Wharton Students Trek to West Africa Over Break

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“What is Africa like?” As a first-generation, Nigerian-American, I cannot count the number of times I am asked this question by my peers. Africa is a fascinating continent with a rich history and a wide array of cultures. While Africa is lauded for its safaris and exotic wildlife, the Africa that I know, is so much more than that. John Okenwa and I led a trek to Nigeria and Senegal in December to provide our classmates with a glimpse into the dynamic continent.

 

On our first day in Senegal, we took a trip to the Lac Rose, or Pink Lake. Its distinct hue is caused by the dunaliella salina algae and the high salt content of the lake. The color of the lake ranges from mauve to strawberry pink depending on the time of day and amount of sunlight. Luckily, on the day we visited, the sun was out, and the lake was pink! After floating in the Pink Lake, we went on an excursion in a 4×4 jeep over the sand dunes and along a beach surrounding the lake. One of my favorite experiences in Senegal was a day trip to Saly Portudal, a scenic, tourist destination. In Saly, we went on a two-hour quad bike tour and spent the rest of the day relaxing at a local sea-side resort.

 

We ended our visit to Senegal with a trip to Gorée Island. Gorée is an island off the coast of Dakar. It is known for its gruesome history as a trading post for the Transatlantic slave trade. Initially, we were stunned by the beauty and tranquility of the island. However, after visiting slave museums and the Maison des Esclaves, a building where slaves were held before they were transported to the New World, the ugliness of the history of slavery quickly overshadowed the beauty of the island. Our visit served as a reminder of how the effects of slavery and colonialism still plague many African countries today. We took a moment of silence to remember the suffering that millions of Africans endured as they walked out from the “Door of No Return”, never to return to their families again.

 

Senegal’s energy sector has recently received a huge boost after foreign companies announced oil and gas findings off the coast of Senegal. We met with Mamadou Fall Kane, Deputy Permanent Secretary of Cos-Petrogaz. He is charged with advising the President of Senegal on how best to capitalize on the off-shore oil and gas discoveries.  Our meeting with him left us optimistic about the growth and development of Senegal.

 

After a four-hour flight from Dakar, we arrived in my hometown, Lagos, Nigeria! Lagos is an economic powerhouse and the epicenter of nightlife in Africa. The state has an economy larger than most African countries, despite being one of the smallest states in the country. We arrived in Lagos ready to bring in 2018 in style. Nigeria is one of the fastest growing champagne markets in the world. We celebrated NYE with a Moet & Chandon party at our hotel before we headed out to enjoy the vibrant nightlife on Victoria Island. We spent the next day recovering at a private villa on a nearby island.

 

The spirit of economic opportunity in Lagos drives successful entrepreneurs who have established multi-billion-dollar empires on the continent. We met with Jim Ovia, a financial services tycoon who founded Zenith Bank, one of the largest commercial banks in Africa. To learn more about startups in Nigeria, we met with the founding members of Helium Health, a healthcare startup that is revolutionizing the way hospitals in developing markets operate. In addition, we visited Andela, a startup that is investing in Africa’s most talented developers to help alleviate a global shortage of software developers. Andela is also noted as Mark Zuckerberg’s first tech investment in Africa.

 

Nigerian artists have always been at the forefront of introducing African music to the rest of the world. Fela Kuti, a Nigerian activist and music, is widely regarded as the founder of Afrobeat, a genre of music that has millions dancing worldwide. In Lagos, we attended a showing of a new musical titled Fela and the Kalakuta Queens. The energetic musical chronicled the role that Fela’s wives played in his career. Afterwards, we attended an Afrobeat dance class to perfect our moves for another club night in Lagos.

Surely, our short stay in one region of the continent, is not reflective of the diversity and cultural richness of Africa. However, I hope the trek provided insight into the hospitality and spirit of perseverance that I love about the continent. Through this trek, I have formed stronger bonds with my classmates, created lifetime memories and have a greater appreciation for my time here at Wharton.

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