Economic struggle in Senegal

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MARCO WERMAN: Fair to say that many of those hurt by the global economic crisis weren't bankers or stockbrokers. Take for instance migrant workers from the African country of Senegal. The World Bank estimates that Senegalese abroad sent home about $1 billion last year. That's almost 10% of Senegal's GDP. And the real numbers are likely even higher. Some portion of that money is always destined for local real estate and construction but now it looks like the money is drying up. Jori Lewis reports from Senegal's capital city, Dakar.

JORI LEWIS: Many Serigne Mbodji's family members live in cities like Paris or New York. They send money home to supplement the family income and to buy big things like a new house outside of Dakar paid for by Serigne's New York-based brother.


LEWIS: At the beginning he and his mother took care of all of the administrative formalities, says Serigne Mbodji. His mother received the money and told her son how to supervise the construction. It was to be a big house. Enough for a whole extended family. And his mother and Serigne thought that this might mean the brother would come back to stay in Senegal eventually. They hired a contractor and construction went along. Recently though the pace of construction has noticeably slowed.


LEWIS: Serigne says his brother is having trouble finding the funds to complete his house. Since the economic crisis he's had a lot of problems. He's no longer able to cover his costs as he was before. Senegal is awash in stores like this. Everywhere you look in big cities or in small towns or villages you'll find buildings in various stages of completion. Mansour Tall is the Dakar program manager for the urban development agency the UN Habitat Fund. He says that cement was the first signal that the economy was slowing down.

MANSOUR TALL: Cement is available. Before that every time you have to deal with cement we don't find cement because demand is very, very high.

LEWIS: But now he says there's no shortage at all. Tall says Senegalese building projects financed by migrants field demand for cement and other materials in the general building boom. Then the financial crisis hit followed by recession in Europe and North America. Now the migrants can't send enough money to pay for even the day-to-day needs of the families they left behind. Again Serigne Mbodji.


LEWIS: Just a few days ago his brother had promised to send money to his mother and then had to call her and say that he just couldn't. Now the family has to scale back their lifestyle for certain things. They can afford to have breakfast and lunch in the afternoon but there's no longer any dinner. But Mbodji says his brother is still talking about finishing the house despite his financial problems in New York.


LEWIS: Serigne says he thinks that his brother wants to finish it but nothing is certain. And if by chance he can no longer make it happen he'll have to sell � sell it unfinished or walk away leaving the family's dream house to the gathering dust of the Senegalese streets. For The World I'm Jori Lewis, Dakar, Senegal.