He is a well-known figure in the Mermoz-Sacré-Cœur district of Dakar. Diarra Housseyni Mbaye, a newspaper seller, is almost a celebrity in this part of the capital. Always wearing a red cap and a blue sweatshirt, he has been walking around this little corner for more than twenty-five years. The perimeter made up of several banks, businesses, residential houses and two large asphalt roads is his hunting ground.
"Almost everyone knows me here," says Mbaye, 53. "However, few people know the hardships I had to go through before I got here," he continues. Born in Fouta, in the north of Senegal, into a poor family, Diarra Housseyni Mbaye had several small jobs before trying his luck in Dakar. "At the time, my family and I worked a lot in agriculture," he says. At 15, in the hope of starting a new life, he decided to go to Dakar. "I left Thielao, in the Fouta region, and arrived in the capital in 1983, the year when I started selling newspapers.
Husband and father, Mbaye started this activity first in the Medina district, where he only sold the Soleil, the only daily newspaper that existed at the time. In 1991, unable to make ends meet, he returned to his native village to continue farming for five years. Then, in 1996, back in Dakar, Mbaye settled in Mermoz-Sacré-Cœur.
"At the time, newspaper sellers were not so numerous in the capital and we sold well," explains Mbaye. "Today, with Covid-19, nothing works anymore. Before Covid-19, I used to make a daily turnover of 6,000 to 10,000 CFA Francs (US$11 to US$18), at 20 CFA Francs per newspaper. Now the business has really gone downhill, I don't see anyone, people don't come anymore and my orders have been reduced considerably. My family worries too much about my situation, I don't send them money frequently like I used to.
This is why, "as a father, I am obliged to diversify my activities by selling masks, especially with the advent of the third wave of Covid-19. This allows me to make up for the loss of income.”
Mbaye has never had Covid-19, is not yet vaccinated, but always makes sure to "wear the mask", and "disinfects his hands from time to time". "I always call some of my family and friends to make sure they are not showing symptoms of Covid-19 and that they continue to follow the barrier measures. I also urge them to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Because I know that Covid-19 is still there and it is very dangerous," he says.
He urges those who come to buy his newspapers to do the same. Not only to encourage the purchase of his masks, but also, he says, "to participate in the awareness-raising efforts that have been initiated throughout the country.”
For Mbaye, even if this health crisis is far from over, it already reveals profound changes in our society and our way of life. "We are paying more attention to what we eat, to the damage we do to nature, etc.” For his part, he hopes that his business will pick up again after Covid-19.