Some more about Kaolack.
Kaolack should be Senegal's second largest city. It sits at the top of a 100 km long estuary, a brackish arm of the sea. This lets Kaolack be a deep-water port -- something that's not so common in West Africa. (Senegal has two. Most of the other countries in the region have one apiece.) However, the estuary is muddy, so any port will silt up and need to be dredged every few years. If it's not dredged, it's shallow-draft only. It hasn't been dredged for a while.
Kaolack sits in the middle of the Peanut Basin, which is an area with decent soil, a fair amount of rainfall (though concentrated in three months per year) and rather a lot of sunshine. The Basin should be an agricultural powerhouse, exporting all over the world. Instead it's full of poor subsistence farmers, small peanut growers who can barely produce a modest surplus, and some plantations run by the Mourides. (The Mourides are a religious... group. Need a post of their own.)
Kaolack used to have a rail line to Dakar. Senegal's rail system was privatized a few years back, the privatization was botched, and the rail line has been dead for years. The rails are still there, but I suspect it would take some money to get the railroad running again -- there are years of deferred maintenance.
Kaolack has roads, of course, but they're not very good. The one to Dakar is a two-laner with a lot of potholes. Others are worse, or much worse.
So what does it all mean?
Let's start with the obvious: God obviously intended for Kaolack to be two things. First and foremost, it should be the economic capitol of the Peanut Basin, draining the Basin's agricultural surplus out to the world while providing warehousing, processing, and services from tractor sales to banking. Second, it should be a regional port and a backup to Dakar, servicing the interior of Senegal and a fair chunk of Guinea-Bissau and Gambia as well.
Instead, it's a garbage-filled slum. The port works, but for shallow draft only. That means everything for export has to be reloaded at Dakar, which adds delay and expense. And transport links to the interior are horrible, so only a trickle of stuff is going in and out anyway. The lack of cheap access to markets is keeping the Peanut Basin poor. The poor farmers are drifting off the land and into cities; since Kaolack is the nearest citiy, the Basin's rural poor are silting up there, unable to either go back or move forward.
Basically, it's a huge blocked drain.
The problem here seems to be almost purely one of infrastructure. Kaolack was prosperous in colonial days, and in the first generation after independence. The current decline started after 1980, and accelerated dramatically in the last 15 years -- during which time, pretty much nothing has been done to improve or even maintain Kaolack's port or roads.
Large infrastructure projects are the responsibility of the central government. The Kaolackois have a variety of theories as to why the government is screwing them over. Here are the two that seem most plausible:
1) Since 1980, Kaolack has consistently supported opposition candidates and parties. Over many election cycles, this has encouraged consecutive governments to punish Kaolack.
2) Dakar is suppressing Kaolack, because it doesn't want a rival port.
I find both these plausible, though neither is entirely satisfying. (Would successive governments really be that assholic? Kaolack is 1/10 the size of Dakar, and much poorer; is it really a plausible rival?) I'd throw in a third: Kaolack has now reached a state where fixing its problems would require some real money. While Senegal is doing OK by West African standards, they don't have a lot of money to throw around. So even if everyone meant well, it wouldn't be easy to reverse 30 years of neglect.
On the other hand, at least it should be possible, and (I think) fairly straightforward. Dredge the port, fix the roads, maybe get the railroad running again. You could throw in some frills like a special tariff for imports there, or maybe a Special Economic Zone -- I don't love those, but this seems like one place they might do some good. But really, just fix the infrastructure. Unclog the drain, and stuff will flow. Or so it seems to me.
And that's my very brief development case study for today.