Sister Cities Africa Revisits People to People Diplomacy

Published on 31st January 2012

Conference delegates
“There is need for Africans to define priorities and urgent needs in order to have a unified voice in seeking equitable and well balanced partnership with other countries abroad,” agreed delegates during the Sister Cities Africa conference held in Casablanca, Morocco in January 13-14, 2012. The aim of the conference was to introduce the concept of city twinning, give practical workshops on how to create successful partnerships and programs and ultimately create a north Africa network of partners, decision makers and advocates. The forum also aimed at identifying  and solving common challenges experienced by twinning partners.

The meeting brought together city leaders and representatives of various activist groups from Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia and Egypt to share best practices and identify other avenues of city twinning. Also in attendance were the representatives from Eastern Africa Sister Cities, Western Africa Sister Cities (Africa Global Sister Cities Foundation) and Sister Cities International.

L-R H.E. Samuel Kaplan -US ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco; Mr. Boubker Mazoz, President, Sister Cities Africa.

City twinning has a goal of promoting peace and through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation. Cities with matching goals can partner and create avenues for solving challenges, identifying opportunities and sharing ideas on how to better the lives of the dwellers of the cities.

Mary D Kane, President and CEO of Sister Cities International, wished to see many African cities partner not only with American counterparts but also with fellow African cities.

“We want to see more relationships where African Cities are given the opportunity to show the world what they have to offer-not just in terms of resources or markets but in terms of human capital, ideas and culture. We want to see a vibrant, self sustaining movement of city twinning that will heal wounds between communities and focus on building a collaborative future,” she observed.

The above sentiments were echoed by Zouaoui Benaouda-Malika, a Law lecturer at the University of Saad Dahleb Blida Algeria, who believes that Africans have a lot that has not been shared. According to Zouaoui, there is need for close relationships instead of heavy reliance on the media and the internet.

There are several avenues in which different communities can benefit from sister city relationship such as benchmarking, addressing poor drainage and sanitation as well as trade and cultural exchanges.  Mr. Boubker Mazoz, President, Sister Cities Africa, outlined some possible areas of twinning. They include: youth and culture, sports, university twinning, port twinning and hospital twinning.                                                                

L-R Raymond Kiptum - Program Manager EASC; Francis Aidoo - Executive Officer, Africa Global Sister Cities Foundation; Adam Kaplan - Program Manager, SCI; and Lorna Johnson, SCI Consultant.

“It  is a matter of prioritizing the activities with the twinning partners as well as having a strong Sister City committee made up of different stakeholders such as NGOs lecturers, medical practitioners, business people, youth, and civil leaders.

These teams will advice the town/city on the projects to undertake with the twinning partners,” Said Mr. Mazoz.

The forum was officially opened by the US ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, H.E. Samuel Kaplan, who said sister city relationship can help in solving multiple problems through citizen diplomacy. “People to people diplomacy can make it better, if one shares something that can improve the lives of the people,” said Ambassador Kaplan.

The representative from Sister Cities International Adam Kaplan described how city twinning can be initiated, source for funds, and select projects. He emphasized the importance of cities involving the regional partners in establishing a strong sister city relationship.

One of the challenges identified in the forum was unbalanced sister city relationships where the African partners mainly expected grants and funding for projects from their international partners. According to Oammou Abdlattif, a lawyer and politician from Agadir, Morocco, funding and humanitarian assistance should be secondary; the priority should be friendship and business exchanges.

EASC Program Manager addresses participants
Another challenge affecting sister city relationship is dormancy and lack of commitment. To overcome this challenge, Mr. Abdellatif Ouammou, a lawyer and president of the Municipality of Tiznit, Morocco, said sister city relationships should have a clear framework and both partners should understand their responsibilities in the partnership.  “The pillars of city twinning are: commitment, creativity, cooperation and communication,” he outlined.

The meeting concluded with the formation of  Morocco Sister Cities Association whose aim is to support, advise and ensure continuity of all sister city relationships in morocco and promote other sister cities in the region.

Sister Cities Africa (based in Casablanca Morocco), just like Eastern Africa Sister Cities (based in Nairobi) is an official partner of Sister Cities international whose mandate is to create, develop, reinforce and maintain South- South Corporation and international relationship. Some of the exchanges between Casablanca and Chicago sister cities include: Students exchange, sewing cooperatives for women, youth empowerment through the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center, medical caravans among other exchanges. Casablanca-Chicago association also as a recipient of the Africa Urban Poverty Alleviation Program, grant, they are working with a local health centre in an underserved area of Casablanca, giving logistical and structural support as well as providing health awareness courses to the local population.

By Raymond Kiptum.

Program Manager, Eastern Africa Sister Cities.

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