Sister Cities is a citizen diplomacy network that creates and strengthens partnerships between the United States and international communities.
It strives to build global cooperation at the municipal level, promote cultural understanding, and stimulate economic development.
When the Miami-Dade NAACP looked at the 23 sister cities within Miami-Dade County, we found that there were no such ties to any country in Africa!
We then contacted the mayor and the county commissioners. We learned that some effort had been initiated with Dakar, the capital of Senegal, but that progress seemed to be stalled.
Our letter prompted efforts to get Dakar named as a Sister City moving again, but then it seemed that the response was slow in coming from Dakar.
At that point, I did my own checking in Senegal. First, I contacted the president’s office (the mayor of Dakar is one of the leaders in the party of the president), and they were supportive.
On visiting Dakar, I called on the international office of the mayor. People there were skeptical, as they had been through other similar situations, and they felt that there had not been much benefit to them.
Nevertheless, they responded, and the ball is now back in Miami-Dade to culminate the agreement. The appropriate committee has recommended passage to the full county commission. Unfortunately, in all too many relationships with Africa, the hopes do not match reality.
In looking into the Sister Cities program in Miami, I have learned that those partnerships which are productive are those where the local committee consists of active, concerned members.
Dakar is a good match for Miami. It is a gateway city of 2.6 million people, with a major airport and large seaport.
It has a developed tourism sector like Miami. It has a wet and dry season, and on an average day the temperatures mirror Miami’s.
Dakar is dryer than Miami, but areas to the south of it have similar vegetation. It is the home of the University Cheikh Anta Diop, which is named in honor of the Senegalese scientist who pioneered the research on the relationship between Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa.
A stable democracy since independence, Dakar has long been a cultural center. The first president, Leopold Senghor, was a poet who, in the 1930s, pioneered Negritude (Black or African consciousness). He was an invited lecturer at Florida International University in 1987.
Current University Cheikh Anta Diop President Abdoulaye Wade is both a lawyer and an academic economist. Yousou N’Dour is perhaps the most well-known of today’s African vocalists, and has performed twice in Miami (to predominantly white audiences).
Their sabar drums are fabulous.
Internet cafes are all over Dakar. Wolof is the lingua franca and French the official language, but more and more people are learning English. More than 90 percent of the people are Moslem, and the Islam of Senegal is truly a religion of peace. The government, like ours, is secular.
Dakar was likely where the great Malian emperor Abubakari, in the thirteenth century, launched his fleet of boats for the Americas.
In the early years of the European slave trade, Goree Island, a U.N. World Heritage site visited by U. S. presidents, was the primary place of departure for African captives sent to slavery in the Americas. Rice farming and cattle herding expertise was transferred by these captives to South Carolina.
A Sister City agreement provides the umbrella for efforts such as exchange visits of young people and participation at next year’s World Festival of Black Art, to be held in Dakar.
Contacts can be made from business opportunities. Those who care about Africa are asked to volunteer to work with this new Sister City and make it such a success that it will be the harbinger of more and stronger links to Africa to come.
Brad Brown is the first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects.