The RN6 highway cuts through the heart of southern Senegal, linking the fertile farm fields of the Casamance region with the bustling markets in Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Mali. But until recently, much of the highway was crumbling, making it difficult for producers to get to market to sell their goods and driving away potential consumers.
As part of its five-year, $540 million compact with Senegal, the Millennium Challenge Corporation funded the rebuilding of a key, 157-mile stretch of the highway from Kounkane to Ziguinchor. This important corridor is a major investment of the compact’s $325 million Roads Rehabilitation Project, which is promoting and facilitating greater domestic and international trade.
MCC’s investments in the Casamance play an important role in the economic development of the region. By investing in roads in the southern Casamance region, MCC is helping a historically underdeveloped region of the country economically integrate with the rest of Senegal and neighboring countries — part of the U.S. Government's development assistance in the Casamance across all sectors, including health, education, economic growth, and good governance.
Shortly before the compact closes on Sept. 23, 2015, merchants and residents in towns across the length of the road brim with optimism about what the new road means for their families and their communities.
They call it the West African market. Each week, thousands of people flock to Diaobe, where Senegalese merchants sell palm oil from Cote d’Ivoire to customers from Mauritania. Guineans haggle over the price of tamarinds with sellers from Mali. At one stall, Gambians and Sierra Leoneans might compete for the best price on the same batch of peanuts; at another, a merchant might sell bolts of cloth to someone from Guinea-Bissau.
To the delight of merchants in Diaobe, the RN6 highway cuts through the heart of this market, and since stretches of the rebuilt highway opened, merchants report that the number of customers has increased.
“There are a lot more cars and a lot more customers,” said Ibrahima Diallo, a palm oil salesman. “Especially when Ramadan ended [in July], more and more people. I was amazed.”
Diallo said his transport costs have dropped considerably. Before the road was rebuilt, it cost him about $37 for a truck to deliver his products from Ziguinchor. Now, it costs less than half – about $16.
Many of the agricultural products on sale at the market are arriving faster and fresher than before, said Aminata Camara, who has sold palm oil, tamarinds and beans at the market for almost 20 years.
“People are coming en masse,” said 48-year-old Camara, whose business has improved.
She already has plans for her extra income: better food, school fees and more trips to the doctor for her seven children.
“I see a better life for my family in the coming years,” she said.
“The road was that bad,” said Diop, 67. “It made life so much more difficult for people in this area.”Souleymane Diop has been selling fruit, vegetables and nuts at the market in Kolda his entire life. But between the bad highway and the aging bridge that spans the Casamance River and cuts through the middle of Kolda, Diop believes potential customers would avoid the area—ultimately costing him money.
Today, however, the new bridge across the Casamance River is a visible sign of MCC’s compact and the prospect of growing commerce. The 298-foot bridge helps link markets and cut costs for farmers, merchants and transporters who can more efficiently deliver their products to Ziguinchor and international markets. The bridge also aims to promote food security, health, and education for the people of the area.
In the few months since the new highway and bridge opened, Diop says both the number of customers and his revenue have increased.
“An investment like this isn’t just for the people of Kolda or the Casamance or even all of Senegal,” he said. “It’s for the entire region.”
The old, potholed RN6 Highway was as much of a curse as it was a blessing for the people of Tanaff. Because the road cuts through town, people from across the region and as far away as The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau come to set up a market each Sunday. But because the highway was in such bad shape, fewer and fewer customers were arriving each year.
The road’s poor condition cost residents time and money. Farmers in the area grow mangoes, but the highway’s potholes meant many of those mangoes were ruined by the time they reached nearby cities on the bumpy ride to market. Fewer customers meant more produce rotted in market stalls.
“We have a lot of riches here, but we couldn’t take advantage of them because we didn’t have good roads,” Tanaff mayor Ibrahima Gomis said.
As construction crews put final touches on the rebuilt RN6 highway, the community was already renting out spaces in a new market area that Gomis believes will help drive economic activity in the region.
There are small shops, cold storage for fish, storage sheds and dozens of concrete tables for residents to sell produce like mangoes, oranges, baobab fruit, lemons and honey.
Unlike the old market—which encompassed a row of wooden stalls along the roadside—the new market will allow merchants to continue selling during the rainy season. It will also improve safety along the road for both vendors and drivers. And a better road should mean more customers, Gomis said.
“People have asked us what kind of projects will help get people out of poverty,” he said. “These kinds of projects are the ones that work.”
Mamadou Ba drives his seven-seat vehicle to Ziguinchor from Diaobe about three times a week, and he said the new road has shaved more than an hour off of his trip.
“It’s such a huge difference,” said Ba, a 56-year-old father of five. “I’ve been driving this road for more than five years, and there is no doubt that this is the best it’s ever been. 100 percent.”
The wear-and-tear from the old highway took a toll on his car. Potholes blew his tires. Brakes wore out quickly. Bouncing up and down on the road ruined the shocks and struts.
Ba said his maintenance costs have dropped by more than half, and he’s spending far less on fuel. With the savings, he sees a growing business.
“I want to buy a bus with more seats and bring more customers,” he said. “And one day, maybe a coach bus. This is just the beginning.”
More benefits may be to come. The Government of Senegal will be finishing a portion of the highway near Ziguinchor that will not be completed by the end of the compact due to construction delays.
Beneficiaries of MCC investments routinely share stories of how their lives have changed for the better. After a compact is completed, MCC funds independent evaluations of project impact, which can be found in our evaluation catalog.