It is not always acknowledged that development is a disruptive, sometimes irrational, process. My portrait of a changing Dakar (Senegal) spotlights these aspects. I document the disquieting scenery where urban sprawl advances relentlessly, offering variegated combinations of cement, laterite and people involved in an intense socio-economic transition. This transition includes a new highway that rips down the center of Dakar and leads to the Senegalese hinterland where a thirsty countryside spreads as far as the eye can see.

In Senegal, the difficult task of development has the texture of concrete and the smell of smoky asphalt struggling to conquer the sand. I photographed this project for four months between 2007 and the end of 2008. In 2011, the thirty-four kilometer motorway was completed with new roundabouts, interchanges, viaducts and bridges. Behind these grandiose schemes is a ‘slimmed-down’ state — a government still chasing 1960s development dreams.

Dakar has become a huge, surreal building site. The Senegalese relate to the new road, and its promises, in many ways. While some people have directly occupied the new space, others reinvent their own form of daily living at its margins. All around people bargain, build, chat, do the laundry, have a rest, play, run, walk, wait. Some find a sandy corner to unroll their small carpet and engage in the five-minutes dialog with God.

Although “development” is generally referred to as a positive step forward towards “civilization,” disruption and insecurity characterize the capital as it undergoes this transition.

What my portrait suggests is that at the very center of the whole process lies an open question: are the inhabitants being crushed and swept away by this complex transition or are they slowly taking possession of the new space?

—Mimi Mollica

For those interested in the development of Africa, there are several interesting articles worth exploring: The Key Is Not to Blink, which uses portraits to tell its story; the collaborative Instagram project Everyday Africa; and a project focusing on the continent’s emerging entrepreneur class.