5 to 10 meters to accommodate container ships. In 1983, a new roll-on/roll-off quay was added in the southern zone of the Port of Dakar and an additional 10 thousand square meters was added to the western side of the quay. In the latter half of the 1980s, the Port of Dakar Container Terminal was built with two jetties with alongside depth of 11.6 meters and eight hectares of platform.
From the late 1990s to 2004, the Container Terminal was expanded, as was the road network serving the terminal. Since World War II ended, the Port of Dakar has grown significantly. Today, it is surrounded by suburbs and shantytowns.