Latest World News

“Every day, they shout, hit you, mistreat you”: in Diamniadio, a new town in Senegal, the slave life of foreign workers


When Mohamed started working on the construction site of the new United Nations headquarters for West Africa in Senegal, he was proud to say that he was working “not only for Africa, but for the world”. This 25-year-old Sierra Leonean plumber came to settle in Diamniadio, about forty kilometers from Dakar, attracted by the prospect of working on the construction of one of the largest urban projects in West Africa.

With its headquarters of ministries, international organizations and companies and its sports arenas, the new city supposed to relieve congestion in the capital is the showcase of President Macky Sall’s plan to make Senegal an emerging country.

Nine months ago, Mohamed’s dreams were shattered when the air conditioner he was installing fell, severing a finger and slashing his thumb. Reduced, he says he was dismissed without compensation. Since then, he has survived more than he lives off odd jobs.

“In a word, it’s slavery”

AFP spoke to more than a dozen migrants from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria who work at Diamniadio. All recount a miserable life, endless days for minimum wage and nights in decrepit collective housing, haunted by the fear of injury. AFP has changed their names to preserve their anonymity. “They told us that our salary was the price of our soul… In a word, it is slavery”says Alpha, a Guinean, fitter of steel elements.

On November 8, 2022, the makeshift barracks of the workers of the many construction sites of Diamniadio, a new town located about forty kilometers from Dakar, were destroyed by the gendarmes.

The Chinese company WIETC, at the center of many of the accusations, has denied any abuse and said it strictly follows Senegalese laws.

The new UN office in Senegal is a spectacular 60,000 square meter structure shaped like a swirling star. With a large sports complex, the Dakar Diamniadio Sports City, it is one of the flagship constructions of the new city where, since the launch ten years ago, gigantic construction sites have swallowed up the fertile plain.

Read also African champion Senegal inaugurates a stadium with international standards

The workers who build them say they work up to thirteen hours a day, seven days a week, and are paid the equivalent of around 7 dollars (6.5 euros) a day. Or less. The Senegalese Labor Code provides for one day of rest per week. The minimum wage for low-skilled construction workers varies between 378 CFA francs (0.56 euros) and 658 FCFA (0.98 euros) per hour.

Workers on the construction sites of the new town of Diamniadio, located about 40 kilometers from Dakar, often have to walk for a long time at dawn to get to and from work.  A journey that adds to days that can go up to thirteen hours, seven days a week.

“These are obviously inhuman conditions”reacts Seydi Gassama, head of Amnesty International in Senegal. “All workers must be able to have days off, whether they are Senegalese or international. » Some claim to walk more than three hours a day to get to and from work. Their homes, “cabins” provided by the company, were one day demolished by the gendarmes. According to their testimonies, none of the workers met by AFP signed a contract.

“They are very bad”

Bakary, another Sierra Leonean met at the end of 2022, had injured himself the day before. He had visible head injuries. He says he was sent home without pay. His superiors did not take him to the doctor, and left him the choice: either he comes back the next day or he is fired. “They are very bad. They shout and insult the workers. Even if you are exhausted, they force you to work”also ensures Alpha.


“The Africa World”

Every Saturday, find a week of news and debates, by the editorial staff of “Monde Afrique”


Others say they were beaten. “Every day they scream, scream, hit you, mistreat you”, says Ibrahim, a 26-year-old worker. If you hit a boss back, “You get fired. So when it hits, you just have to swallow, endure and get back to work”.

Read also: Diamniadio, a new town in Senegal waiting for its inhabitants

In a written response to AFP, the managing director of WIETC for West Africa, the Chinese company contracted to build the two complexes, objected that it fully complied with the legislation.

All employees would have been declared to Senegalese Social Security, and anyone who was injured would have been covered for medical treatment and paid until they recovered, He Shenjian said. He ensured that evening and weekend work was “exceptional” and only took place when the workers there “freely consented”.

Barracks of workers from the construction sites of Diamniadio, a new town under construction about forty kilometers from Dakar.

Madani Tall, the owner of the two sites, says he has not been informed of any mistreatment so far. The workers are day laborers, he said, although they all told AFP they were paid monthly. “Senegalese law does not require a contract for a day laborer”, he says. Having traveling day laborers, he adds, “it’s something that is not particular to Senegal, it’s what you have on all construction sites”including in the United States and Europe.

MM. Tall and He Shenjian confirmed that there were two deaths at the UN site, one related to an epileptic seizure and the other to an accident.

” Shame “

Solicited by AFP, the Senegalese law firm Geni & Kebe recalls that Senegalese law requires the employer to produce a written document when hiring day laborers and that failing that, the latter must be considered as workers with a permanent contract.

Precariousness is widespread in Senegal. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), nine out of ten workers are in informal employment. The United Nations Resident Coordinator for Senegal did not respond to multiple requests from AFP. Government authorities in charge of Diamniadio said it was not their responsibility.

Read also: In Senegal, justice opens investigations into the embezzlement of response funds against Covid

Foreign workers say they send up to half of their earnings to their families back home. Mohamed, the plumber, wanted to study business administration but left high school when his father died. He can no longer provide for his farming mother and three sisters.

He would like to go to the police. But, as an English-speaking foreigner, without a document proving his accident, he fears to aggravate his case and never find a job again. “If I go back, I have nothing. It would be a very great shame for mehe explains. Some of my friends got married, some settled down… I don’t even have a girlfriend. »

The World with AFP