In 2002, a government-owned Senegalese ferry named the Joola capsized in a storm off the coast of The Gambia in a tragedy that killed 1,863 people and left 64 survivors, only one of them female. The Joola caused more human suffering than the Titanic yet no scholarly research to date has explored the political and environmental conditions in which this African crisis occurred. Africa’s Joola Shipwreck: Causes and Consequences of a Humanitarian Disaster investigates the roots of the Joola shipwreck and its consequences for Senegalese people, particularly those living in the rural south. Using three summers of field research in Senegal, Karen Samantha Barton unravels the geographical forces such as migration, colonial cartographies, and geographies of the sea that led to this humanitarian disaster and defined its aftermath. Barton shows how the Sufi tenet of “beautiful optimism” shaped community resilience in the wake of the shipwreck, despite the repercussions the event had on Senegalese society and space.
Karen Samantha Barton is professor of geography, GIS, and sustainability at the University of Northern Colorado.
Chapter 1: Colonial Cartographies
Chapter 2: Geographies of the South and North
Chapter 3: Geographies of the Sea
Chapter 4: Shipwreck: An Accumulation of Errors
Chapter 5: Geographies of Remembrance and Faith
Karen Barton’s book Africa's Greatest Shipwreck: The Causes and Consequences of a Humanitarian Disaster is a haunting tale that is compellingly told about the world’s second worst peacetime maritime disaster, that of the ferry MV Le Joola, in September 2002. Dr Barton deftly weaves her background as a geographer into the story to provide a unique view of the tragedy that took at least 1,863 lives and left only 64 survivors. She thoroughly investigates the physical and social causes, and the resulting impacts. Her geographic perspective helps her gaze across many scales, from individuals to entire societies. She also gazes across time periods, from the colonial heritage of the region, to individual terrifying moments, to long-term implications. A perfect example is her set of reflections in a “geographies of omission and optimism” section. Yet the story is not a dispassionate textbook or account of events from an academic. When Dr Barton originally traveled to Senegal, she hadn’t even intended to write a book on this topic. In the end, she couldn’t get it out of her mind and was encouraged by local people to write the story. She highlights the resilience and spirit of peaceful coexistence of the diverse groups of people in Senegal and The Gambia, but also discusses the “unprecedented changes not just from the state but from the larger external forces beyond their control” such as illegal fishing and climate change. While the story is a grand tragedy, it is also an intensely personal look at the people of Senegal, right down to fine details of their pirogue fishing boats, their challenges, their hopes, their dreams. I highly recommend this book for anyone who teaches history, culture, and geography, or for anyone who cares about the region or about people’s lives—which I hope is all of us.
The victims of the Joola shipwreck deserve to be more than part of a historic footnote. Within this compelling book, Karen Samantha Barton succeeds in making sure that their story is not only well told but framed within a geographic context that explicates the complicated nature of West African transportation networks, colonial histories, local politics, and the livelihood options that led to the disaster. Barton’s personal narratives are blended with in the field interviews and careful scholarship, making this a narrative of interest to Africanists, geographers, and hazards scholars.