Senegal is known as the land of Terange (warm hospitality in the Wolof language).
Terange is exactly what a delegation from Miami-Dade and the state of Florida have experienced.
In addition to trade matchmaking, Miami-Dade signed a Sister Cities agreement on Oct. 19 with the city of Dakar, the first with a city in Africa (this lack was an issue raised by the NAACP).
Both Miami and Dakar are gateway cities with major seaports and airports. Like Miami-Dade County, the city of Dakar contains numerous smaller cities. Senegal has been a stable democracy since its independence from France in 1960.
Although Mayor Khalifa Sall of the city of Dakar is a member of the opposition party to the national party in power, both the local and national government, up to the level of President Abdoulaye Wade, provided support for the delegation.
The National Ministry of Tourism provided all transportation and arranged for a trip to Goree Island, where everyone had the emotional experience of being in the House of Slaves, standing in the dungeons where captives were crammed into all available space. Then, we looked west out into the Atlantic Ocean through the door of no return, where the captives boarded ships that would take them to the Americas to be slaves.
Goree Island was pivotal in the slave trade. In the beginning of the trade, it was a major source for buying human beings. Even in the later days, when the bulk of the trade had moved south, it was the last stop for provisioning and buying a few additional persons before heading across the Atlantic.
Senegal is also an excellent place to learn about Islam. It has a secular government in which relationships with the Christian minority (about 5 percent) are so amenable that even cemeteries are shared, and the first president was a Christian who defeated Muslim candidates in elections.
The mission’s goal on both sides was to increase trade and tourism, and exchange visits to Miami, including meetings with tour agencies. A crafts and clothing fair were discussed, also. But the key goal for Sister Cities is to institutionalize the relationship so that it will be lasting.
Dakar was reluctant to sign a Sister City agreement with Miami because of some past experiences in which actions were discussed but not sustained. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who led the delegation; Mae Bryant, Edmonson’s chief of staff (also an NAACP Executive Committee member and former Assistant County Manager) and Jeanette McDonald, chief financial officer of New Birth Baptist Church, came back dedicated to making Sister Cities work. Their hearts were particularly won over by the professional efforts of Madame Bintou Seydi of the Ministry of Culture, who made sure they experienced Terenga and got a feeling for Senegal outside a hotel and official offices.
We already have local Senegalese people willing to guide us in this effort, such as Babacar M’Bow, director of cultural affairs for the Broward County Library system and a member of a prominent Senegalese family; and Issa Faye, president of the South Florida Senegalese-American Chamber of Commerce. This is a good opportunity for South Floridians who want to establish a viable link to the continent of Africa to volunteer to help.
To lend your support, you may e-mail me at Jabaribrad@aol.com. Both Miami-Dade County and the city of Dakar have staff assigned to international efforts which can provide support. But in Miami, private-sector individuals are necessary to make this work.
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.