Dakar the capital city of Senegal is situated at the tip of the Cape Verde peninsula, the westernmost point of Africa. It is a major industrial centre, with industries including mineral-oil and groundnut-oil refining, engineering, vehicle assembly, chemicals, brewing, tobacco and food processing. The city is the busiest port in West Africa, serving Mali, Mauritania as well as Senegal. It has modern facilities for handling and storing goods.
The Dakar area was first settled by European merchants in the 15th century. The offshore island of Gorrée, partially enclosing the harbour of Dakar, was an important Dutch trading post in the 17th century. After many changes of control, the island reverted to the French in 1817; it was formerly the seat of government of French West Africa. Dakar was first occupied permanently in 1857, and developed with the construction of the railway to Saint-Louis in 1885; it was further linked by rail to Bamako (Mali) on the River Niger in 1923. The settlement grew as a port and railway hub, the latter opening in 1885 with a route to Saint-Louis. The train is now only used for special excursions. The city later became a naval base, and replaced Saint-Louis as the capital of French West Africa in 1902. It was the capital of the short-lived Mali Federation from 1959 to 1960, after which it became the capital of Senegal.
The city of Dakar is made of the 67 communes of Senegal. The commune of Dakar was created by the French colonial administration on June 17, 1887 by detaching it from the commune of Gorée. The commune of Gorée, created in 1872, was itself one of the oldest western-style municipalities in Africa.
The commune of Dakar has been in continuous existence since 1887, being preserved by the new state of Senegal after independence in 1960, although its limits have varied considerably over time. It is ruled by a democratically elected municipal council serving five years, and a mayor elected by the municipal council. It is also one of the 34 departments of Senegal as is Paris in France which is both a commune and a department. However, contrary to France, departments in Senegal have no political power, and are merely local administrative structures of the central state, carrying out some administrative services as well as controlling the activities of the communes within the department.
The department of Dakar is divided into four arrondissements: Almadies, Grand Dakar, Parcelles Assanies and Plateau/Gorée. These arrondissements are quite different from those of Paris, being merely local administrative structures of the central state, like the Senegalese departments, and are thus more comparable to French departmental arrondissements.
In 1996, a massive reform of the administrative and political divisions of Senegal was voted by the Parliament of Senegal. The commune of Dakar, whose population approached 1 million inhabitants, was deemed too large and too populated to be properly managed by a central municipality, and so on August 30, 1996 Dakar was divided into 19 communes d'arrondissement.
The département of Dakar is one of the four départements of the Dakar région, which is one of the 11 régions of Senegal. The Dakar région encompasses the city of Dakar and all its suburbs along the Cape Verde Peninsula. Its territory is thus roughly the same as the territory of the metropolitan area of Dakar. Since the administrative reforms of 1996, the régions of Senegal, which until then were merely local administrative structures of the central state, have been turned into full-fledged political units, with democratically elected regional councils, and regional presidents. They were given extensive powers, and manage economic development, transportation, or environmental protection issues at the regional level, thus coordinating the actions of the communes below them.
Since 1945, the city has expanded greatly. Attractions in Dakar include major markets, Dakar Grand Mosque (built in 1964), Gorée Island, the IFAN Museum of West African culture, clifftop walks and beaches, and Hann Park, home to Senegal Zoo. The town serves as a port and is home to the Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport. It is also the terminus of the Dakar-Niger railroad line. The city hosts many international conferences on artistic and scholarly topics.
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