By Pendarvis Harshaw

Led by Howard university’s Chair of Physics department Dr. Gregory Jenkins; a group of 20 of Howard’s brightest spent their 2007 Spring Break in New Orleans, to not only help with revitalizing the city, but also research in hopes of realizing the problems of the city. The group studied in depth the effects of government, capitalism, and global warming on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, but as Doc. J says “you can’t know anything about the result without knowing the origin of the problem.”

On June 15, 2008 Dr. Jenkins took a group of four Howard University students, including myself, and one University of Michigan student to the origin of everything- Africa. Across the “pond” where the mighty Atlantic ocean crashes into the iron laden red rocks of the Senegalese coast; an environment eerily similar to New Orleans exists. Dakar, a low lying peninsula city which, just like the city of New Orleans has a geographical shape reminiscent of a boot, is the capitol of Senegal; and with respect to Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana, is the capitol of Western Africa. Dakar has been growing at warp speed since gaining the title of Senegal’s capitol city; a title which was once held by a city just up the coast by the name of Saint Loius, just as St. Louis is North of Louisiana. Unlike both of the Catholic cities of New Orleans and St. Louis, Dakar is a city with a strong Islamic basis. This influence is attributed to the East as Senegal has a strong Arab population. Known as a “Black” African country- but just like any Black community in America- many merchants are from the Middle East, as a large number of store owners are Lebanese. Much to the dismay of many residents, in March 2008 Senegal’s current President Abdoulaye Wade and the city of Dakar played host to the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) summit where a large number of high ranking representatives from Arab countries came to the capitol city in order to discuss pollution issues, food scarcity, and the development of the infrastructure of African countries such as Senegal.

africa-hurricane-bg.jpgDakar is a city under construction; high rise business buildings, casinos, and hotel resorts are being constructed along the coast line; one day very soon the Cornish strip will be just as famous as Bourbon Street. But just as its big easy cousin across the water, the flourishing tourist industry comes in the face of thousands of displaced individuals- many homeless, impoverished, and mentally ill people have come from the surrounding villages, forced from their residencies due to famine and lack of resources, only to come to the big city to find more of the same. Teenage men duck in and out the organized chaos of the big city traffic in order to sale passers by phone cards, peanuts, or anything else that can be held by hand. The streets these “jaikats” hustle in are hectic enough during the day, but only grow more treacherous at night as the city has constant rolling blackouts. Many street hustlers and students alike only come to the city to make a living, and then return to their villages at the end of the day. Much like New Orleans, options of evacuation are scarce- in order to get out the city, all roads converge into one main two lane high way highway which is usually decorated with an aerial ribbon of carbon and Diesel fumes.

The connection between capitalism and carbon congestion only brings the cities of Dakar and New Orleans closer together. There are two major events that have origins in this region of West Africa that directly effect the Gulf Coast of the United States: slavery and hurricane formations. The origins of both can be found on the Island of Goree; once a French slave dungeon where people from the Wolof, Fulani, and Serer Nations were held captive until being shipped to the new world. The French ships would leave the southern port and use the trade winds to guide them to one of their colonies- most likely Haiti or New Orleans. It is these same trade winds that guided these ships that are now becoming fiercer due to climate change and are more readily turning common tropical storms into high categorical hurricanes.

The Island of Goree, once epitome of disregard for human life, has been revitalized to an aesthetically pleasing tourist attraction complete with colorful buildings, fine dining, and French men riding sea Jet Ski’s while throwing loose change into the beautiful blue water so starving Senegalese children can risk their lives diving for the coins.

The 9th ward, once the epitome of the collective soul of African Americans; has been ravished to a point that shows total disregard for human life with dilapidated buildings, starving families, and wealthy Americans riding in luxury cars past homeless individuals on the way to the Essence Festival, Mardi Gras, or the 2008 NBA All Star game in order to be entertained by African Americans talent, athletics, and culture.

It is obvious these two cities have a lot in common, or as they say on French, beaucoup en commun; it is my greatest fear is that the growing metropolitan area of Dakar is setting itself up for a disaster with the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina- and that the money hungry city of New Orleans is setting itself up for a disaster with the magnitude of the Island of Goree- capitalism can cloud vision just as carbon dioxide does.