DAKAR, SENEGAL -- On Africa’s westernmost tip, a caterpillar coaster swoops past a pirate ship then a space shuttle labeled “Star Warld,” before crossing the gaze of Galdalf, a porcelain wizard clutching a Hamlet skull and a dartboard. Children scream.
Welcome to Magic Land, a fortress of fun on Senegal’s coast. The 20-acre hotel, water park, nightclub, and amphitheater complex forms part of Africa’s most playful boom industry: Amusement parks.
At least eight theme parks have opened or planned openings in West Africa alone since 2000. The region’s roller coast tycoons--some foreign, many local--brave one of the world’s least friendly business environments.
Power outages in Dakar last half the day; Nigeria’s last longer. Most citizens of either country can’t earn enough in 24 hours to ride Magic Land’s bumper cars for even fifteen minutes. And yet, triumphing over power outages, corrupt governments, and widespread poverty, this continent’s middle class is flourishing.
However discouraging Africa’s economics remain, its demographics make it ripe for a theme park bonanza. Half the continent is under 20. By 2050, one in every fifth person on the planet will be a sub-Saharan African, according to the UN. Hundreds of millions of those will be teenagers with no place to go on a date.
In 2009, Six Flags announced they’d open just their third non-American park: in Nigeria. Two years later, Six Flags Nigeria has yet to break ground. Local variants, however, are filling its void--like Rosella’s Family Sports and Amusement Parks.
Dwarfing every other park in the region is Heritage City, a 25,000-acre nature reserve and theme park is planned outside Abuja. “Africa’s First and Only African History Theme Park” bills itself as an Epcot of Africa’s pre-slavery renaissance period, a place where kids will tour replicas of Timbuktu and other medieval African kingdoms.