Signalling that Germany means business, Merkel was accompanied by around a dozen German business leaders.
In Ghana, Merkel plans to visit a start-up hub and in Nigeria she will meet with Ecowas head Jean-Claude Kassi Brou.
On her arrival in Dakar late Wednesday the German leader was greeted by Senegalese president Macky Sall and a guard of honour by dozens of Senegalese marines.
After the playing of the national anthems, the military orchestra belted out two popular German songs, including “Schoene Maid, hast Du heut' fur mich Zeit”, which roughly translates to “Beautiful maiden, do you have time for me today?”
Joining Sall at a joint news conference at the presidential palace, Merkel then spoke of the need to tackle illegal migration and people traffickers.
“We must not be the accomplices of the human traffickers and we must not just watch,” Merkel said.
“We have to fight illegal migration on the one hand, on the other hand we have to create legal opportunities.”
Sall, who announced the solar electrification of 300 villages thanks to German funding, deplored the fate of migrants losing their lives “across the Sahara and Mediterranean” and called for “solutions and opportunities” for African youth in Africa itself.
“It is not the vocation of African youth to die in the Mediterranean or on the rivers of Europe or to live clandestinely,” he said, denouncing the “networks of traffickers and criminals” making money out of them.
Merkel has placed a strong focus on African diplomacy in recent years, and has called on African countries to do their bit in stemming the flow of migrants to Europe – an issue over which she faces criticism at home.
Like China and more recently Britain's Theresa May, export-nation Germany is also eagerly eyeing the burgeoning economic potential of resource-rich African nations with young, dynamic citizens.
British Prime Minister May on Wednesday held talks with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja on the second leg of her maiden Africa tour, aimed at drumming up post-Brexit trade deals outside the European Union.
Senegal is enjoying economic growth of around seven percent annually, while equally booming Ghana is seen as a haven of stability in the region.
Nigeria, despite grappling with a Boko Haram insurgency and oil price volatility, remains Germany's second-biggest trade partner in sub-Saharan Africa.
The push for closer economic ties is part of a wider bid to help stabilise African countries in the long run, offering youngsters opportunities at home in the hope of dissuading them from setting off for Europe.
Senegalese, Ghanaians and Nigerians are among the thousands of migrants trying their luck in Europe, even though their chances of winning asylum are slim. In July alone, nearly 950 Nigerians applied for asylum in Germany.
A German government official speaking ahead of Merkel's trip said it was important to “stop people from making the illegal and extremely dangerous journey to Europe”.
Instead, efforts should be focused on legal methods of entry in Europe, for example for young Africans who study in the EU and then put their education to use at home, the official added.